Swap True for Original

artistesIs needing to be original holding you back from creating? Succeeding? Teaching? Getting your great work out into the world?

I want to dismiss, for all time, the idea of being original.

Dear creative heart, hear me roar (gently) in your heart’s ear: Original is a mirage. It’s a boondoggle, a red herring, a slimy lie. It’s one of the critic’s insidious ways to turn you to stone. Or salt. Or chocolate. The critic hisses, “You have nothing to offer because _____ has already said it/taught it/written it/danced it/sang it/farted it.” (Made you laugh.)

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.”

Instead do this: Swap true for original.

Your creative voice & your work takes shape each time you trust and express your truth as specifically as you can. Each time you move imperfectly toward what feels true, grounded, real, honest for you in the moment of creating/teaching/speaking/working.

That’s your job as a creative, as a whole person: Express truth.

Here’s the thing: You already know how to do this; it’s why you choose one angle over another when taking a photo or dinker with a phrase until it “feels” right or create a particular course or product.

You are expressing true.

I have struggled most of my adult life to know what I do. I have struggled because I want to be original. What a waste of time. The way I experience life and how I bring that experience to life is my value. That is what I offer. That is where my true lies.

Here’s a few pointing out instructions to help you live your true:

  • True takes time. Slow down.
  • Be in relationship with your tools, your subject, your body as you create. Be listening to it all like a very fascinating lover.
  • 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. Most painters do this. It helps. A lot.
  • Be an artist of self-compassion.
  • Relax. A tense body makes a lot of noise.
  • Follow impulses, inklings, winks, movements out of the corner of your eye. 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 or how to record audio interviews, go learn that and then get back to your own process. Don’t get lost in learning to be an expert. Waste of time.
  • Get comfortable living in the “gap” between what you want to create and what actually comes out. This gap is where artists live.

See how all of this has nothing to do with being original? Original puts you outside yourself. It is about striving, trying, fitting in. Truth is what must be. It is the call of the real coming into expression through you. And it is so much more satisfying.

Now that’s some original truth.

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Anne Gregson - February 14, 2013

Ouch! You make my heart hurt. No, wait! There’s a lump in my throat!!! You hit home, girlie girl. Spent weeks worrying about starting a watercolor that is a Valentine’s Day gift (I just TAUGHT an 8 week H2Ocolor class, for pity’s sake! And this anxiety?!?). So I began working from a photo, ugh, then consciously said to myself “Walk the talk – if it ain’t fun, you ain’t doin’ it!” BAM! Away went the photo and I finally enjoyed painting the essence of a scene that had taken my breath away. My memory, what mattered in the scene most to me. Truth. (And my all time favorite, Trust.)

It’s so empowering to take the word “original” out of my mind’s vocab.

I LOVE THIS POST!!!! Thank you. Annie Gregson

Justine Musk - February 14, 2013

Love this. And the irony is that when you focus on being true — true to your heart, your soul, your personality — the originality follows, because that’s where you find it — in the art of your self-expression, which by its very nature has to be different from everything else that’s out there. So long as you’re not afraid to speak true — and speak up — you’ll be golden.

Sue Kearney - February 14, 2013

Thanks Jen! Just what I needed today. (Funny, I’m getting a lot of that these days.)

Thanks for the morning inspiration.


Jeffrey Davis - February 14, 2013

Hear here! This is so utterly true. 🙂 In my 20s, I expended a lot of energy striving to be original in how I think, teach, write, etc. Then I humbled myself and apprenticed myself to my artistic fields & traditions. That made all the difference. Where I see aspiring artists and entrepreneurs flounder is by trying to leap from being an amateur to a maestro simply by the desire to be original. That’s a recipe, 99% of the time, for short-lived passion that extinguishes in frustrating dying embers (or some such metaphor :)).

Thanks, Jen, for helping all of us live and create more truth.

Michelle Andres - February 14, 2013

What a great reminder…thanks, Jen! What a timely post as I’ve committed to being highly productive in my studio today. I must go now, work is waiting and it will be “true” work!

Erin Callaway - February 14, 2013

Yes, yes, yes! I can relate so very much! How often I have convinced myself not to bother doing something because “someone else already does that and I could never do it as well so why bother.” I have only recently begun to realize that my true originality comes from expressing my True Self. And now that I do realize that wisdom I feel like I’ve been let out of a cage! As long as I’m expressing MY TRUTH and MY TRUE SELF I can do something that has been done a million times over but it will still completely and utterly and beautifully MINE. Yum! Thank you for such a wonderful and timely message.

Christy Natsumi - February 14, 2013

ah, thanks so much for this reminder jen! i can’t tell you the times when not being “good enough” (as compared to what is “out there”) or not being original enough has held me back. putting up a note on my studio space now 🙂

Kimberly F. Moore - February 14, 2013

Bravo Bravo – I had the best conversation today about passion and my true voice with a friend and then I saw this! Divine confirmation – Thank you!

Links for the Soul: February 15th : joshhersh.com - February 14, 2013

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Erin Farrell Speer - February 14, 2013

Beautiful as always. I had a thought I wanted to share. I was blessed to meet the great American playwright, Arthur Miller, a year before he died. The thing he said, which has stuck with me like a whisper in my ear that it is our responsibility as an artist to speak our truth. Because if we don’t speak truth, no one will.

Be truthful. Speak truth. Create truthfully. Change your world.

Thank you, Arthur Miller.

Deb - February 15, 2013

There you go again, bein’ awesome and sharing so deliciously. Thanks for this. And all the rest. xo

Jennifer - February 16, 2013

I recommend this wonderful little book. It’s just full of wonderful bits of wisdom and loads of inspiration.


Jeanne d'Orleans - February 16, 2013

Thank you Jen. It’s like you are inside my heart and brain. I needed to “hear” this today.

Body Image Boosters From The Blogosphere 2.17.13 | Weightless - February 17, 2013

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More on the whole “unique” and “original” topic with a link to Jennifer Louden’s wonderful site. « Deborah's Art - February 18, 2013

[…] Just came across something I would like to share with you all…please take a read…http://jenniferlouden.com/swap-true-for-original/ […]

Debbie Blount - February 18, 2013

This is absolutely wonderful, Ms. Louden! Brava! I have recently been under “attack” for copying. Yes, indeed it is what we all do…I hope you don’t mind, but I posted on my blog a link to this page, along with a few lines…Wonderful words that I must remember and incorporate not only as an artist, but a human being on this strange journey called life.

Something Good « A Thousand Shades of Gray - February 18, 2013

[…] Swap True for Original from Jennifer […]

disqus_BKMktuXBwT - February 21, 2013

Thank you. I needed to read this.

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