Ali Edwards Capture life. Create art.

July 24, 2012

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.


  • 1.
    Karen said…

    Loved her thoughts!

    • ….
      Kim said…

      I love her thoughts too.

  • 2.
    Sue said…

    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”!

  • 3.
    J3SS1C4 said…

    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!

  • 4.
    adrienne said…

    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 :)

  • 5.
    Michelle Allred said…

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

  • 6.
    Jennifer Louden said…

    thanks everybody!!

  • 7.
    Jenny McGee said…

    Great insight. Thanks for a chance to win.

  • 8.
    Kate said…

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

  • 9.
    Carol Gib said…

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

  • 10.
    Anya said…

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

  • 11.
    Kathe said…

    Terrific ideas now I must go and create! Thanx!

  • 12.
    Adel O said…

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

  • 13.
    Eva said…

    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.

  • 14.
    RJ said…

    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.

  • 15.
    aliza said…

    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.

  • 16.
    Leilani said…

    Perfect thoughts to think about over my morning coffee

  • 17.
    Katie said…

    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!

  • 18.
    Ginger said…

    Thanks for the sentiments expressed and the opportunity!

  • 19.
    Jeannine D. said…

    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.

  • 20.
    elle said…

    Timely and TRUE! luv it

  • 21.
    Patty said…

    Love your insight. Thanks for sharing.

  • 22.
    young said…

    A good reminder to be gracious with ourselves!

  • 23.
    Donna C. said…

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

  • 24.
    ms ellie said…

    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.

  • 25.
    vigsy said…

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

  • 26.
    Jennifer Louden said…

    so lovely to read all your kind comments!

  • 27.
    Sherrie said…

    Relax and create – darn the perfection monster that gets in my way every time. Let it go! Thank you Jennifer for your wonderful words of inspiration and motivation.

  • 28.
    ARC said…

    This is fantastic to hear – I’m someone who never took an art class because I thought I was no good at it (I’m trained as a scientist). I just discovered jewelry making about 6 years ago and papercrafting recently, and they make me SO happy even though what I’m doing isn’t anything earthshattering.

    I love this message to enjoy the process and stop pressuring myself (for sales, for publication, for recognition, etc). Awesome.

  • 29.
    Amy said…

    I love that quote. So many times I get caught up with what I think others are thinking I should be creating. I forget to simply enjoy the creative process itself.

  • 30.

    Thanks for this inspiration Jen- I’m focusing on honoring myself & who I am (being true to self) rather than original or even fitting in with others ideas of who I should be.

  • 31.
    carole heburn said…

    what a wonderful way to let go and enjoy the process of creating !!!

  • 32.
    Renee VanEpps said…

    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!

  • 33.
    Otiti said…

    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

  • 34.
    Linda Langes said…

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

  • 35.
    Monica said…

    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.

  • 36.
    scrapper al said…

    Thank you for the wise words!

  • 37.
    Bonnie Cooper said…

    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:)

  • 38.
    Naomi said…

    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.

  • 39.
    Natasha said…

    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.

  • 40.
    Melinda T said…

    Great post and reminder!

  • 41.
    KarriLee said…

    I needed this today, thank you.

  • 42.
    Katie said…

    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.

  • 43.
    melissa rhodes said…

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

  • 44.
    iHanna said…

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

  • 45.
    Bev said…

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

  • 46.
    Marsaille said…

    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!

  • 47.
    Karen Kellenberger said…

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

  • 48.
    Aubrey R said…

    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!

  • 49.
    pammie~k said…

    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!

  • 50.
    Elaine said…

    Great insights!

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