Writing Under a Pen Name Gives Me a Nuke Option
I’ve known I’d be Zulie Rane since I was about ten years old and decided I’d be a fiction writer. It’s not my real name, but one I came up with on the back of a napkin one afternoon. Back then, I liked Zulie because I thought it sounded jazzier than my real name. I never expected I’d become a full-time content creator. Today, I’m thrilled that I started writing and creating content under a pen name for two reasons.
First, writing under a pen name made sense when I started posting online— I wanted to tell real stories about my life, but I also wanted to create content that was separate from my real life. Zulie Rane was a safety blanket that allowed me to bare everything while retaining some anonymity. Posting stuff online about your life requires a lot of vulnerability — it sounds weird writing this but being someone else made it easier to be myself.
But second, beyond just a safety blanket for vulnerability and honesty, my pen name gives me another critical aspect of protection: a nuclear option.
Maybe One Day I’ll Want to Scorch My Online Life and Leave It All Behind
I love sharing, teaching, and talking on YouTube. I love writing and exploring on my blog. I get a frisson of joy whenever I have a consulting call with someone, and they say, “This is so weird, I feel like I already know you from your writing and your videos.”
To me, that means I’ve reached success: I’m so authentically myself online that people know me, my mannerisms, my language patterns, even if we’ve never spoken before. Even if “Zulie” isn’t really real.
But part of that joy is that there’s an invisible layer of separation between my audience and me. Like wearing a mask of my own face; while I’m truly myself online, I’m also very much not myself. I get to live stream my thoughts every week to my audience, and then log off and go back to my non-internet life, which is totally distinct and separate from my online life.
I have a Zulie Rane LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter, and even Facebook. My freelance clients know me by my pen name. Many of my internet friends know me by my pen name. I’m not precious about the fact that Zulie isn’t my real name, and I try to let everyone know that Zulie is very much real. But it’s not all of me.
And it gives me an ace in my sleeve: if I should ever get sick of being an extremely minor internet celebrity, if I should ever want to go back to my corporate job life, or retire to a goat farm in the northern regions of Spain, I can simply drop off the face of the Earth. Zulie is real, but she’s also a facade, someone I created. I love my life, but I love the option of leaving it all behind one day, too.
Creating Content on the Internet Takes Everything You Have
I talk about my life, my cats, my mistakes. Long-time viewers and readers will know about the difficult year of long-distance marriage I struggled through while waiting for my husband to finally make it over to Georgia after waiting to get a green card.
I openly talk about how much money I make from my various income streams. I’m willing to open a conversation with pretty much anyone who emails me or leaves a comment on my YouTube videos. I can get honest in my writing and filming in a way I couldn’t if it were by my real name.
There are content creators who stick to their lane, who hold part of themselves back, who don’t share everything. While I have the utmost respect and admiration for those who choose to do so, that was never an option for me. I have always felt that to be my most authentic self online, I needed to give away everything I had, and that meant setting aside my real name. But that also means that in order for me to have some sense of power and control, I need a big red button in case I ever want to hit that nuke option.
My pen name is real. But it’s also a way for me to have the final word in the conversation. I’ve given my entire self online, and I haven’t regretted a single moment of it. But even if I’ll never press that button, it gives me freedom to know that at any moment I can walk away and leave the online world to better live in the real one.