One of the great things about self-publishing, is you get to make the decisions, and everything is in your control. One of the bad things about self-publishing is you get to make the decisions and everything is in your control.
When I am confident I will dash off a decision, and I will rarely look back. I see little point to regret. Most choices happen for a reason, and I usually end up where I should be. I am also comfortable making decisions because I believe a bad choice can be easily changed. It is as simple as making a different choice and moving on.
There are times however where decisions are not so easily untangled. Some choices require more work than it’s worth to change them. Some decisions become mistakes. These kinds of decisions cause me pause. This is especially so if the direction I should take is not clear or immediately self-evident. When I am uncertain, when my inner compass is directionless, committing to a choice isn’t easy.
It seems silly now, but one of the most angst filled decisions for me was the name I was going to publish my work under. I have no problem with someone else using a pen name. I think it’s a smart choice in many cases, but for me it felt inauthentic. When I rolled names around in my head, they felt strange. They were disembodied entities meaning nothing to me.
But I did not want to publish with my legal, married name. That “Shannon” belongs to other people. She is married to a man named Denis and is the mother of two beautiful daughters. She often works in opposition to “Shannon the writer”. I wanted a symbolic separation of “Shannon the mom and wife” from “Shannon the writer”. I wanted the name to reflect that separation.
So why not used my maiden name? I look back on that young girl with fondness, but she was the daughter of my parents; she belonged to them. She is who I was. I am not interested in going backwards.
Evolving into a writer has been a struggle. I have had to fight and claw for every moment of writing time. I have spent years trying to make writing a greater priority. My biggest obstacle has been myself. Sure other people can be a distraction. Life events cause disruptions. But I am my own worst enemy. I get in my way. Writing is the most personal thing I do for “me”. It is on the same level as spirituality, exercise and self-care. It is an activity I need to do. It replenishes me but it makes no money. I feel selfish devoting time, energy, and resources to something that is at best now, just a feel good activity for me. Everything else comes first.
I want my writing name to be a reminder that writing is a necessary part of who I have become. My inner writer is truly and deeply connected and rooted to “Shannon” at her most authentic, most spiritual, most human. “Shannon the writer” is the most personal private part of me, and other than loving my family, I believe it could be one of the most important contributions I make to this world. I need to honor this aspect of myself. I need to distinguish this aspect. I want that distinction symbolically reflected in the name I use.
My original thought was to use just my first name. I love the idea of publishing absolutely everything as simply “Shannon”. But I saw quickly it would be construed as trying to be like Cher or Madonna. That was not my intent. I am simply Shannon. Shannon is who I am. I tried it out on a cover design and, I have to admit, it looked unprofessional. “Shannon” on its own, looked a bit like I was hiding, or did not take my writing seriously. This was not the impression I wanted to give.
I also was convinced a second name had to be used so I could create a public persona. Although I don’t spend nights losing sleep over the thought, I would not want everyone who meets me at a book signing, to have access to my private family pictures on Facebook. I do not think in today’s digital world you can be out there and still retain complete control and privacy, but I do not want everyone who wants to connect with “Shannon the writer” to have immediate access to “Shannon the mother and wife”. She whines too much.
The deadline to making the decision approached and I had no choice but to ask for other opinions. I asked family and friends and I asked my writers group. Almost every response was the same, “what’s your middle name?” It was such an obvious choice I could not believe I did not think of it myself. “Shannon the mom” must have been trying to complete this task.
I have two middle names: Rae and Lynn. These two names together were perfect. Shannon Raelynn has always been a part of who I am. She is me. She is not someone newly created. I have been called Shannon Rae Lynn before, mostly by my mom when she was mad, but regardless it is a name I have been called by. It is a name that is me without the baggage my other names carry. As Shannon Raelynn I can compartmentalize without feeling inauthentic.
I have always been Shannon Raelynn. I am just more so now.