Why I Don’t Use My Real Name in Writing

white and black yacht on sea
white and black yacht on sea
Photo by Gerhard Lipold on Pexels.com

This isn’t my real name. It’s not the name I was born with. Not the name people know me by.

I’m not a criminal or anything. I haven’t even got embarrassing videos on the internet that I don’t want people to see. In my real life, I’m a professional. I have a good career. I have nothing to be anything but proud of.

I started writing when I was five. I remember the first story. It was about detectives, two of them. Then they enlisted a third. Somewhere in the story, Godzilla showed up. I don’t know why. But there was Godzilla, working with the kid detectives. I kept writing that story, until it was about a hundred pages of scratchings. My parents didn’t quite understand what I was up to. When we moved to North America, I lost that story. It’s in a landfill somewhere, decomposing.

For many years, I wrote for myself alone. In high school, in English class, that stopped. I had to write stuff that others were going to read. My one English teacher was very complimentary about my stuff. I’ll never forget that encouragement. The one piece he really liked was a horror story about the Salisbury Plains, the home of Stonehenge. In college, I reverted to writing for myself. Tens of thousands of words written down, because I loved it, and I wanted to get better at the craft. I’ve always been a hard worker, and there’s nothing I work at more than writing.

One day, after I was employed and had a career, I realized that I wanted to share my writing. It had always been an impulse in me, but not one I’d done anything about. I entered a writing competition, the CBC fiction contest. That was six years ago, the first time I’d ever tried to push writing outwards. I shortlisted in that competition, one of five stories out of three thousand that were submitted. It was called Saad Steps Out. I’m grateful for Saad, little kid that he is, and I often wonder where he is now. Is he flying? Is he far away? Does he think about me? I don’t know. I won a thousand bucks for that story, something I’d written on a whim, in less than two hours. “Okay, birdman.” That line sticks out to me for some reason.

I submitted under this name. I started a blog under this name. Because back then, my thought was that no one was going to take me seriously under my real name. It’s a bit hard to pronounce. It’s not a common name, even amongst the ethnicity that it comes from. I’m not white. I’m an immigrant. I do remember what it was like to come to North America as a child, especially those first couple of years. The immigrant family that had their house robbed, and smears left on the walls. Had their car stolen. The things that were said to me in school. The feeling that I was out of place, and unwelcome. I felt like that. I honestly did. Soon, it become just a thing you lived with. It became normal, and I became conditioned to it.

When that type of feeling grows in you when you’re young, you see everything through that lens. It becomes your reality. You get resigned to being an outsider, and when things happen to remind you that you’re different, you just shrug. That’s just the way it is.

So when it came time to send my writing outwards, I obfuscated. I created an identify, a new name. Trent Lewin. A very western-sounding name. I don’t know why I picked it. I mean, it’s kind of a dumb name. Who’s called Trent these days? But it is part of me now. It was specifically picked so that I could elude the reality in which I’d lived for so many years, the reality that always had boundaries on it, and limits as to what I could do. I didn’t want my writing in a box. I have a boundless set of things I write about, and I didn’t want to feel like I was pushed down in any way. So a name was born. An identity was born. And I felt free for the first time in my life.

But was this the right thing to do? It’s 2021. People talk about political correctness and chastise it. Go ahead. Chastise all you want. All I want is the ability to not feel bounded. To feel accepted despite my real name, or the colour of my skin. Now I look around me, and there is growing acceptance of people who are different. Growing awareness that we need to change how we think, and that even if we have not felt the chill of racism, that we understand it exists. That others have felt it, and still do. If that’s political correctness, I’m all for it. It drives me crazy when people say they don’t care if I’m this, that or the other thing. Because I do. It’s the reality in which I live.

Should I use my real name in my writing? Should I outwardly declare my name? My sense is that it would help me in my publishing pursuits, because people are trying to level out a playing field that has, in the past, been skewed. I respect that people are doing that. I hope they don’t go too far in the other direction, but a level playing field would be marvellous! In reality, I want to be known for the strength of my writing. For the quality of the stories. That’s what matters to me. This doesn’t mean I should ignore who I am, or where I’ve come from.

My desire… Publish me, world. Publish me because I’m good. Because I tell stories that are strong. Publish me because I’m irreverent, I break boundaries, I snap genres, I talk about tough topics. Publish me because I can be beautiful, although never quite poetic. Publish me because I champion stories about people and situations that don’t get written very often. Publish me because I’m bold. Because I’m funny. Publish me because I’m Trent Lewin. Publish me because that’s not who I am.

The deeply personal, at times, is the deeply bizarre. I don’t regret my decisions. They make me who I am. I do revisit my decision this morning, though. Snowy, cold morning. I’ve been up for hours, revising my novel. It’s a great story, in my view. It’s about people whose stories are never told. There’s parts of me in it. The immigrant. The person who doesn’t have a land anymore. Not welcome there, not welcome here. But like in the story, people make a home. I’ve made a home. It’s right here, in these words. It’s in my stories, if not in the brick and mortar that surrounds me right now and keeps out the cold.

