Monday, May 16, 2011

The Creative Freedom of Anonymity

There is no shortage of anonymous bloggers, sources, and commenters on the web. It could even be said that such anonymity is a blight on the quality of online interaction—when people are anonymous they can often be much more careless, rude, or downright obnoxious. But for introverts, there can be remarkable freedom in anonymity, and I think we can use it to help gain new levels of creative expression.

As introverts, we like to think long and hard about what we say and how we say it. We are very aware of the affect our words will have on others, and the very many different ways they can be misinterpreted. We like to practice things in private until we’ve perfected them, only then going public with our efforts.

But that preference is not necessarily the best approach for expanding one’s creative horizons. Creativity demands risk, and risk is often uncomfortable for introverts. Especially risk with an audience.

And this is where I think a bit of judiciously applied anonymity can be invaluable. Sometimes we need to be invisible before we can find and speak our truth. We know we need to take the step of speaking that truth in a public forum, where others can encounter it, but we also need an extra layer (or two) of protection to keep that oh-so-tender and unexposed skin from all that, well, exposure.

I’m not talking about sock puppets, but rather a chance to get comfortable with a new way of being, a new way of interacting with people or of speaking truth on a deeper level than you are used to.

I know a couple of different writers who found their voice by creating anonymous blogs. It gave them a platform for attempting new things—for stretching outside their comfort zones, but with a safety net. I myself created an anonymous blog many years ago when I first started blogging. I found I really wanted to get the hang of blogging and commenting on other peoples’ blogs, but in a private rather than public way. (Again, I realize this is something only introverts will get—and even some introverts won’t understand. This is for those of you who do.)

As I think I’ve mentioned before, two of my strongest books came from projects that were initially just for me; my eyes only. They were safe playgrounds where I allowed myself to take risks and push the envelope, but away from any sense of an audience or judgment. The fact that they did end up being some of my strongest work has taught me a valuable lesson. It also wasn’t until I had blogged anonymously for a few months that I found my footing with blogging. In retrospect, I probably didn’t make any huge gaffes or errors, but I couldn’t have predicted that at the time. I easily COULD have made such gaffes or errors, and if I did, no one would know, so I felt secure enough to try.

Conventional wisdom says to blog, tweet and comment under your own name, as you are trying to build a brand, fer gawd sake, and you can’t build an anonymous brand. You can, however, use anonymity to experiment until you find the brand and personality you are most comfortable with

Sometimes I find myself having similar urges with pseudonyms—I could write anything I wanted, and no one would know it was me. I could, in essence, step away from my own backstory and start fresh. In fact, that’s an interesting question to ask ourselves: What would we write if we thought no one would know it was us? Would it be different from what we’re writing now? In what ways?

How would our online persona be different if we felt it was separated by a big enough divide from who we really are? Would that feel safer? Would that safety allow us to expand our creative boundaries? Speak more closely held truths? Take more risks?

[Also, if you get a chance, please take a second to fill out the poll in the sidebar! Last week's post on the writing process was hugely popular so we're trying to get feel for including more of those types of posts. Thanks!]

13 comments:

Jennifer R. Hubbard said...

What is writing but a way to don other personalities, use other voices, to tell a story that is true deep down if not true in its surface details? Just so, anonymous and pseudonymous online personalities can serve a similar function, in addition to protecting privacy.

Yet, I'll sign my name to this comment. ;-)

R.L. LaFevers said...

Ah, very, very true, Jen! You are quite the clever girl, you know that?

Anne R. Allen said...

This is a great post on a subject people don't usually talk about. We're supposed to be online to build brand and sell, sell, sell--even if we're not close to having a product--right?

But not when you're just starting out.

I certainly did just what you're talking about myself. I commented on blogs for about six months with a bunch of pseudonyms before I got brave and set up a Google profile with my own info and email address. That transitional period was essential for developing my "blog voice."

This is a great piece of advice. I'll pass it on.

Gracie said...

This was such an encouraging post for me. Thanks!

ticknart said...

As one who posts under a pseudonym, I've been told by friends and family that I don't change myself in my anonymous writings. I always feel just as guarded when I write on the internet, under my real name or not, as I do in "real life" or speaking in person.

I've thought about moving my blog under my real name, but I'm not going to. I won't because I write about work in some pretty harsh terms, things I do say to family and friends, but would never say to a coworker. And the way employers are searching for information about potential employees, I don't want what I've written to hurt my chances.

1000th.monkey said...

I have recently started an anonymous blog... for many of the reasons you listed... to try it out, find my online voice, etc. But I have one other reason... I'm dyslexic. I began honing my writing in elementary school as a way to *hide* this disability. As an adult, I am only now becoming comfortable talking about it. The blog is a new way to test the water and become more comfortable with making mistakes that other people can see.

I'm hoping that soon those mistakes will no longer give me an intense feeling of self-loathing and embarrassment and I can just shrug, smile, edit and forget :)

L.E. Falcone said...

I'm a strong supporter of anonymity and pseudonyms. *blinks innocently*

R.L. LaFevers said...

Anne, I'm glad to hear someone else went the anonymous route at first! It really does help.

Gracie--I'm so glad it was encouraging for you--that was my hope!

ticknart, how interesting that anonymity doesn't seem to change your writing, that you remain just as guarded. Hm. Or maybe you'd be even MORE guarded if uncloaked?

Wow, 1000th monkey! Your situation makes a compelling case for this whole anonymity angle! Here's hoping you find the ease and familiarity you're looking for! I bet you will...

Ha, L.E.! And how much do I love your profile pic!

T.S. Welti said...

I'd never considered that online anonymity could unleash your creativity, but it makes sense. As a lifetime introvert, it's taken me so long to get the hang of the whole blogging and social media thing. I just posted a blog about it today. If you're not being anonymous, it's best to be yourself. But anonymity does provide a platform for breaking out of our shells that I had not considered for myself. Who knows, I may try creating an anonymous blog. I hope you don't mind, I'm going to go tweet a link to this post since it's so relevant to what I just posted. :)

Gerri L said...

* Wow, well said, Robin. Anonymity does provide one with the freedom to experiment, without the anguish of anticipating judgment. It took me a long time to venture out into the open. If I hadn't participated in an anonymous way I wouldn't have had the guts to go on to the next step of revealing myself. Thanks for this post, especially since your words have made me more comfortable with my introverted persona.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Of course I don't mind, T.S.! And I totally get the taking a long time to get used to blogging and 'being' online.

Gerri, I'm so glad the post helped get you more comfortable! That is absolutely our goal here!

Wendy said...

I just discovered your blog (through a link from Nathan Bransford) and this post made me so happy. I'm not alone! Other people feel the way I feel! Yay! I know the internet is supposed to give people that experience, but frankly, as a hard-core introvert, I spend more of my time wondering what planet I'm really from and how I mistakenly wound up on this one than I do finding like-minded souls. (Ex: why do people want to be famous? I think being famous sounds nightmarish. Really horrifying. Rich would be okay, though. Anyway, sorry, terrible digression, I'm prone to them.) I really just wanted to thank you for writing this. I comment very, very rarely on the many, many blogs I read, but I am going to keep your words in mind and try to relax a little about what I write. I'm not even going to go delete my above digression, which might kill me...Okay. Hitting Publish... Really.

R.L. LaFevers said...

Yay! You found us, Wendy! And I am SO HAPPY that you hit publish!!