Swap True for Original

Feb 14, 2013

Is 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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