I appreciate anyone who reads these words. My blog is about fiction, and other made-up stories. I think I’m so clever for that tag-line, but it’s true. I don’t like to talk about myself very often – I like to imagine realities and make them real. This is an unusual post for me, as a result. But if you’re reading it, know that I appreciate your attention. I appreciate your time. Trent Lewin – and the other guy, too – both thank you.

Dream hard, rage hard.

37 thoughts on “Why I Don’t Use My Real Name in Writing

  1. As I go through my own querying process, I see a lot of agents who include in their “wish lists” a desire to see work from people of color and other “marginalized” voices. Being a white male who is closer to old than to young, I don’t fit any of those categories. And while I don’t object to their efforts to level the playing field, I can’t help but feel that they are doing a disservice to the marginalized. As you say, you should be published due to the quality of your words, the value of your stories, the magic of your pieces, not because of who or what you are. I think the better approach would be for these agents (and publishers) to say exactly that. We will publish the best stories we receive, regardless of who the author is, what their skin color is, what their gender is or any other personal trait. The best words, that’s what we’re looking for.

    We have a long way to go to see MLK’s dream come true when those who purport to believe in it continue to focus on something other than the content of one’s character, or in this case, the content of one’s words.

    I think you should submit your work to some agents under your real name and submit to some agents under Trent Lewin and see what happens. I look forward to the day when I learn who you really are. 😉

    1. It’s such a delicate balance, righting a ship that’s been lilting for so long. I hope people get it right and publish the best writing. we need good writing. It’s important. Human beings are meant to tell stories.

      It does give me real pause to think that other writers might get marginalized now because of this shift. I don’t like that.

      As for submitting under my pen name and my real name… that’s such an interesting concept that I might actually try it. I have no idea why I never thought of that.

  2. We all come from somewhere. We all have a past. We all have a story. Some, like yours, and mine, are akin to multi-layered cakes we continue to build up and up as each season of our lives comes and goes. The fillings change, as we do. What others see on my outside are layers of yellow cake. But only those that truly know me see those layers as I’ve lived them…Ombre-ing to the darker side and back again. My fillings revealed only when I choose to slice myself open and let loose my fierce and fiery reds, or invite them into my haven of indigo and violet blue. Those that I love are encouraged to leap onto and plunge into, my favorite layers of sunny or snowy or thundery days on the porch. Whichever layer I choose to lay open; whichever filling I choose to let ooze out the side…is raw, real, honest, and me.

    Not my color, not my name, not my past, not my future…yes my color, yes my name, yes my past, yes my future.

    Yes…me

    I don’t know what colors your layers are, my true and bestest NB, but whatever flavor your seasons are, I love them. Your fillings are just as stunningly varied as your stories. Some sweet with a touch of sour, others are bitter with a pinch of sadness. But my absolute favorites, are tough and hard to chew on; leave a bad, bad, taste in our mouths. That filling, my friend, is what makes us think, believe, know…we need to ‘change’ things. We need to see it, say it, hear it…WRITE it! Do something to cleanse our palates of that aftertaste of hate, pain, and regret.

    From where I’m sitting, somewhere south of there and north of somewhere else, I say LET THEM EAT CAKE!!!!

    You are who you are supposed to be.

    You do what you are supposed to be doing.

    Not because you’re Trent Lewin or because you’re not.

    Because you are YOU and you are wonderful.

    And I love who you are.

    SB

      1. I know you are, Susan, and really thank you for that. I always figured one day I’d visit you in person in NY and we’d chat and drink and make some cool food. You’d poetize on the porch. I’d sit there buzzed, trying to figure out how you did that.

    1. Oh my gosh, SB. I don’t deserve this comment. I really don’t. I think you’re far too generous with me, though I’ll not refuse these words. No, I’ll eat them. Each and every one. I’d drink them if I could, too. I kind of wonder if you’re actually a poet, the way you string things together like this. It’s magical, and it makes me feel unworthy, and I love you for it. As always. Yeah I know, I’m who I’m meant to be. Doing what I’m supposed to be doing. Lots of layers we all have, underneath it’s just us looking back. And that’s good.

      Please please write something on your blog. I would love to hear about your life in your words. I think that would be something else.

      1. Don’t say you don’t deserve. I’m nothing if not exacting in dolling out praise. I never embellish and it could almost be said that I’m down right stingy! 😆 ok, that may not be completely true, but I know what I know and know what I love. ‘Nuff said.
        I have been inching my way back to sharing my griswaldian life in my whacky way. I honestly can’t believe its been 3 years…3 very long years since my last share. It’s time, I agree, because I feel it.
        Soon then NB, soon.

