I submitted an article to PSILY the other day. The editor said she would publish it if I made some changes. “Add personal details”, she suggested. She was right, it was the kind of story that would become a lot richer if there was a personal touch to it.
But it was about failed romantic relationships and I didn’t feel comfortable sharing my private life online. “I agree, but I will pass”, I answered, and published the story elsewhere. It’s called “Why Dating Wrong People Is Not a Waste of Time” and you can read it here if you want.
I have been writing online regularly for over a year now. I have shared my life at length, touching subjects like my career, my travels, my lifestyle, or my financial decisions. But some topics are a no-go area, the main one being romantic relationships.
I would be fine with a thousand strangers reading my personal stories online, but the idea of people I know reading them makes me cringe. Imagine your co-workers knowing about that time you were cheated on years ago, or when you broke off your engagement or the cheeky adventures you had with your partner. Imagine your mom knowing about the cheeky adventures. Nope, not for me.
The Problem With a Pen Name
In theory, a pen name could be a gracious solution to this problem.
Imagine you are Lucy Lee but open an account on Medium under the pen name of Jane Doe. Oh, the freedom! You write without boundaries. You share the story of that sexy adventure behind your husband’s back, the time you did drugs in Ibiza, or the abortion you had that completely ruined your mental health.
You are free because nobody will ever be able to connect your pen name to your real self. But nobody will ever be able to connect to you either.
For the public, reading stories by someone whose identity is undisclosed can bring up questions that make it harder to establish a connection. If the writer is hiding behind a fake name, isn’t there a chance the story is fake too? How can a reader trust someone who is not even honest the moment they introduce themselves? “Hi, my name is Jane Doe”. “No, it’s not”, and anything else that comes after falls short.
The Internet craves authenticity. Creating a massive online following pretending to be someone you are not just isn’t how things are done anymore. Audiences get touched by rawness and honesty. Sharing openly and truly always wins.
How Zulie Rane Found the Perfect Solution
Ever since I stumbled upon her writing here on Medium, I wondered “what kind of a name is Zulie Rane anyway?”. But some parents come up with the weirdest ideas when naming their kids, so who knows?
It wasn’t until I read this article from her that I realized it is a pen name. But a very clever one.
The difference between Zulie and most authors who write under a pen name is that she doesn’t truly hide. Rather, she created a whole new person, a character if you will, and introduced herself to the world like that.
“Zulie Rane? Yeah, I know her. It’s that girl who writes about freelancing and quit her corporate job a while ago. She’s also a psychology nerd and a cat mama. Blonde, smiley. Yes, I know who she is”.
She gives a face and a life to her character, she even created Zulie Rane’s LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook accounts! This creates the feeling of authenticity that readers need to trust and believe her.
Yet, if she ever wanted to commit the murder of Zulie Rane, the only thing she would need to do would be deleting her social media accounts. As she says:
“And it gives me an ace in my sleeve: if I should ever get sick of being an extremely minor internet celebrity, (…) I can simply drop off the face of the Earth. Zulie is real, but she’s also a facade, someone I created. I love my life, but I love the option of leaving it all behind one day, too.”
If she ever applies to a job at a new company, recruiters won’t know everything about her beforehand. If she recently made a new friend, that person won’t know everything about her without having to ask. None of them will ever lay eyes on any of her articles unless she deliberately chooses to share them.
And if they ever google her — Mary, Jessica, Kate, whatever she’s called — all they will find is information about Mary, Jessica, or Kate. For all these people know, Zulie Rane doesn’t exist. Now, isn’t that smart?