For about two weeks, I’ve been meaning to post on my vlog series about writing my first memoir. I’ve also been planning on writing a couple blog posts about how I’m dealing with imposter syndrome (which is kicking my ass right now) and my experience at my first writing retreat. Unfortunately, I’m too damn depressed and overwhelmed to write something even halfway decent, let alone something somebody would actually want to read. I mean, I can’t even get people to like a fucking instagram post or follow me on twitter (which I know is a totally lame thing to be bothered by). This “build your writer platform” is bullshit. It’s only made me feel more like a loser than I did before. TEN people in total follow this blog, but I’m probably the only one that reads it. I’m not saying that to get attention, I’m saying it because there’s a 90% chance it’s true and I’m a glass 90% empty kind of gal.
I really do appreciate the 10 of you, though.
As a self-diagnosed pro-social narcissist (who is obsessed with being liked by people), I am really struggling to find motivation these past few days. It’s a pathetic flaw of mine. I’m simply burned out. I spend half my day almost every day trying to work with my son’s school on his IEP – which is NOT working out (if only I could afford private school instead of the Utah POS public school system). The other part of my day is dedicated to Grad school (which I fucking hate), keeping up with the housework (which I can’t seem to do), writing a pretty fucking emotional memoir (which takes a toll after a while), while I also attempt to build some sort of non-existent brand (something I’m clearly failing at). 9 times out of 10, I fail at these little endeavors of mine. Actually, more like 10 out of 10. So, this is probably just one more thing I’ll never finish. One more thing to cement the feeling of inadequacy I feel on a daily basis. One more thing to have failed at.
When I decided to finally start writing my memoir, I knew I had to choose a pen name for two reasons: The first is that my real last name is just not very author-ish. It’s German, hard to pronounce, and harder to spell. If, by some chance, there is a miracle and this memoir does get published, it’s not very desirable to publish under a name nobody can say or write. Unfortunately, my wife’s last name is equally as tricky, though it’s Sicilian. So, it wasn’t an option either. The second reason I chose to use a pen name was that I don’t want to get sued by any family members who may or may not be happy with how they are portrayed in the book to protect the privacy of myself, my family, and my friends.
Let me tell you, coming up with a pen name wasn’t easy. I searched Babycenter, the Social Security website, Pinterest, and random google searches for name lists. I also used dozens of name generators, including the name generator built into Scrivener. Hell, I even purchased an Ancestry account for inspiration – now being auto-billed to my credit card at a ridiculous monthly fee because I keep forgetting to cancel it. It was an exhaustive search with many, many contenders. Too many, actually. I’m talking several notebook pages and an excel spreadsheet full of names; I’m not exaggerating.
Initially, I was planning to change my first name, considering it’s also used by billions of other women born in the late ’70s and early ’80s. So, I picked names like Jessica (equally as common), Chloe (vetoed by wifey), Charlotte, Courtney, Ashley, and so on. Every single one of them ended up being rejected for one reason or another. Finally, I hit on the name for Jenessa. It was uncommon enough that it would work for any last names as a web address. I also liked it because it was a combination of the first names of two of my great grandmother’s Jessi + Genevieve. Unfortunately, I had to drop it when I ran it by someone who said it reminded her of a polygamist name. Not that there’s anything wrong with being a polygamist…If you’re over the age of 18, not forced to wear a prairie dress, use birth control responsibly, and have plenty of life options at your disposal.
It’s not just my indecisiveness and inability to stick with a decision for too long that haunted me in the process, however. Along with anyone else who considers using a pen name, I also needed to consider a few other questions. The most important being:
Does someone already own that domain?
Is it being used by an existing author or public figure?
Is it easy to spell and pronounce?
Will it work well as a social media handle?
Does it fit your “genre”?
(I don’t really know how the last one works. Although, I do know that one of the last names I considered did make me feel like I would be required to write shitty romance novels as a condition for use. So, there must be something to it.)
Eventually, I gave up on trying to find a different first name. So, I started working on last names until I finally found a combination I really liked: Jennifer Hollins.
It has some sort of ring to it that I like, though I’m not sure what it is exactly. Although, it may have something to do with the “o” sound in Hollins, which is considered “pleasant-sounding,” according to some linguistics research I read. Yep, I took this name shit seriously enough to read actual research articles on sound (riveting, they were not).
Luckily, the domain name wasn’t already taken, and, according to Good Reads and Amazon, there aren’t any other authors with the same name. It’s also pretty easy to say, remember, and spell.
