Writing In Disguise

If you struggle with "page fright" this might be your solution.

Last month I began writing and self-publishing under a pseudonym. I had thought about it for a long time, but… I’ll be honest, I wanted recognition for my writing, darn it!

As I was getting closer to completing my novella it became increasing clear that I had issues about publishing it under my own name. Unlike Dharma and Desire, my first book, this little novella is not entirely fiction. I guess you could call it a highly fictionalized memoir. And though I doubt anyone would be shocked and appalled by the content, it still made me uncomfortable.

You may or may not know that I got my start writing erotic romance and I’ve been published in a few anthologies. I stopped writing in that genre because I moved into more spiritual/visionary romance. Not to mention there is very little money to be made in anthologies!

But I’d heard that one can actually make decent pocket change selling kindle short stories. (Caveat: you must be prolific.)

Since I’m sooooo sick of not making any money on my writing, I wanted to give it a try. It was my desire for cold hard cash, along with cold feet about my novella, that motivated me to adopt a pen name.

The results have been incredibly liberating. In fact, I am kicking myself for not doing this a LONG time ago. I have written and published more in the past month under my pen name than I write and publish in a year as myself. The best part is that my novella is flowing free once again.

The only downside is that I have to build an entirely new platform and find new readers. Also, publishing kindle short stories is a long game. You need a lot of work out there before you’ll start seeing any money.

But to me, the benefits outweigh the cons. The top three benefits being:

1. Pen names allow you explore your various writing voices.

2. Without fear of backlash or judgement, you can be more authentic.

3. It takes some of the pressure off being perfect. If it’s a huge flop and everyone hates it… who cares! No one knows it was you. (And yet you still receive the benefit of learning from your mistakes.)

So, I invite anyone who struggles with fear around their writing to consider adopting a pen name. Do an experiment and write one short story as someone else. Write it with the knowledge that no one will ever know you penned it.

See what comes out. It may surprise you. And who knows… maybe it can even buy you a cup coffee. Eventually.

Do you write under a pen name? If so, how has it helped you as a writer?

Trust Your Creative Process

Just hear me out on this one.

Before you tar and feather me and run me out of town on a rail for saying it’s okay to edit as you write, hear me out.

I recently went through the longest case of writer’s block, or as I call it “page fright,” that I have ever experienced. I barely wrote a word for 7 months.

Granted, I was trying my hardest to plot The Mists of Bellicent Bay, so I wasn’t totally inactive. I was reading books on writing, story structure, and all that dry stuff that while important, doesn’t fire me up creatively. I downloaded templates and to-do lists. I created outlines and diagrams galore.

While some of those techniques helped me organize my thoughts, I was still utterly incapable of sitting down and actually writing!

Well, I’m thrilled to say I’m out of that desert and have found my oasis of words once again. I am back in my heart after living 7 months in my head. And today I had an epiphany about this entire experience…

I was doing exactly what I tell you, my wonderful reader, NOT to do!

I was attempting to mold my creative process into something that is not my own. I was approaching my book the way others say it should be done. (I think it’s important to be open-minded and try new techniques to improve our writing, and as I mentioned, some did help.) But my God, I was sitting there staring at an outline I couldn’t unravel for 7 damn months!

Because I don’t outline. I never have. It doesn’t work for me. I write and the story reveals itself to me as I go.

Yesterday, after I finished writing a very satisfactory chunk of words I began to re-read and edit. I stopped myself because everyone says this is a mistake. Don’t edit and write. I even advised against it because I felt this habit was part of the reason it took me so long to write Dharma and Desire. And I sure as heck wasn’t going to make that mistake again with Mists of Bellicent Bay!

Another epiphany. I like to write and edit. Not to the point of perfection mind you, but I simply can’t stand having a bunch of slop on the page. So I edit a bit as I go. That’s how I do it. It’s part of my process. So what? Who’s to say it’s wrong?

William Styron, acclaimed author of Sophie’s Choice said:

I try to get a feeling of what’s going on in the story before I put it down on paper, but actually most of this breaking-in period is one long, fantastic daydream, in which I think about anything but the work at hand. I can’t turn out slews of stuff each day. I wish I could. I seem to have some neurotic need to perfect each paragraph—each sentence, even—as I go along.

(Thankfully, I’m not that neurotic. I finish a few paragraphs before I start to pick at them.)

7 months. I can’t believe I spent so much time being untrue to my own process. Oh well, another lesson learned.

Write from your heart instead of your head and you can’t go wrong. And trust me, I’m saying this just as much for myself as for you.

