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  • Writer's pictureallieyohn

Unmasking a Pen Name (with link to said pen name at the bottom)

That I am not the most prolific writer in any of my writing groups is not in dispute. I have, by far, the least amount of publishing credits and actual works circulating the submission quagmires than any other writer I know.

While I compose quickly (thanks, Journalism degree! Glad you were useful for SOMETHING), I have trouble finishing my work.

I’m not alone in finding difficulty finishing a story or novel. There’s a reason they call it the “muddle in the middle” rather than “merrymaking in the middle.”

Once you get to the middle of whatever you’re working on, it’s harder to hide the deficiencies of your work from yourself. All those plot holes, thin characterizations, and lack of world building catch up with you at once.

The overwhelming urge to scrap it all and start over is common among writers. We can’t help it- we get overwhelmed and think it would be easier to start fresh.

Spoiler alert: usually it’s not. Starting over means scrapping everything good about whatever you’ve written along with the parts you disliked. As cliché as it sounds (and is) you can’t edit a blank page- and that’s exactly what you’re trying to do.

But the biggest reason I am not prolific is fear.

Like a lot of other writers, I have imposter syndrome.

There is never a point at which I sit down at my keyboard and think of myself as an Actual Writer.

To my mind, Actual Writers find it easy to concentrate on what they’re writing.

Actual Writers are ego-driven (in the best way) because they believe in their work even when the world doesn’t.

Actual Writers know how to edit their work without throwing out the baby with the bathwater six, seven, eight, and even nine times before they end up with something they deem “passable.”

If that is the definition of an Actual Writer, I fall far short.

I’m easily distracted.

I always think my work is the worst thing ever written (more on that later).

Plus, the amount of uncompleted, half-completed, and completed-but-not-submitted works on my hard drive/Google Docs drives my writer friends crazy. I could fill entire short-story collections with the amount of works I have sitting there on my computer waiting for someone else’s eyes to read them.  

I wish I could say that I haven’t always been this way, but I’d be lying.

I’ve laid harsher criticism on my writing than almost anyone else in the world could possibly provide as far back as I remember. (Notice how I said “almost.” We’ll circle back to that in a bit.)

In school, stories and papers my teachers returned to me with a few edits in blue ink were soon covered by my own corrections, usually in deep red ink. Only a sentence or two would remain by the time I finished critiquing my own work.

This tendency drove my English teachers, and later my journalism professors, crazy.

Were there things I should fix in my writing?

Of course- you can always make something as subjective as writing better.

Did anything in my papers & stories sink to the level where they deserved to be edited to the point of almost literally bleeding red ink?

My instructors answer to this question was always “no” while mine was a resounding “yes.”

Way back in the dark ages when I attended elementary school, our fourth-grade class had an in-class competition for best short story.

I was heavy into mythology at that point and wrote a short story about the gods having a beauty contest and declaring a winner, angering one goddess in particular.

The story was a cross between the story of Eris and the apple inscribed with “for the fairest” and the fairy godmothers competing to provide the best present in Disney’s “Sleeping Beauty.”

I worked on the story for days, writing and rewriting section after section until I felt proud of what I’d written.

Until I received the story back from my teacher with the first “F” grade I’d ever received. A big fat zero.

Why? My teacher knew how much mythology I read and, with absolutely no proof, decided that my story was decent enough I must have plagiarized it from somewhere.  

I should’ve been flattered, I suppose. She thought something I wrote was well-written enough that it must have been stolen.

Instead, I was mortified. There was no way to prove I hadn’t plagiarized, short of forcing my teacher to read through every book on mythology I’d checked out of the library. She kept that 0 in the gradebook beside my name for the rest of the year. I passed the class, but I felt paranoid every time I turned something in that she’d accuse me of plagiarism again.