Numbers 1-3, check.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t quite as lucky with #4. The Instagram username I wanted didn’t even show up in search, so I assume it was someone who ended up deleting their account. I did, however, find someone on Twitter with the handle of @jenniferhollins. Although she hasn’t used her account in several years. I reached out, hoping she would consider transferring it to me, but I never heard back. Probably because she doesn’t check her Twitter, seeing as how she has sent a total of 0 tweets with no other activity since she joined in 2011. So, I’m still messing around with different alternatives on both accounts (which makes me look slightly insane to my followers who continue to see my usernames switch back and forth from Jenn_hollins to jenniferhollins.author, to authorjenniferhollins, etc.)
Aside from these minor issues, though, I’m pretty pleased with my choice. So pleased, in fact, that I actually considered changing my real name. That is until I remembered the main reason why I didn’t change my name when wifey and I got married was so I didn’t have to deal with the damn DMV.
So, there you have it—the story of how I came up with my pseudonym.
I’m a little over halfway done with my first draft of the to-be-named memoir (all the good titles seem to be taken. Thanks very much, Muriel Hemingway!). The goal of this draft is to get 100,000 words out, no matter how shittily they come spitting out from the keyboard. I figured this goal will give me enough room to cut some of the boring and unrelated parts out, because, as Stephen King says, your second draft should be your first draft – 10%. I figure the guy knows what he’s talking about, so it’s a tip I think I’ll use. 90,000 words is about 250 pages (based on the standard of about 350 words on a paperback page).
This is a good thing, right? I mean, for nearly 20 years, or more specifically, since I bought my first computer (A Gateway 2000 – which, I believe was still in the days of dial-up internet), my memoir has consisted of one or two pages of notes in a folder on my desktop. So, the fact that it’s even come this far is nothing short of a miracle.
Here’s the thing, though.
This is the part – the part of any project I’ve ever started where I usually begin to lose interest. And, I’ll admit, the past 2 weeks have been quite the struggle to keep writing at all, let alone at the same pace. In fact, I’ve written less than half of the days I planned on and only met my word count twice. To be fair, the world is in a state of full-on bag of dog shit on fire right now and, as a “creative”, my moods tend to coincide with what is going on in the outside world, even if it’s thousands of miles away in a country I’ve never heard of.
There’s more to it than that, though. It’s also the fear and anxiety regarding the future, after I’ve finished the 4th (or 5th draft) and how this book will end up turning out. Will it meet my expectations? Will it end up DOA like so many other good intentions of mine? The prospect of working your ass off for months, turning your unhinged thoughts into something someone may want to read only to have nobody want to read it, is a little intimidating to say the least.
So, as much as I want to believe it won’t happen this time, I worry these are the warning signs that the loss energy may be the clue that the end is nearing for yet another project. Although, I do continue to remind myself that this part, this part needs to be the part where I dig my heels in and fucking finish something I’ve started for once, instead of watching those 60,000 words fade into oblivion with every other great idea of mine that never came to fruition.
I also try to tell myself that this process, this book, is not about seeing my work published, a glossy cover with my name on it, a place on a best selling list, or positive reviews written by people like Oprah. It’s about the catharsis I am going through as I’m pouring my story out onto the screen. And, it is true, to a point. But, I think we all know, it’s also a lie we tell ourselves when we are terrified we are going to fail at something. Nobody with a shred of sanity, in my opinion, would spend so much effort writing something they didn’t want to see some sort of payoff from. I mean, if that’s the case, that’s what journals are for. For me, it’s not even about a big fat paycheck (though, it would be nice), it’s about people reading and relating to me as a person. It’s about people feeling less alone with their own thoughts, especially thoughts regarding their struggles with their own sexuality. And, of course, it’s about being liked – though, that’s the self-diagnosed “vulnerable narcissist” part of me.
The bottom line is that this book is a journey, a gut-wrenching journey that is forcing me to reconcile all the shitty things I’ve done in my life and including the most cringe-worthy of those moments from the past 30 years in my story. A journey where, if I’m being honest, I come across less like a heroine and more like a villain.
However, just like with any other journey, there is always an end-point. Let’s just hope the end-point for this one doesn’t come before the next 30,000 words and (at least) four more drafts.
If it does, however, I’m gonna be pretty pissed because it took me forever to find a decent pen-name to avoid any law-suits erupting from the massive amounts of tea I’m about to spill. Which, by the way, also caused me to change my social media handles and pay for a WordPress site (most likely, far too early) to avoid losing it to some other Jennifer Hollins, real or fake. Do you have any idea how hard it is to find a last name that sounds decent, and goes with one of the most popular names on the planet today, that isn’t taken?
Pretty damn hard.
*Disclaimer: Due to time constraints, this blog is edited at lightning speed, most likely leaving a slew of horrible grammar behind along with several ill-connected thoughts. Therefore, the quality of writing (and proper use of prepositions – whatever the hell those are) is, most likely, not my best. But, I can’t afford an editor and am too lazy to open up Grammarly, so….