I attended my first writers’ group over a year ago. I went to quite a few that I found on meetup.com.
Each group begins with the participants stating their name and what they write. I heard “poetry writer,” “flash fiction author,” “science fiction author,” “women’s literature,” etc. I felt out of place and a tad bit confused. As a counselor by trade and education I’d studied and practiced various forms of therapies. Most therapists choose the one or two approaches they felt best fit their own philosophy and the needs of their clients. At conference workshops there always a few counselors who said they were eclectic in their approach. What that meant was that they used numerous theories while adhering strictly to none. It was suggested to those individuals that they voice allegiance to one or two theoretical philosophies, even if in their daily practice they used a more varied approach.
Keeping in mind that suggestion, I felt unsure of my place in the writing world. Why? Because I write poetry, prose, flash fiction, short stories, essays, and biblical articles. I’ll admit here that some of my writings are of a sensual nature; something I haven’t shared with many people at that point.
It was to my pleasant surprise that after attending a few writers’ groups I began hearing other writers share they write across genres. I no longer felt scatter-brained and unfocused. Now, as I introduce myself and say, “I write in several genres. I write what the voices in my head tell me to.” There are always chuckles in the room after I make that statement.
So, the title of this piece is “How Serious is a Name.” A writer is known by what he or she writes … specifically. You hear a writer’s name and you automatically know, if the author is well-known, what they write. You know what to expect. Here’s a few examples: What do you think about when you hear the name Stephen King? Maya Angelou? Charles Dickens? Toni Morrison? You get the idea. You think of a specific type of genre. A specific type of writing style.
For those of us who write across genres, it’s suggested we establish a name for each genre. The reasoning is it’d be confusing for us if one of the abovementioned writers published a fictional book on country living or a romance novel. For our readers to know what to expect, as writers, we’re encouraged to stay within a specific genre. As we cross genres we may decide to use a pseudonym; a pen name. Side note: I adhered to those sentiments when I initially wrote this article. You can tell now from my website that I don’t separate my writings anymore.
Before you think only a fool would use a false name to publish a book, let me share with you famous writers who did:
Agatha Christie = Mary Westmacott
Benjamin Franklin = Mrs. Silence Dogood
C.S. Lewis = Clive Hamilton and N.W. Clerk
Michael Crichton = John Lange, Jeffrey Hudson and Michael Douglas
Stephen King = Richard Bachman
Reasons for using pseudonyms vary, though it seems lately they’re used for writers who pen articles and stories in a variety of genres. So, if you’re one of us who writes “what the voices in your head tells” you to and you want to be known for a particular type of story or a particular writing style – create a pen name for each genre you write. If you don’t care about being known for a specific genre, don’t. I found it time consuming managing multiple websites and keeping things separate.
Backstory: My reason for creating a pen name was simply to separate my writings; nice versus naughty. I understood that it wouldn’t look good to post a sensual story beside a biblical Inspiration article. Surprisingly, when I tell someone I have two separate website styles, they ask for the “naughty” stories. I smile every time I think of how I’d assumed I’d be judged negatively for writing stories of things adults think about each time that happens.
Writers write. There’s no rule of what you should or shouldn’t write. The only rule is to be the best writer you can be, whether under the name on your driver’s license or a fictitious one.
What are your thoughts on using pen names? Do you think they’re necessary? Have you used or do you use one? If so, why or why not? I look forward to reading your thoughts.
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