Fear of being a plagiarist is common in writers. Stephen King’s story “Secret Window, Secret Garden” and book “The Dark Half,” both deal with writers who are accused of plagiarism. (One is guilty and the other innocent, though it matters little to the “men” accusing them.) Even someone as prolific as King worries about where some of his ideas come from, worries that are backed up by the occasional lawsuit from someone claiming he’s stolen ideas from them.

A couple of years back I found a completed short story on my Google Docs that I loved. It’s about a female journalist who travelled to interview a man about his private bunker system. She is then trapped there with him and his young daughter when the apocalypse happens.

The story is darker than anything else I’ve ever written. In the few pages of this story, there is a suicide, abuse, and the eventual loss of hope that leads the female journalist to make a horrible choice for herself.

I found myself hanging onto every word… to the point I started to doubt whether I’d written it at all.

Despite the fact that at the time the story shows as being added to my Google Docs I wasn’t reviewing short stories for other writers, I haven’t been able to shake the idea that I stole the story from someone else.

The story sits on my hard drive unread by any eyes except mine. And it will stay there until I find some way to prove to myself that I didn’t steal it.

Part of why it’s so easy to accuse myself mentally of plagiarism lies in my insecurity. And the other reason I’m so insecure has to do with a book review.

My friends and family who were around me & on Facebook in 2012-2013 know that I wrote a book during a particularly manic period.

Not all that unusual- I’m typically VERY PROLIFIC during mania.

Part of the reason celebrities (such as Kanye West) tend to abstain from their medications when they’re working on something creative is because mania inspires creativity (and keeps you from sleeping, so you have all the time in the world to devote to creativity).

But not everything you create during manic periods is great. Sometimes it’s hot garbage but you’re too far gone to realize it.

So when no one wanted to publish my hot-garbage novel, I decided to do what all the cool kids were doing… I self-published it on Amazon. And spammed the heck out of all of my friends until they purchased and/or read the book.

One of the hardest things about the period between writing the book and self-publishing it was that people lied to me about the book. In an effort to avoid hurting my feelings, they talked up the great aspects of the book and left out all the parts they hated.

The most hurtful one from someone I knew was from my mentor in my choir who said nothing but great things about the book when they beta read it… and then reviewed it on Goodreads (yes, I know I shouldn’t have checked but I didn’t know that THEN) with a 2-star rating.

If I had to guess based on her internet-savviness, she likely didn’t realize I’d be able to see her rating. We never spoke of it, but we also stopped speaking to each other after that.

However, her rating was less awful than one that I received from someone in the general public on Amazon. They said it was 1-star because they couldn’t rate it a 0. Their headline said “At Least It Was Free.” Then a review where they said the person who wrote the book should never write again.

Though I doubt the person who wrote the review even remembers writing it, I can still remember every moment after I read those words.

I was sitting in my old primary-bedroom, the whooshing sound of blood pounding in my ears and a mortified blush pasted on my cheeks. I was wearing my coziest ASU sweatshirt and matching yoga-pants, my hair was in knots because I’d slipped from mania to depression and couldn’t find the energy to comb my hair, and I desperately wanted a cigarette to numb the pain.

The reviewer got their wish for several years.

Tears filled my eyes every time I tried to type anything that wasn’t specifically work-related. Even then, anxiety filled my body the entire time I wrote.

I was humbled; I was humiliated.

I wanted to sink into the ground and disappear forever.

If I had a stronger ego perhaps it wouldn’t have hit me so hard.

Friends tried to give me great advice like growing thicker skin and not reading reviews. They reminded me that all writers get a bad review here or there- no one’s work is for everyone.

But it was still years before I could try to write again without my heart pounding in my throat.

My first forays back into the writing world were incomplete short stories, little snippets of ideas I never fully fleshed out.

Then non-fiction articles for national and international lesbian magazines. They wanted me to keep writing them; I wrote two and then stopped. I was worried beyond any measure of sanity that they were only publishing them so people could laugh at me.


Absolutely not.

