Too scared to show your work? It’s pseudonym time

When and how to show your work (and to whom) are some of the toughest questions writers face.

show your work (don't be Emily Dickinson)

Emily Dickinson

On the one hand, you don’t want to be Emily Dickinson, shoving your work in the desk drawer only to have it discovered after you die.

Can you imagine what would have happened if no one had opened that drawer? The Dickinsons could have sold the desk at a yard sale and maybe the new owner would open the drawer when she was painting the thing puce, to match her living room. Look at all this junk, she’d think as she threw away the musty pages. Or worse, she might have published them under her own name and adolescent girls everywhere would now be swooning over the poetry of Gladys Kowalski. I’m sure she’s a nice lady, whoever she is, but she’s no Emily Dickinson.

So don’t be an Emily Dickinson. Except for the brilliant writing part.

But what if you really don’t want to show your work? What if the challenge is less about revealing the work than about revealing yourself?

Then, my friend, you might want to consider a pseudonym.

Don’t show your work—show someone else’s

I mean, you should be proud of your work. It’s probably a lot better than you think (a supportive teacher and/or writers’ group could help you find that out).

But if the thing that’s holding you back is “What will people think about me?” or “Is this ‘off-brand’ for me?” or pretty much any other question that ends in the word “me”—then don’t show your work. Show Gladys Kowalski’s. Or George Sands’s. Or whoever’s. Emily Dickinsdaughter has a nice ring to it. (You’re welcome.)

A pseudonym does an end-run around the obstacles your brain has been so busy creating. Of course, once you’ve cleared that set of obstacles, your brain will create some more. But let Gladys or Emily can slip your work out of the house when your brain isn’t looking. You can always reclaim ownership later, if you want to. And if you don’t, no one will ever know.

  • mindset
  • writing