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Friday, March 13, 2015

Whose Name Do You Write Under?

While publisher for one of the world’s largest Christian Fiction divisions, my policy was to not acquire books from authors writing under pen names. We heard countless reasons why doing so could be beneficial or even strategic. Yet we walked away from every one of those proposals.

For me, it came down to this question. How can a writer approach a story with total authenticity and transparency while simultaneously hiding his or her identity? If nothing else, the reader deserves to know whose mind they are spending 300 pages with. The same goes for ghostwriting. If a celebrity or known brand-name author requires significant help to get the book written, that person should be listed as the book’s co-author. To admit you required outside help by adding another writer’s name to the front cover can be humbling, but it is also being truthful about how the book was born.

Thankfully, most authors write under their name.

God makes it clear throughout Scripture that names have immense power. The right name makes all the difference in the world. That’s why, for instance, Christians pray under the name of Jesus.

Closing our prayers with the phrase “In Jesus name” is far more than a quaint sentiment. Doing so invokes the covering, power and authority that only the name of Jesus can bring.

That is why we pray under his name.

And it is why we should also write under his name.

Doing so is an intentional act that invites and involves him in every part of the creative process. It is writing with him – which is radically different from merely writing about or for him. More than simply asking him to bless our writing, it is asking him to fully engage with us in the creative process as we commit to fully engaging with him.

The transformation begins when we pursue our gifting not primarily as a means to an end but as a means to know him better. It is taking your gifting back to the Giver because you long to experience it with him.

It’s mind-blowing. You get to experience the act of creating with God. The most creative being in the universe gives you the gift of words and then invites you to ask him questions, dream of new worlds and ideas, and laugh or weep with him over a scene the two of you wrote together.

The God of Story wants to father you in the art of story. He knows more about words, imagination and writing than every great author put together. In fact, he’s the one who first imagined those authors and then knit them together (created them) in their mother’s womb. He did the same with you. That’s why you are drawn to writing...and why he drew you to this blog post. To remind you that he stands ready to join you on the playground of ideas.

When you go to write, may you crave his presence more than technique, acclaim, productivity, or a book contract. May writing time without God’s presence be so unfulfilling that you simply stop and wait for him. The goal isn’t just to write because you are a writer or to hit some predetermined word count. People do that all the time without God. As Bill Johnson says – if you can write your story without God, then it is too small.

You have a far larger and more intimate calling – to experience his presence and pleasure as you write stories together. May you do so under the power, blessing and creativity of his name. 

Allen Arnold loves the epic adventure God has set before him. From the mountains of Colorado, he leads Content & Resources for Ransomed Heart Ministries (led by John Eldredge). Before that, he spent 20 years in Christian Publishing - overseeing  the development of more than 500 novels as founder and Publisher of Thomas Nelson Fiction. He was awarded the ACFW Lifetime Achievement Award in 2012. But that doesn't really describe the man. Allen savors time with his family, craves the beach, drinks salsa by the glass, is hooked on the TV series "Once Upon a Time" and is passionate about helping storytellers tell better stories from an awakened heart. 


  1. I love your line about God being the Father of Story and ready to join me on the playground of ideas. Sometimes, I forget to invite Him, yet He joins me anyway. And when He does, words come from my fingertips that I didn't think of, they just appeared. I love those moments! They're delightful and so much fun!

  2. Thanks for this simply elegant reminder that we are not alone in the writing process! We know this--and yet we operate as though it isn't true. You put it so well, it's really clicked for me.

  3. Ane and Linore - thanks for your comments. It is amazing how much God wants to be involved with us in the creative process - and how that transforms both our stories and our hearts when we write with Him.

  4. I use a pen name to protect my family. I already have one stalker in my past, I wish to avoid more in the future. Admittedly, I only change the first letter of my last name but it is enough for me to feel safe. What do you suggest under these circumstances and would it still be impossible to get published with a pen name for this reason?

  5. I write with my own name, and I understand what you're saying. We should be transparent, but there are times when a pen name can be a necessity.

    I have a friend who writes under a pen name. She does so because of her sensitive job in law enforcement. In fact, her superiors instructed her not to use her real name because they were concerned it could affect court cases.

    There may be other reasons to use a pen name, but none come to mind. In fact, I wouldn't have thought of it causing problems during prosecution, but I guess it could cause a defense lawyer to question the evidence collection or analysis.

  6. Excellent points. When it comes to matters of personal safety, I believe writers should do everything possible to protect themselves and their families. When one can't use their own name for this reason, perhaps the author can share (in their bio) that the name used is not their own - and that they are doing so to protect themselves without going into specifics that could identify them. That provides a measure of both protection and transparency with the reader. But that is the writer's call.
    When I was a Fiction Publisher, the reasons I faced for writers wanting to use a pen name were not on that level. It was primarily because they wanted to write in a different genre while not confusing their reader or they already had so many books scheduled that year that they felt it would be too much for them to publish more under their own name in a given year - in other words, branding and sales issues. And it was not clear that the name of the writer was a pen name to the reader. Many publishers are fine with pen names - I just wasn't comfortable with it for those marketing and branding reasons.
    My main focus in the post was that we should write under the name of Jesus - meaning writing with him in intimacy and creativity. When matters of personal safety are at stake, it's even more essential to write under his protection and name.
    Thank you again for your thoughtful responses on this very real issue and unique situation for some writers.


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