Chris Walsh (chris_walsh) wrote,
Chris Walsh

The wrong approach

An author with whom I'm acquainted will soon write a novel under a pseudonym.+

Pen names fascinate me. There are persona issues that one can play with. It makes more explicit the idea of being able to write in different ways for different audiences. And there's the possibility of loosening up and writing words one wouldn't have written under one's own name. (Approximate quote from author Donald Westlake: "When it's sunny out, I'm Donald Westlake. When it rains, I'm Richard Stark.")

Heck, I can imagine writing under a pseudonym. It might be the most involved kind of performing I could do, because I am not an actor. That holds no personal interest. I think I can see acting potential in others -- I want to see Bobby "Fatboy" Roberts do more of it, I think he could do really well at that -- but the process of pretending in person to be another person is not something I want to do. (So I couldn't do what Daniel Handler used to do, where he'd schedule appearances as his pen name Lemony Snicket, show up as himself, and say "I regret to let you know that Lemony Snicket is, sadly, unable to make it to this event; he must remain in hiding. However, I may speak for him, so...")

But in words? Possible. It's performing, in a way, and more to the point in a way that I think I could do. If I acted, I worry I'd just be imitating someone, and not get past that level of performing. Whereas if I practice enough writing, I should eventually sound like I'm not imitating somebody. (Like this time when I was trying too hard to imitate Douglas Adams. To be fair, it was 1989 and I was a high school freshman. And let's not mention the other story I wrote around then that opens with a painfully imitative and obvious rewrite of his Vogon poetry scene...)++

But that's the bass-ackwards approach.

Write FIRST, Chris. How often do you need to tell yourself that? Learn more about storytelling, to the point where you sound like yourself, not someone else you read (as fun as imitating someone can be, and yes, I do enjoy doing that). THEN maybe you could put it out under the name Christopher Walsh, maybe under an easy-for-me-to-create name like Michael Nelson (my middle name plus my mom's maiden name, but that's too close to the Mystery Science Theater 3000 guy, so probably not), maybe under the name Neil Gaiman, maybe under the name John Ringo, maybe under the name Al Saint ('cause I was born on All Saint's Day). The point is, don't treat a pseudonym as the end-all-be-all. It's packaging. Often fascinating packaging, but remember: Stephen King was still a good writer when he published as Richard Bachman.

Be a better writer, always. And be more of a writer.

+ In fact, I know several authors, several of whom have used pseudonyms. It's a tool.

++ You also could say, honestly, that this was almost certainly inspired by The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy's sperm whale scene. But I'm still fond of it. That link has me reading it, by the way.
Tags: books

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