#130: Pen Names and Shame

Dear Story Nurse,

What’s your opinion on using a pen name for some of one’s work, but not other work?

I have found myself wondering if I ought to use a pen name when trying to publish certain kinds of writing that’s different from what I have out there right now. Some of it is R-rated (for reasons of sexiness), and some of it is just stuff that feels unprofessional or “off brand” but will pay the rent (i.e. writing listicles for ListVerse or similar ‘clickbait’-y sites).

I’m a bit torn. I feel like, maybe if I am embarrassed of something I’m creating, I shouldn’t put it out into the world? If I cannot truly stand by my work (because I think click-bait taps into compulsive behaviors, encourages snap judgements, and doesn’t necessarily reward good writing or thoughtful reading; or because I’m not sure of the possible ethics of writing the kind of erotica I’m scribbling), maybe I just shouldn’t put it out there. Is a pen name a cowardly cop-out?

Or, maybe I’m embarrassed only because I am judging myself too harshly? The erotica I’m writing is unusual (i.e. fantasy-ish, impossible irl [it’s furry / anthro]) , but the scenes are consensual and don’t validate anything I’m opposed to. And the embarrassment just comes from being different or “weird.”

Likewise, the content of the click-bait I’ve toyed with isn’t against my beliefs, even though it isn’t my ideal style. Maybe I’ve internalized some classist ideas about art and commerce; that I “should” only write things that are artful and completely true to my spirit without taking money into consideration (#shitrichpeoplesay).

Even though I could really use an extra $100 / week, perhaps my embarrassment comes from needing money, even if it’s from less-than-ideal work, rather than embarrassment from feeling like a hypocrite by writing for listicle sites when I’m not a fan of the way they work or the rhetoric they encourage.

Anyway, that’s my core dilemma: I feel embarrassed about these kinds of writing, even though I also enjoy it, and I have opportunities to make money from it. My embarrassment makes me think I should use a pen name, so that if I ever try to publish serious work under my own name, editors will only see my current publications in more professional outlets. But, maybe I should just be bold and own whatever I create? Or maybe this is a sign I shouldn’t publish these works at all?

Just wondering your take,

Anthem (yep, using a pen name here too) (they/them)

P.S. Thank you for answering my previous question! With your encouragement, I did polish and submit some of my #ownvoices horror & dark fantasy stories with disabled protagonists, and I’ve had some success! Possibly an interesting wrinkle to this: I used my own name with those pieces and didn’t feel embarrassed at all.

I’ve written “it’s okay to be a minority of a minority” in the front of a lot of my notebooks. So, just, so you know. Your advice has been very empowering for me.

Dear Anthem,

I’m so gratified to know that my earlier advice was useful to you. Thank you for telling me! And it’s fantastic that you’ve had success writing and selling those stories.

Your letter sounds like you’ve almost talked yourself into believing you’re ashamed of what you want to write, just because you’ve had the idea of using a pen name for it. You talk around a lot of reasons why you might be feeling ashamed. But is that really what’s going on, or is it just an association you have with pen names?

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