How would you react if I told you Justin Cox was actually a pen name? It’s obviously not the case (or is it?), and if it were (it’s not?), it’d be one very long con. After all, I shared a few weeks ago that I registered justincox.com about two decades ago.
Since it’s Halloween, it feels like a good time to broach the pen name subject. Many writers put on an anonymous or pseudonymous persona when writing online. While I’m not one of them, I get the appeal of a pen name.
A few weeks ago, My Writing Community member Liz asked the following:
I’d like to see something on pen names addressed in a future newsletter! … I’m debating between a realistic pen name or a brand name. I’d be curious to read your thoughts.
I worked with teenagers for fifteen years, though I never wrote about the absolutely insane things I witnessed. It was a ripe storytelling environment, but sharing them under my name never felt right.
There were times I contemplated a pen name, but the idea of maintaining multiple personas (Justin Cox and something else) and managing multiple audiences just seemed far too daunting. Instead, I shelved everything that happened into some dark recess of my brain, and many ideas were left unexplored.
Only in the last few months have some of those ideas started bubbling back to the surface. I’ve got a particularly amazing story sitting in draft, just waiting to be told. But now, all these years later, I’m afraid I won’t be able to do it justice. We’ll see.
Zulie, fellow My Writing Community teammate, did play the long game and created a pen name at 10 years old (in case you’re wondering, it’s Zulie). As Zulie puts it, “Posting stuff online about your life requires a lot of vulnerability — it sounds weird writing this but being someone else made it easier to be myself.”
Many times throughout my writing career, I’ve felt like I was leaving things back out of fear of how people might react. Even now, in my…