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.”
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.