Wonderful Readers! You have proven yourselves to be some of the wisest and most thoughtful people I “know.”
Yesterday I posted a comment from a Wonderful Reader struggling with her family’s objection to her pen name. She had an interesting twist on the issue – and your comments were amazing. For everyone who’s arriving late to the conversation, you can read the original post and the comments here.
I’ll post the resolution soon. But first, I thought I’d post my original response. This was my effort before I had the benefit of your feedback:
Q: I have a question. My pen name is my grandmother’s name. It took a long time and a lot of thought to chose that name, but now various members of the family (grandchildren and great-grandchildren of all things — she’s been dead for over 60 years and I never knew her) are offended that I’m publishing, even daring to blog in her name. Should I change to make them all happy? Should I write only “nice” things under that name? I’d love to know how you came to your name and what you think.
A: Oh, this is a difficult question! I haven’t faced anything like this with my own pen name, but here are my thoughts, for what they’re worth. This would be different for me if it was the name of someone who had died recently – 60 years seems like a long time for them to cling to ownership of the name. On the other hand, who are we to judge what makes others unhappy? No one wants to cause unhappiness if we can avoid doing so.
But let’s think about this strictly from the point of view of your writing: that is, does the pen name add or subtract from your efforts? Even setting aside the hurt feelings and damaged relationships, it seems to me that actively causing some friction in your family by using the pen name will also be hard on your writing. Only writing “nice” things is one way to get around it – but other people might have a different view of what’s nice and what isn’t, and you’ll wind up second-guessing yourself and maybe being frustrated by not being able to write what you really want. That’s the first path you could take.
On the other hand, if you think the pen name worth keeping because of the positive impact on your writing – maybe you find it so inspiring you can’t imagine using anything else – then you should probably make the effort to make sure the other members of your family know why you chose it and that your intention is to honor a beloved family member, not to denigrate her. That’s path number two.
Your third path is to go forward, believe in yourself, have the confidence that you’re doing the right thing, and do what you can to make sure the others are okay with it. This is a path you need to consider, and not just because of the pen name. Sometimes one complaint is a proxy for another. Is this limited to the name you’re using, or is something deeper at work? Are they bothered by the idea that you are writing at all? Maybe because they’re not comfortable with the idea that they’ll recognize themselves and your family in your stories. Or maybe that’s how their complaint makes you feel. Maybe the issue of what name to use is actually an issue of your family not taking seriously something that’s important to you. If that’s the case, their telling you not to use the pen name feels disrespectful to you. You, someone who is alive! And who is trying to be happy!
I don’t know which of these paths is the right one to take – I think it depends on how close you are to these people, how important the pen name is to you, and how you would feel about giving it up. But I would make sure you understand why you think they’re asking you and how it makes you feel before you do anything. If you think down the road you will feel like it was an act of compassion and generosity, then fine. Take the first path. But if you think you’d feel like you had surrendered, and that this is part of a pattern of giving in rather than standing up for yourself, you might want to make sure you’ve at least tested the second two.
So that was my response. What do you think, Wonderful Readers? What’d I get right? What’d I miss?