Writing Wednesday: To Blog Anonymously or Under Your Real Name?

Last week, I received an email from one of my “longtime readers.” I know this not because I have some sort of sophisticated tracking device set up through my blog but because she described herself as such and was asking for advice on an issue that many personal bloggers face: to use one’s real name or to go anonymous?

“I’ve been writing a blog on and off for 2-3 years,” she explained. “My issue is that I used to try to write safe content for the general public instead of revealing anything too personal but I’m thinking about starting to write a personal blog because there is more freedom. My concern is that I have a full-time job (also in a university) and I’m worried about my conservative older colleagues finding/reading it because I use my real name.”

anonymous_blogger

Well, here are my two cents on the pros and cons of writing a blog anonymously vs. using your real name.

The first question you have to ask yourself is why do you want to write a blog?

For me, it’s about experimenting with new writing styles and ideas, trying to stick to a semi-regular writing schedule and cultivating an audience of people, who, for whatever reason, find me at least mildly amusing. Because my blog also serves as a portfolio of sorts for my freelance writing (I also have a website that’s a bit more professional in both look and content), it’s important for me to use my real name.

If you’re writing just to vent though, or to tell funny stories or to post pictures of fancy things you manage to whip up in the kitchen, you can get away with blogging anonymously. And boy-oh-boy the benefits of blogging under a pseudonym! I am oftentimes very jealous of those who can get away with it. But ultimately you have to do what is going to best serve your goals as a blogger (which is why it is important to be clear about those goals in the first place).

The next question to consider is how important to you is your “day job?”

If you plan to blog under your real name, you should go ahead and assume that your colleagues will eventually find out. (It’s not a matter of “if” but rather “when,” and even if you use a pseudonym, there’s no guarantee you’ll be “safe.”)

A university setting is especially tricky due to privacy regulations and the fact that you are, by virtue of working for an educational institution, essentially obligated to conduct yourself in a manner that reflects positively upon said institution.

This brings me to my next point: your colleagues aren’t actually going to be your biggest issue. I work several part time teaching gigs but for the first time in my life, I truly enjoy all of them and don’t want to risk getting fired. (In contrast, when I was working at The Shop, I hated my life and didn’t care about getting fired so I blogged with wild abandon and said horribly snarky things all the time.)

Now, because I like what I do, I make it a rule not to never EVER talk about my students, especially my college students. I don’t actually like this rule—I’d have fabulous content every day for a year if I could tell some of those funny stories!—but it’s the cost of doing business.

Another nugget of wisdom is to avoid the rookie mistake of complaining publicly.

I’ve published over 700 posts on my current blog (and that’s in addition to the blogs I started and subsequently abandoned in college and grad school). Of those 700 posts, I only truly regret 2 of them.

The first was the description I wrote of the wedding where I met my ex-boyfriend several years ago. I said some not-very-nice things about his date (who was a co-worker and friend of his), which I have since toned down, but she somehow found the original version.

Suffice it to say, she never particularly warmed to me. And this made subsequent weddings and social gatherings a bit awkward. I learned not to take cheap shots at people just for the sake of a laugh, especially people who are already fairly insecure.

The second post I regret was one in which I complained about a former employer’s field trip policies.  My boss was horribly unprofessional and my direct supervisor was even worse but because I include a link to my blog in my email signature (duh…) they had no trouble finding it. I apologized, both in writing and in a number of horribly embarrassing face-to-face meetings that I requested for the sake of doing the right thing and reclaiming my own professionalism, but my boss still chastised me publicly (in front of the entire staff, I might add) at an annual meeting months later. It was not exactly the greatest day of my life.

I will close, however, with one final thought about “freedom” and the internet.

Sure, blogging anonymously gives you the ability to say ANYTHING you want, but it also absolves you from the responsibility of having to stand by your words.

(Hence the fact that most comment sections and message board are filled with vitriolic nonsense.)

My most popular post (Do I Look Like a Baby Killer?) was an extremely difficult post to write but it got Freshly Pressed, went viral and is still racking up comments. Why? Because I made myself vulnerable in a very public way and people respond to authenticity.

Sure, there are some awkward moments (especially because I blog a lot about my personal life and nearly every man I’ve dated in the past five years has, at one point or another, read my blog) but as long as your clear about your goals and clear about what you’re willing (or not willing) to risk, blogging under your real name can actually be quite empowering.

8 Responses to “Writing Wednesday: To Blog Anonymously or Under Your Real Name?”

  1. becky119

    Well Yoda, I think these are very wise words indeed. There is a certain amount of responsibility that you have to own up to when you write under your own name. I have written posts for my own blog and ultimately decided not to publish them for the simple fact that I didn’t want those words linked to my name, to a blog that people I know read. There is such a thing as over sharing (as you can see on this post: http://reverseorderofoperations.wordpress.com/2014/06/13/you-know-youve-had-too-much-when/) and having to take the time to really consider if you want your words to be out there, well, I think it makes for more responsible blogging.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Yeah, I have written and never published a TON of stuff on my blog for those exact reasons. It sucks and feels like a waste sometime but I always tell myself I’ll be able to put to use elsewhere someday, maybe in a novel 🙂

      Reply
  2. Amanda

    I blog under my own name – it’s part of my platform, so it makes sense. And I hate having to censor myself because of it, but sometimes I have to. I rarely talk about my day job, and I NEVER mention my employer’s name ANYWHERE on social media. I write romance. I write steamy (and occasionally erotic) romance. My friends and family all know this (including my immediate supervisor), but the Big Names in the company don’t. I also never mention my BF’s name in social media – he teaches elementary-aged kids, and he doesn’t want to lose students because of what I choose to do. So whenever I post about him, I keep his name out of it, and you can’t connect the two of us (except on Facebook, but I don’t post much about writing there anyway).

    Annoying, but necessary – and everything else I post, I own it, even if it gets me in hot water.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      All great points! And yeah, censorship is annoying but indeed necessary at times. Also good call on keeping your BF’s name out of things. I never use the real names of the folks I’ve dated either. I do always post my posts on Facebook (which has made for the occasional sticky situation but nothing too bad so far) but are right on point: if you’re gonna post it, you’ve got to own it 🙂

      Reply
  3. New York Cliche

    I really could’ve used this advice a year ago when I was toying with the thought of revealing myself on my blog but was still scared to go through with it. I ended up putting my name to my blog in February. Haven’t regretted it for a moment. Your advice on this is great, especially sharing your 2 negative experiences.

    Reply

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