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Summer Voices | Jennifer Louden | Swap True For Original

I'm on vacation this week and have invited some friends to share their voice here during my time away. Say hello to Jennifer Louden (photo above © Pati McDougall):

There are many reasons why it’s hard to find your creative voice – exhaustion, lack of time and self-doubt for starters – but the reason I want to dismiss today, once and for all, is the desire to be original.

Dear creative heart, please hear me: Original is a mirage. It’s a boondoggle, a red herring, a lie. It's one of the critic's insidious ways to turn you to stone. The critic hisses, "But your work looks just like _______. Why can't you be more original? Maybe this creative thing is just not for you."

Instead, consider what author C.S. Lewis’ said, “Even in literature and art, no man [sic] who bothers about originality will ever be original: whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it.”

Do this: Swap true for original.

Your creative voice takes shape each time you trust and express your truth in your work. Each time you move toward what feels true, grounded, real, honest for you in the moment of creating.

That’s your job as a creative. Express truth.

You already know how to do this; it’s why you choose one angle over another or dinker with a phrase until it “feels” right.

You are searching for true. This is holy work.

Here’s some pointing out instructions that might help:


  • Slow down. True takes time. It’s hard to slow down. And it’s worth it.

  • Be in relationship with your tools, your subject, your body as you create. Be listening to it all (yes that sounds woo-woo because it is).

  • Avoid equating finding your voice with your work getting better. Product is not the point. The point is to be fully alive and fully yourself. Serving aliveness brings better work, but only sometimes, and only if that’s not your goal.

  • Copy consciously. Hemingway copied out other writer’s sentences to learn.

  • First and foremost, be an artist of self-compassion. The reason why so many people are afraid to create is they know how hard it is. You will spend a lot of time being frustrated. Don’t add beating yourself up. If you do, you will lose the connection to your voice.

  • Relax, take deep breaths, let your jaw be loose.  A tense body makes a lot of noise.

  • Follow impulses, inklings, winks. What turns you on? What scares you? What makes you curious? Go there within the act of creating.

  • When you do need to know something specific, like how to apply a certain filter or how to create suspense, go learn that and then get back to your own process.

  • Get used to living in the "gap" between what you want to create and what actually comes out. This gap is where artists live. Learn to love it.


Okay, your turn.

Go create a little something. Keep the phrase “Swap true for original” in your heart. Then come back and report what happened. I’ll give away one copy of my book The Life Organizer and one copy of The Woman’s Retreat book. You have one week before the comments will be closed and a random winner chosen.


ABOUT JEN LOUDEN | Jen Louden has written six books on women’s well-being with almost a million copies in print. Pick up her Accelerator Focus Kit for free here.

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57 thoughts

  1. Karen says…
    07/24/2012

    Loved her thoughts!

    Reply 1 Reply
    1. Kim says…
      07/24/2012

      I love her thoughts too.

  2. Sue says…
    07/24/2012

    Thank you Jen for saying what most of us don't! And Thank You for giving us the permission to just create and enjoy without having to "re invent the wheel each time"!

    Reply 0 Replies
  3. J3SS1C4 says…
    07/24/2012

    Love this post! I sometimes struggle with being creative, and the times I enjoy it the most and love the results the most are when I throw all caution into the wind and just do. When I overthink, I get nowhere, and I tend to over think when I try to focus on being original, so I can completely relate!

    Reply 0 Replies
  4. adrienne says…
    07/24/2012

    Such a fabulous post!!! I've been there and struggled with the "gap" but I finally learned to love it and I've been so much more inspired and creative since then. This post is a fantastic mantra for anyone, artistic or not :)

    Reply 0 Replies
  5. Michelle Allred says…
    07/24/2012

    What a wonderful way to look at being creative! So freeing to not get stuck on trying to be original.

    Reply 0 Replies
  6. Jennifer Louden says…
    07/24/2012

    thanks everybody!!

    Reply 0 Replies
  7. Jenny McGee says…
    07/24/2012

    Great insight. Thanks for a chance to win.

    Reply 0 Replies
  8. Kate says…
    07/24/2012

    A lot of sense coming from her words. We're always our worst critics. Just being true would solve a lot of that. Thanks.

    Reply 0 Replies
  9. Carol Gib says…
    07/24/2012

    Love your post, such great advice for me to try
    and follow.
    Thanks for the chance to win.

    Reply 0 Replies
  10. Anya says…
    07/24/2012

    Loved this - thank you! Being true to yourself is such a great philosophy to practice!

    Reply 0 Replies
  11. Kathe says…
    07/24/2012

    Terrific ideas now I must go and create! Thanx!

    Reply 0 Replies
  12. Adel O says…
    07/24/2012

    Love the C.S. Lewis quote. Thanks for sharing these insights.

    Reply 0 Replies
  13. Eva says…
    07/24/2012

    This is great. I feel less stressed already! As I go on my creative journey, I often worry I'm not being original enough. I feel so much better knowing it's ok not to be 'original', but rather, true to my creative spirit.Thankyou.

    Reply 0 Replies
  14. RJ says…
    07/24/2012

    The part about a tense body makes a lot of noise hit home to me.

    I keep my tension in my hands, they are usually tightly clenched. I am trying to be more aware of it and relax my hands.

    Reply 0 Replies
  15. aliza says…
    07/24/2012

    I was just thinking about this yesterday, and kind of, sort of touched on it on my blog. But I didn't really have a fully formed idea about it. Reading this post, I feel like, "YES! THAT'S IT!" That's what I was thinking, I just didn't know it yet.

    Reply 0 Replies
  16. Leilani says…
    07/24/2012

    Perfect thoughts to think about over my morning coffee

    Reply 0 Replies
  17. Katie says…
    07/24/2012

    I've never thought to do this before:
    Be in relationship with your tools, your subject, your body as you create.

    I'm sitting down to work and create. I want to keep this idea front and center in my mind as I work. Thanks!

    Reply 0 Replies
  18. Ginger says…
    07/24/2012

    Thanks for the sentiments expressed and the opportunity!

    Reply 0 Replies
  19. Jeannine D. says…
    07/24/2012

    Thank you for this post - this really hit home for me. I struggle getting started with projects because I struggle with being creative which I equate to being original but reading that it is okay to not be original and to just be true is so freeing. I am so grateful for your post.

    Reply 0 Replies
  20. elle says…
    07/24/2012

    Timely and TRUE! luv it

    Reply 0 Replies
  21. Patty says…
    07/24/2012

    Love your insight. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply 0 Replies
  22. young says…
    07/24/2012

    A good reminder to be gracious with ourselves!

    Reply 0 Replies
  23. Donna C. says…
    07/24/2012

    Thank you so much Jen - I really needed to hear that today as I struggle with some work projects.

    Reply 0 Replies
  24. ms ellie says…
    07/24/2012

    Thank you! I over-think too much...love the idea of loosening the jaw :) I've seen so many things on pinterest I want to try, just needed the kick.

    Reply 0 Replies
  25. vigsy says…
    07/24/2012

    Great words to read through, and so true. Now to actually apply them as I try and create!

    Reply 0 Replies

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