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.

56 thoughts

  1. Renee VanEpps

    2012-07-24 19:46:57 -0400

    Hopefully this insight is exactly what I needed to hear to get me back in my craft room once and for all! Thank you Jennifer!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  2. Otiti

    2012-07-24 20:15:11 -0400

    Wow, what a timely call to quit fussing and dithering and just get on with it! Lovingly, of course. :) Lately I've been exploring the importance of self-expression + speaking your truth regardless of what other people might say or think, and this post ties in perfectly with my experiment. How lovely to know I'm on the right track. :) Thank you Jen for your beautiful words, and thank you Ali for having her. :D

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  3. Linda Langes

    2012-07-24 20:30:37 -0400

    Oh so true Jen. I have been thinking the same about originality for years. Just be free to create!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  4. Monica

    2012-07-25 01:38:55 -0400

    Thank you Jen, you are so right. I,m quite sure that when my family look in our albums, no one will say, "oh, it looks like xx did this page", because the only scrapbooker,s work they ever see is mine!! And it is for my own and my family I´m doing this.

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  5. scrapper al

    2012-07-25 01:47:28 -0400

    Thank you for the wise words!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  6. Bonnie Cooper

    2012-07-25 01:59:53 -0400

    Thank you. When I read what you had written I felt my shoulders drop in relief... and have excitement for what I might create next:)

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  7. Naomi

    2012-07-25 10:22:25 -0400

    I'm taking your advice right now and reaching past my fear and writing a comment to you... usually when I see someone already has 37 comments I think, "why would she want one more? she already knows how spot on she is and how many people love her advice." BUT... as you say, let's fight those impulses and do it.
    The reason I don't start is partly the self-compassion issue. I am a perfectionist and so I never begin because I don't know what exactly will come forth from me (which I realize is the point of creation... just begin already!). I appreciate your words of wisdom here and will be nicer to myself from now on. What matters is speaking MY truth, even if it's been done before, as you write.

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  8. Natasha

    2012-07-25 14:48:57 -0400

    That is one of my favourite quotes. I needed to be reminded of this today. I am feeling stuck and not sure what to do next to get myself out of it. I certainly don't feel like I have a relationship with my tools. Back to basics for me. And some honest listening.

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  9. Melinda T

    2012-07-25 19:52:42 -0400

    Great post and reminder!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  10. KarriLee

    2012-07-25 21:37:13 -0400

    I needed this today, thank you.

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  11. Katie

    2012-07-25 22:16:04 -0400

    Thank you Jenn.I really worry sometimes when I sit down to create if I am being true or just making something that I remember.

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  12. melissa rhodes

    2012-07-26 01:47:32 -0400

    loved the article! gonna take this to heart and just do instead of agonize.

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  13. Trying to find My Truth in art | iHanna's Blog

    2012-07-26 10:49:31 -0400

    [...] painting was inspired by Jennifer Louden’s summer guest post, Swap True for Original, at Ali’s. Her post was the gentle nudge I [...]

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  14. iHanna

    2012-07-26 10:57:30 -0400

    Thank you Jennifer, what a beautiful post. It inspired this:

    http://www.ihanna.nu/blog/2012/07/trying-to-find-my-truth-in-art/

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  15. Bev

    2012-07-26 12:37:27 -0400

    What an inspiring post! Such great advice - to be true to ourselves. Thanks for these great words.

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  16. Marsaille

    2012-07-26 14:17:51 -0400

    I created a mini book for some instagram photos. They are random bits, and I wasn't sure what to do with them. So I just went for it. And it is turning out that random IS a theme after all!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  17. Karen Kellenberger

    2012-07-28 12:46:31 -0400

    Thank you for sharing these ideas! This is going up in my craft area!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  18. Aubrey R

    2012-07-28 15:33:28 -0400

    Thanks for this--great writing! I have a copy of The Life Organizer (I've been a Jennifer Louden fan for a while :)) but would love The Woman's Retreat book! Thanks!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  19. pammie~k

    2012-07-31 10:50:21 -0400

    love this post

    I created a layout this week using a layout I stumbled on as inspiration. I made it my own and "true" to me - so may have started as a lift but I am proud to say it is mine. I am printing out the above and displaying it where I can see...great inspiration!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  20. Elaine

    2012-07-31 10:58:46 -0400

    Great insights!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  21. Sue Kearney (@MagnoliasWest)

    2012-07-31 11:56:15 -0400

    Swap true for original. Let my jaw be loose. Go slow.

    Triple recipe for success, yo.

    Love you, Jen!

    Love and light,
    Sue

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  22. Lana Phillips

    2012-07-31 12:09:28 -0400

    Wow. I just have to remember that truth does not have a capital T. It's my truth, not someone else's. Mind-boggling!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  23. Joy Sherman

    2012-07-31 13:44:19 -0400

    So grateful for the reminder to breathe... That alone opens up my creative thinking. Staying TRUE!!

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  24. Pour Cette Temps

    2012-08-12 11:47:55 -0400

    [...] Swap True for original, Jen Louden Share this:TwitterFacebookLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. [...]

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
  25. C.S. Lewis | snapping twig

    2012-12-30 23:14:06 -0500

    [...] Summer Voices | Jennifer Louden | Swap True For Original (aliedwards.com) Rate this:Share this: Pin ItShare on TumblrEmailLike this:Like6 bloggers like this. Tags: Author, C.S. Lewis, literature and art, originality, Philosophy, Truth, writing. Bookmark the permalink. [...]

    * edited 08/11/14 07:50AM
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