A decade or so ago, I was indulging in the idea that I might want to be some sort of writer. The ambition was old but the thought it was something I could pursue was brand new. Someone close to me asked whether it felt as though I had a secret identity. He was thinking of that ambition, that goal, as a sort of superhero-esque mission – one that could be turned to when crappy jobs and endless chores made days seem long and fruitless.
At the time, writing was a fairly private thing for me and an ambition not many of my friends knew about. It meant I was free to try and fail, and fail again, in private. People didn’t know what I was up to so they didn’t ask how my writing was going/if I’d had anything published recently/whether I had any spoken word gigs coming up. I could lick my wounds and learn my lessons quietly.
But as time went on and I put myself up for more and more opportunities, as I submitted to magazines and journals and shared links when work was published, as I started to stand up in front of a mic and read to my pals, as I (ahem) started a blog, writing was no longer any sort of secret – it’d become part of my public identity.
I took a partial pen name – May is my middle name – to keep creative writing separate from copywriting. Despite that, the lines quickly blurred. A pen name might take the pressure off your personal life, it doesn’t protect you from reviews, questions, online comments etcetera.
Exposure was inevitable and it was necessary. As much as I can’t help thinking it’d be nicer and easier to have writing as something I could retreat to, a pastime with no expectations attached and which would only be revealed in the moment of glory, I know that’s not how it works.
Even superheroes find their secret identities cause them no end of bother and anyway, to succeed you have to put yourself out there and accept how vulnerable it makes you. It’s much easier to make mistakes when no one is looking but if you want to improve, the only way to do it is to let other people in and to pay attention to what they’re saying. Chances are, most of them are trying to help and support you. just don’t tell them they’re now officially the sidekicks on your writing mission.