Did I let it stop me from pursuing something which made me happy (and got me paid for my writing for the first time in my life)?

Absolutely it did.

The inside of my mind was not a pleasant place to be during those years. Aside from other life stressors (a divorce, a car accident that led to a TBI, losing not one, but two, jobs),

I mourned the loss of joy I’d felt writing prior to the book-from-hell.

When life had felt too much for me, especially during that horrible period in high school (see this blog post for details- trigger warnings for SA abound), I wrote. I’d sit in the bleachers at Forensics meets with a notebook in hand, scribbling stories (that I’d later have to squint at to read because my handwriting is atrocious) between rounds. I’d leave some of these meets with the side of my right hand faintly silver with graphite smears.

I wrote poems about what had happened to me that I never let anyone read. I burned them in the backyard to relieve the pain I was feeling inside in a less-destructive way. I told myself I was releasing my words, and the associated pain, into the universe where it couldn’t tear me into pieces as easily anymore.

Sometimes I could even make myself believe it was working.

Now, though, I didn’t have that outlet. When painful things happened in my life, I had no choice but to feel them. Unless I could find a way to write again I would surely drown in a sea of depression.

I started writing again in fits and starts. After a couple of years (five, actually) I had several stories completed that I was mostly proud of. I’d completed NaNoWriMo several times and had “won” each time. I’d somewhat learned to edit my work.

I was as ready as I could be to put my work back out into the world.

But how to put my work out there without risking humiliation again?   

The answer was staring me in the face all along. I’d always hated my birth name, so I started going by Ally at work. When I started publishing the non-fiction articles, HR cleared me… as long as I used a pen name. I chose Allie because it was close enough to the spelling I preferred and never looked back.

Though I liked my pen name, I didn’t want my first forays into letting people read my work tied to my pen name forever. Once something hits Goodreads there is no way to remove it. If you don’t believe me, check their FAQs- they pride themselves on never removing anything.

I decided the best way to put my work out into the world was with a brand-new pen name. I’d put the stories up on Amazon with simple covers, no promo, for free as many days as it would let me (5 for each story) and let the chips fall where they may.

When they were first published, no one read them. I was slightly disappointed, but not surprised. Every day so many things are published on Amazon that it’s difficult for people to keep up-to-date even when they know their fellow writers/favorite authors.

After a while I forgot completely about the stories and stopped checking to see if there were any downloads. In fact, it was about a year later that I thought to check again.

To my surprise, there were reviews.

And, shockingly, most of them were good. 3-5 stars, with several receiving 5-stars. Comments from the readers were overwhelmingly positive. Each story had it’s own Goodreads page, which a few having their own positive reviews.

I still wasn’t ready to attach those stories to my name, but their success with strangers gave me the confidence nothing else had been able to give me. No writers group, no familiar or friend support, could match complete strangers, with no agenda and no reason to sugarcoat their feelings, going out of their way to give positive reviews.

I’ve hoarded the joy of that feeling privately for a couple of years. Truth is, I’ve still been shy to share these works because I’ve been afraid that they’re really actually terrible. Not a single work has below a 3-star rating on Amazon, yet the fear persisted.

What if the strangers were wrong?

What if I showed these works to my writer-friends and they hated them and/or laughed about them behind my back?

I’ve recently realized that when I have these thoughts, I’m doing a disservice to my writer-friends, and to my non-writing friends too.

I’m placing an unreasonable assumption of malice onto people who likely feel none, people who want to give me support whether I want to accept it or not. And that isn’t fair.

With that all of that being said, my pen name for those 7 stories is “Lynne Yan.”

The link is

and if you have KindleUnlimited they are completely free.

(If you don’t have KU, they’re currently $.99 each, but you can always message me and I’ll send you the story for free.)

I hope you enjoy. But if you don’t, don’t worry. I’ve finally grown enough as a writer that I can take my own wisdom as truth. Reviews aren't for me, and there's no reason to read the comments.

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