        1. I’m glad you’re feeling it. And I’m glad to have seen your post. I read it, read it again, and then shared it on Twitter. I don’t think you can reblog on WordPress anymore, which is silly, but I would have shared that in a second. Actually, I’m going to post to my Facebook as well. You are so good. People have to read you.

          1. Your friendship means the world and I am, and will forever be, thankful for the powers that brought our circle of pretty spectacular people together. Thank you NB, for getting me and for your never ending encouragement.

            1. Oh, and by the way. Did you read it and read it again? Or did you sing it and sing it again? 🙂 I couldn’t write it without singing it, just wouldn’t work. love ya brother

  3. There’s a risk that, if you get more famous, people on the internet will start complaining that someone with a name like Trent Lewin isn’t really qualified to write about immigrants and people of color.

    1. This is indeed a risk, X. But I’m also not qualified to write from a woman’s perspective. Or a gay man’s. Or a lesbian’s. Or God’s. There will always be something to snipe about, I suppose. Figure I just keep writing, whatever bit of story I can muster, and let it into the ether.

      So… think I can be famous? Tell me true.

  4. I don’t see why you couldn’t get published under your pseudonym. After all, plenty of authors do. As to the reason you changed your name…I get it and it sucks. I’m sorry you felt you needed to do that to be taken seriously.

    1. Yeah thanks man. Stuff that happens, in the past, tough to figure out what it does to you until you sit down and draw up a ledger.

      Figure I could get published under my pen name. Figure that’s the way to go, actually.

  5. Thanks for the peek into your background, Trent. But you can publish under any name you want. At least “Trent Lewin” sounds real. Everyone knows me as “Cordelia’s Mom” but if my book is ever publisher ready, I doubt I’ll be able to use “Cordelia’s Mom” as my author name. On the other hand, I’m not sure I’ll ever be ready to release my real name publicly (sure, some of you know it, but thankfully, everyone has abided by my desire to remain anonymous). Regardless of what name you eventually decide to publish under, it won’t affect the quality of your work. Many authors publish under numerous pen names.

    1. Yeah I know, CM (and I do know your real name, but I’m not telling!). Thanks for those words, you’re right. I just wonder if it should be real name or pen name, but I think I know the answer now. I just don’t want to hide who I am anymore. That was a fool’s game in the first place. Maybe I need to do a reveal or something.

  6. And thank YOU for the words and worlds you share with us. I can’t wait to buy your books. I can’t wait to have them on my shelf. I can’t wait to read them.

  7. Ok. This is like the tease for the biggest Reveal of all time. Not that you have to. Not that you should. I wouldn’t have any idea. I’m about as Vanilla as they come. Well….maybe not THAT vanilla. But still. Pretty Vanilla.

    I sincerely hope you are right about things changing for people of color, for marginalized people. From down here, I’m not so sure. Or maybe I’m just a pessimist. So many folks down here just want to “move on”, “focus on unity” etc. It’s frightening. Because while you’re focused on that, Donald 2.2 is in the works. And v2.2 might actually know how to lead people. That’s what keeps me up at night. That’s what chases me into music. That’s what scares me away from my words. Because words mean thoughts and thoughts mean….well….it feels like hitting a wall. People want to talk about “civil discourse” and all but I have a hard time believing that discourse can change the mind of a neo-Nazi or white nationalist. I don’t write about these things but words are where these things live. Music…..feels like it can cross barriers that words can’t. More heart, less head. Thinking just seems to get us into trouble. Music? Not so much.

    Anyway….I guess I just ranted.

    Let’s have that drink.
    Let’s make music.
    Let’s help each other find the words. Not that you need any help…..and you’ve already helped me more than you know.
    Many thanks and much love.

    1. Hey dude, yeah I hear you. If the really bad folks actually organize, can they create something dire? I hope not. I think there’s more of us than them. And as for music, I have Spotify on just now. When I get bleak, I turn on Phoebe Bridgers “I Know the End” or Heaven Honey’s “Tomorrow I’ll Try” and I realize that human beings are wonderful, aching, and meant for something better than what we do to each other. We really are. If we can make soaring music, we have a chance. The day we stop making music, that’s the end of us.

      Rant away, my man. Let’s have the drink. Turn on the music, let’s find the words and just by doing that, refute all the ills in the world. Because that’s all it takes to refute the bad stuff, I really believe that. We’re stronger, we’re more plentiful, and we’ll stand up for what’s right – while the music blares in the background, telling us we got it right.

      1. Yeah. It’s best if I just don’t think about it too much. Hence my departure from FB. Seems EVERYONE is just a little too fond of their own opinions and feelings on such things. And I really just don’t need to see it all. It’s bad for my hallabalutions…

        Also why I like this place so much. It’s slow. No one gets mad if you don’t wish them a happy birthday (even though the only reason you even know about it is because the algorithm won’t let you forget…..ugh).

  8. I really appreciate your facts about life Trent even if I do not know your real name I must tell you the truth… You inspire me Trent Lewin

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