Pen names, the internet and identity

I find it an infuriating fact of modern life that those of us attempting to have an office-based career have to watch our public persona carefully so as not to be deemed unprofessional. Being eccentric or having left-of-field interests is a little dangerous, as is expressing anything other than enthusiasm for all aspects of one’s job. I wouldn’t go as far to say that being ‘professional’ precludes personality entirely, but there is a wide spectrum of behaviour and interests that is best kept outside that space.

Being a writer makes this worse of course. I want to get my work out there in the public domain, but I am loath to bring it to the attention of interviewers, managers, HR, et al – not just because I’ve explored taboos, or included sex scenes, but because it’s personal.

The internet brings these two worlds together somewhat. I’ve been told a couple of times by interviewers that they had looked for me on the web. One had found things she didn’t want to know about me. I’ve no idea what, but these were not things I would have presented in the interview or on the day job. She’s looked outside of what I would have shown her for anything else she can glean, and after being successful has found my professional image somewhat tainted.

The obvious answer is to leave us to express ourselves as wonderful, varied autonomous human beings outside work, and not go digging around on the internet in simultaneous hope and fear that the professional illusion could be spoiled. Sadly, I don’t think that will happen.

But it’s a shame, I think, to be closed off and locked down and police our internet use rigorously in fear of this professional taint, because the internet has so much potential. It’s a playground of self-expression, a chance to reach out and connect with interesting people, and an important and under-rated aspect of it – it’s a source of constant hilarity.

Still, that’s the situation, so I’ve been thinking about how to manage it. I’m also keen, this year, to reach out to the writing community and make myself known, so I have decided to use a pen name and split myself into two; my civilian self and my writer self.

I’d been toying with a pen name for a while, and this is a strange thing to get used to. My main reason for using one is that my real name is a bit silly. Not awful, but not ideal. Of course, it got adapted a bit at school. Primary school kids changed it to a euphemism for farts, and I began to miss that when ruder minds at senior school thought it more suited to oral sex. In any case, it lacks of a bit of gravitas and might look a bit out of place on a Waterstones shelf.

This name, David Glass, I chose a few months ago and have been chewing it over since. It works pretty well I think, but it still gave me pause for thought when setting up this site, and renaming my Twitter. It’s just strange to start using a name that isn’t my real one. It feels like getting a tattoo – if I have success with it, I’ll need to stick with it. And if I have success with it, then it won’t feel like MY success, but this David Glass chap’s. Impostor.

So the current plan – tidy up my civvy internet presence and make no public allusions to the pen name. Blog and submit and tweet under the pen name and don’t mention the real name. Feel a bit uncomfortable about the whole process but also a little excited.

These issues can’t be new to many writers – if any are reading this, I’d love to know what you think, and what you did about it.

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8 thoughts on “Pen names, the internet and identity”

  1. I like your pen name, for what it’s worth. It’s got a great ring to it, as they say.

    I bet I won’t be the only one who reads this and wonders what that person did find out about you!

    I think I’m probably stuck with my own name. It’s not so bad as I seem to be the only one with it. The only issues I have with it is the constant questions about whether I am related to a famous artist. Would be nice to be asked something original!

    I did think about using a pen name as I have been experimenting with writing in all different genres, so I think if for example I wrote a boys action book, I may reconsider it. Woudn’t want to confuse the girls that may (or may not) have bought my first book, etc.

  2. I had reasons to hide, legitimate reasons having to do with my nature of my day job, but this week I decided to say “screw it.” If my clients, most of whom I’ve known for more than 7 years, can’t deal with the “real” me then it’s their problem and not mine. I started a WordPress blog last Saturday and posted my real name, or at least the name I publish under (V. R. Roadifer) as well as my username (which happens to be my Wiccan name) on it. I can no longer be torn between selves and worry about what others think of me. I didn’t worry about it before I moved to a new city, why should I worry about it now? I am not ashamed of who I am or what I write, why should I act like I am and stay in the shadows?

  3. Mr problem with a pen name is I’m far too egotistical and want everyone to know it was me me me! It would feel weird I think people talking about my pen name as though she were another person and not putting the two of us together, crediting her with my hard work. Daft really, when you know the truth.

    But I see the necessity as well, in these days of employers hunting around on the net for their employees names, something that really creeps me out, you need to have that space to be able to write what you need to write, free from worry and fear.

    I like David Glass. Good name.

  4. Thanks for posting this – very interesting and thought provoking. I love your distinction between ‘civilian self’ and writing self’. Having a professional life and a writing life (and some overlap) I’ve toyed with having a back-up name, but ended up not. When I’ve been googled it’s sometimes been difficult to explain my ‘dirtysparkle’ internet identity even though it’s just the name of my first writing project!
    A recent exercise for me was if I publish in my current name then marry my partner will I be obliged to adopt a different writing identity under my married name? I could keep my current name but which writing identity would be authentic?

  5. Hey David….good stuff. I constantly worry that I will say something on my blog that will give the wrong impression. But to my mind, this defeats the whole purpose of having a blog – self expression without censoring of any kind.

    Keep writing …really enjoyed reading your post.

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