Your Authentic Voice

Who are you when you're writing?
I talk about it often. Every writer has their own unique story, and it’s through embracing and expressing our authentic voice that we will find success. But what exactly does all of that mean?

(I understand that in many circles “authentic” has become a buzzword. Yet I continue using it in the context of writing, because I know that beneath its overuse, its essence remains untarnished.)

Some say that our authentic voice is not to be found, but rather, developed. Some say our authentic voice equals our world view. Some say our authentic voice emerges from the subconscious.

Yes, yes, and yes. But that’s not all.

I was chatting with my teaching partner, Debbie Anne, who writes beautiful, raw, evocative prose and poetry. As we discussed the subject, she mused “how do we know if we are really writing from our authentic voice?”

Well, the answer we agreed upon is this:

We don’t have just one authentic voice. We have many.

We are multifaceted human beings with a plethora of personalities inside of us. I know it sounds a bit Sybil, but it’s actually very healing and empowering to understand the different archetypal aspects of our own nature. Most of us operate unconsciously from one or two primary parts (usually, wounded ones.) Once we are aware of this, we can make a conscious choice to act from a different place.

I think writers are especially prone to well-developed “inner-aspects.” As F. Scott Fitzgerald said…

Writer’s aren’t exactly people. They’re a whole lot of people trying to be one person.

I’m not just a writer and a wife. I also have a playful and sensitive inner child. I have a dark, depressed goth girl inside (with awesome clothes.) I have a hippie. A wise witch. A snob. A temptress. A healer. The list goes on and on. (And mine will be different than yours.)

Before I became a coach and learned this inner aspect model of the psyche, I thought there was something wrong with me. I couldn’t figure out who, among all these Athenas, I really was! Now I get it. I’m all of them. No one part of me is more authentic than another. They all have their place. Even the super shadowy aspects I, um, decided not to list above.

So, if we have multiple authentic parts of our personality deep inside, doesn’t that also mean we have multiple authentic voices in our writing? I think so.

Ask yourself this question: who am I when I am writing?

Chances are your answer will be different depending on what you are writing. You aren’t the same person writing a blog post as you are when you’re working on your book. Or even a poem.

There are many voices inside of you that want to be heard. And you can identify their level of authenticity by the way you feel when they are expressing. When you slip into that deep, beautiful, space where the words carry you away, you are touching truth.

Many writers will advise you to pick a voice and stick with it in order to establish yourself in your genre. But I say don’t be afraid to experiment with different voices to find which ones feel the best. (Or have the most to say.) If you’re concerned about writing from multiple voices, consider having more than one website and using a pen name.

You will also find that your voices change over time. What was authentic for you today will not be true for you in ten years. It’s an ever-evolving process. Let that fact loosen your grip on doing it right.

Exercise To Help You Find Your Voice(s): 

List all the aspects of your personality that you can think of – even the ones you’d rather not look at (especially those.) Then let each one express themselves in writing. Don’t judge and don’t censor.

In closing I’d just like to say that all of this is a bit like trying to analyze every brushstroke in an abstract masterpiece by Picasso. In truth, your voice(s) are fluid and work together (a bit like a small chorus of your inner aspects.) But sometimes deconstruction is helpful.

When Comparison Strikes

No, I don't teach Victorian literature. And I'm okay with that.

No, I don’t teach Victorian literature. And I’m okay with that.

The other day I found myself at a social gathering. We all know how much I love those. Actually, this particular gathering was small and consisted of friends. When the one new face in the crowd was introduced as a fellow author, I was excited to connect. I talked a bit about my book and how exciting it was to finally have my first novel out there in the world (after 7 long years of struggle.)

“What about you? What do you write?” I asked.

“I teach Victorian literature at Stanford.” Cue awe, envy, and comparison. “I just released a book, too. It also took me 7 years! It’s a critical analysis of Victorian poetry. Right now I’m working on a book about narrative.”

“Oh.” A tumbleweed tumbled past. (You have no idea how bad the drought is in California.)

Another woman jumped into the conversation. “Athena, did you bring me a copy of your book?”

My book found its way around the table, pausing for a few moments in every pair of hands. As Lady Professor flipped through it, reading here and there, I had to resist the urge to snatch it from her fingers. Speaking of narrative, the particular narrative going through my head at that time was pretty dismal. The comparisons had launched themselves into full flight.

I’m nothing compared to her.
Stanford. Seriously? I think she’s younger than me.
What does a book “about narrative” mean anyway?
Oh God, I’m a total fraud!

