“If you’re proud of your work, why wouldn’t you want to have your name on it?”
There are very few people who know that I (as in the “real-life” version of me) write novels and am now a published author. To me, that is absolutely fine. I’ve been asked the above question a few times now and I feel like I’ve thought through the answer to enough of an extent that I can finally answer it with confidence. Before I do, though, let’s talk a little about pen-names (or pseudonyms, if you prefer).
One of the biggest benefits to becoming a writer is that you can chose which name to publish your work under. Why is it that novelists can do this when it seems like other artists are identified more conventionally? I have absolutely no idea, actually. I’m going to go out on a limb here and guess that pen-names were originally employed by writers of sensitive or controversial materials and subjects that could be punished or harmed were they to write under their given name. Whatever the origin may be, writers have been employing pseudonyms for as long as written literature has been around, and it’s an important choice for a writer to make to write under their own name or a fictional persona.
Obviously I madde the choice to write under a different name; but why, you may ask? Well, to start, I never considered myself a good writer. To be honest, I still don’t. It’s not false modesty, I promise; I think, deep down, that writing is one of the few places I am truly hard on myself. I feel a deep need to improve with each word I put on paper, and by the time I reach the end of something I’m always left with the feeling like the beginning is woefully inadequate. So, when I first began putting the name “Andrew Knight” on written pieces, it was because I was submitting my work to my high school literary magazine and I was afraid my writing wouldn’t be good enough to assign to my real self. Andrew Knight, unfortunately, started as a scapegoat and a proving ground for my developing ambitions.
That wasn’t the only reason, though. Writing has always been a deeply personal thing to me. Growing up in a family where shared feelings were all but taboo I always felt like written words were the secret outlet of the emotions that I had to keep bottled up in the real world. I found myself ashamed, almost, of my feelings. My writing stayed a secret from absolutely everyone until I was sixteen years old and I met the young woman who would one day become my best friend and my better half. She convinced me that not only were feelings a good thing, but that feelings could be celebrated and rejoiced. She was one of the first people ever to read my writing, and even though she enjoyed it and praised it, a part of me seemed unable to accept this new world of open emotions. Andrew Knight, I reasoned to myself, has no problem sharing his emotions. My real self could keep my feelings locked away while Andrew could feel them all freely on paper. The arrangement seemed to work well at the time, and still works today, though it is much easier to share intimate and emotional moments with those close to me after nearly five years of being with my wife. It seems sad, I know, but it has created an excellent channel for writing on tough, emotional subject, and for that I can be at least a little bit thankful.
The final reason why I prefer a pen-name is a reason that I discovered only very recently. That reason is that people started to read what I wrote. Not just the few dozen on the online communities where I began cutting my teeth on the YA genre, but thousands of people who were exposed to The Color of Darkness, and to my absolute and utter shock, people seemed to love it. They got it. They found meaning in it. They laughed over it and cried over it just as I had wished they would in my wildest dreams. Why do I write under another name if that feeling is so amazing?
Because I don’t feel like I deserve it.
The real version of me has made mistakes. I’ve failed. I’ve hurt people. I’ve disappointed people. I’m far from perfect, and I know that. So how could I have possibly written something that actually seems to have touched lives?
I have no idea.
My only answer is that I don’t feel as if I, the real version of me, actually wrote that novel. That novel was written by a different version of me, perhaps a version made up of all the good bits worthy of influencing the lives of young people who find my words inspiring. Andrew Knight deserves that praise; me, not so much.
And so I will continue to write under this name. Perhaps, and I’m sure it’s inevitable, my real name will come out and people will know that I and Andrew Knight share the same body. We will never, I think, share the same soul. Sure, all of his words come from my head, but only the good ones. He will never have to live with the burden of this tired body or scarred heart. He has the privilege to access both my greatest joys and biggest defeats without the darkness that accompanies the latter.
And that, I truly believe, is for the best.
Am I proud of my writing? I don’t know. I’m happy it seems to be well received, but I still feel like there is unlimited room for improvement. What I am proud of, though, is having a version of myself who seems to have the wisdom and heart of someone much older and much more admirable than myself. I’m proud that at least a small part of me can forget the terrible pains of this world and help young people find the joy in life.
That, dear reader, is really why I write under a pseudonym.
Until next time,