Twelve years ago, I enrolled in my first online writing class. I was terribly nervous about exposing myself to a faceless audience. Like all newbies, I was petrified of anyone reading my work. The idea of someone not liking one of my stories sent me into a panic mode. Somehow, I thought that if I wrote under a pen name it would be easier to share my writing. My alter ego would bear the brunt of criticism. I could separate myself from the writer and take an objective approach to working with a critique group.
Over a decade later, I know better. Criticism hurts no matter what name happens to be on the story.
You would think that it would be easy to adopt a pen name and never look back. It took years for me to get to the point where I am comfortable in my feathered guise. This is mostly because of the reception I’ve gotten from other writers in various forums. Not everybody is a free spirit. Not all writers or readers are as playful as I like to be. The Raven is an image, forged from a combination of darkness and light that exists in my soul. It is a reflection of how I perceive the world. It is the subtext floating through my stories.
Over the years, I’ve been accused of being unprofessional, of not being a serious writer and of clinging to a childish habit. “Grow up!” Anonymous shouts from a comment box. “What are you hiding?” posts a fellow writer who signs a name I can’t begin to pronounce, let alone spell.
At which point I’ve asked myself, am I trying to mislead someone? Is it a crime to wrap my ego in a flight suit and take off for that white, hot center that gives birth to such wonderful imaginings?
A few years ago, under pressure from “professional” advisors, I tried to drop the pen name. I signed my true name to the posts in my writing forums. I wrote my critiques, posted my work and published stories with “Laurel Wilczek” in the byline. I even used my real name in email to my fellow writers.
And the strangest thing happened.
Nobody wanted Laurel Wilczek. I received replies to my emails addressed to “Raven.” In my writings forums, answers to my posts were written to “Raven” even though I posted under “Laurel.” Every time I held a class in the library, the kids would introduce me to their parents as “Raven” and consequently whenever I crossed paths with students and their parents outside, I was always greeted as “Raven” and not “Laurel Wilczek.”
Somewhere along the way, my pseudonym took on a life of its own.
Kicker number one came when I realized that my own nieces and nephew liked my alter ego a hell of a lot better than their aunt. Apparently, Aunt Laurel is a stick in the mud who thinks of consequences first, and fun, second. Raven, on the other hand, is cool and “darky” and dripping with mystique. She’s the ego the teen writers in my writing group want sitting at the table once a month at our local Borders.
Kicker number two came when I was messaged by writers from my writing sites. They complained that they hadn’t realized it was me on the forum when I posted an opinion under “Laurel.” I went back to the post, changed the name to “Raven,” Three days later I had twenty replies to the post. Poor Laurel. She got the complaints. Raven got a cartload of “Howdy dos?” and many invitations to link up on FB and Twitter.
So, why Raven?
No brainer there. I like Raven too. I like her dark musings. I like the way she thinks and the way she sees the world. I like that students and parents remember her name and that friends she hasn’t heard from for years hop back into her life with the cry, “What’s up, Raven?”
Laurel works fine for the serious stuff. She handles the master plan, takes the brunt of the tedious stuff, like revision and editing. Basically, boring Laurel does all the worrying. She’s a great gal when it comes to deadlines, bills, and schedules.
I’m a firm believer that people respond to images. A mystical bird tempered with darkness has its own allure. Each time I sit down to write, I am inspired and entranced by the flight into my creative self. There’s something about a great alter ego that makes for great writing.
We are Raven.
We rock the world with our dreams.