As the evening progressed, and in the days following, I got a handle on those comparisons by remembering three simple things…

1. Only we can tell our story.

So what if someone else does this or that, has a fancy title, or has written a thousand best sellers? We are on our own journey and it would serve us to remember that. Often. No, I can’t teach Victorian poetry (reading it is challenging enough, thanks.) But I’m pretty sure she couldn’t have written Dharma and Desire, either.

“Your writing voice is the deepest possible reflection of who you are. The job of your voice is not to seduce or flatter or make well-shaped sentences. In your voice, your readers should be able to hear the contents of your mind, your heart, your soul.”
-Meg Rosoff

Our mind, hearts, and souls are our own. No comparison is possible.

2. We tend to compare our behind-the-scenes to other’s highlight reels.

How do I know what this woman’s struggles are? Maybe she wants, more than anything, to write a formula romance novel. Or an erotic novel. Or a sci-fi novel. But she’s terrified. Who knows? We tend to presume that everyone else has it amazing. That other authors have it easier. It’s just not true.

3. You’re only in competition with yourself.

I wrote a novel. Period. No, it’s not high-brow literature, but I wrote it. And I continue to improve my writing all the time.

And if you’re reading this, comparing yourself to me, thinking “I haven’t written a novel,”… so what if I wrote a novel? You’re writing and that is more than many will ever attempt. You are moving toward your goals. That’s what’s important.

If you’re anything like me, you have a hard time recognizing how far you’ve come. But I’m willing to bet if you really look at it, your writing has grown by leaps and bounds. You’ve accomplished a lot. Honor your achievements.

I’m pretty sure the greats out there (authors, leaders, teachers, etc) don’t spend a lot of time worrying about how they measure up to someone else. They are too busy focusing on helping others while being the best they can be.

 

When it comes down to it, Lady Professor and I probably have more in common than I realize. We’re both writers. We both want to share our minds, hearts, and souls with the world.

It’s okay — actually, it’s pretty damn cool that we do it in different ways.

Writing On The Edge. How Courageous Writers Make Successful Writers.

Fear is your guide, not your enemy.

Writing is scary.

It’s true. Only writers get this. Try to explain to a normie that you haven’t finished your novel because you are afraid, and you’ll only receive a blank stare of confusion, or worse, judgement.

But why exactly is writing so terrifying? From the book, The Courage to Write:

Even though novelists and short story writers ostensibly deal in fantasy, they are the most self-exposed authors of all. Fiction writers are judged by the emotional authenticity of their work. To create authentic feelings in their characters, they must first call up their own.

It’s that word: authenticity.

And that’s the crux of it. All famous authors have said it in their own way. You must be honest. You must be real. If you aren’t, your work will suffer.

“The only writers I respect,” said Henry Miller, “are those who have put themselves completely into their work. Not those who use skillful hands to do something. This isn’t writing, in my opinion. A man who can dash off a book, let’s say, and say it’s a good novel, a best seller, even of some value, but it isn’t representative completely of him, of his personality, then there’s something wrong there. This man is a fraud in a way, to me. All he put into his book was his skill. And that’s nothing. I prefer a man who is unskillful, who is an awkward writer, but who has something to say, who is dealing himself one time on every page.”

So many of us are afraid we aren’t good enough, skilled enough. So we obsess over rules and how-to’s and paralyze ourselves with the rigidity of doing it right. Often this is only a tactic our fear uses to distract us from writing the deep, scary, truth.

There is a woman in my writing group who desperately wants to be a better writer. When she shares her stories, they inevitably fall flat. She’s good with grammar, plot structure, and description. But there is something missing: truth. There’s no honesty in her stories. There is no risk.

The risk is what rivets readers.

They sense that not only are these characters in some sort of danger (physical, psychological, or otherwise) but the author is, too. Readers want to see the truth laid bare in all it’s humiliating glory. Why? Because it resonates as truth. And that makes them feel connected. It makes them feel better about their own truth. It makes them feel they are not alone.

This type of writing takes guts. There’s no magic cure for writing fear (though I’ll be focusing on how to face it for the rest of September.) As a successful writer, self-exposure is not just an occupational hazard. It’s a requirement. Make peace with this fact as best you can.

Remember that fear is your guide, not your enemy.

“When you stiffen,” said Toni Morrison of anxious moments while writing a novel, “you know that whatever you stiffen about is very important. The stuff is important, the fear itself is information.”

When you feel the fear, celebrate it instead of cursing it. Instead of running away. Be glad you feel it. It means you are doing something more important than following rules: you’re writing with authenticity.

And that’s a good thing. All those famous authors can’t be wrong.

 

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