A conversation about the uniqueness of creative voice, an acute case of blogger’s block and the book I am currently reading.Today on the subway, the three inputs suddenly combined into a very tangible insight: It’s a very good thing that we’ll never be perfect.
Hold on – did I not just write a post about letting go of perfectionism, in which I described myself as a perfectionist? Yes. But honestly, this is the one insight that might do more to fight my perfectionism than all my previous strategies put together.
In the last few years, I have tried to create and launch a blog several times. All my previous attempts petered out, more or less without anyone really noticing that they ever existed. Usually, it wasn’t that I ran out of ideas. It was that I failed to translate ideas into content. I think I have finally hit on the reason for this issue. Perfectionism was limiting – sometimes even making me actively resist – my unique creative voice.
The enemy of uniqueness is comparison
Even though I get thousands of hits to this site every month – by all my standards, the first half year of this blog has been exceedingly successful – I still find it hard to write new content. Why? Because perfectionism. And, closely related, comparison. I see other creative bloggers, other lifestyle bloggers, and I crumble at the comparisons. They have launched hugely successful courses, they update their blog every week like clockwork, some have even written books! How will I ever get there?
As a creative, you’ve probably hit on this issue quite a few times in your life. Whether it’s drawing, painting, that art journal account you follow on Instagram or that guy in your creative writing class who infuses hilariously precise, dry humour into his writing – we have all felt this mix of admiration, envy and desperation. How could we ever compare? How could we ever be just as good? The answer is, of course, don’t be “just as” good. Be good your way.
Learning the rules – and breaking them
Of course, to get anywhere with your craft, it makes sense to learn some rules. Again, this applies to painting, drawing and art journaling just as much as it applies to blogging. This time around, I have taken a lot of time to learn about promoting this little blog to the outside world. From email lists and Pinterest group boards I didn’t know existed, to bloggers’ groups on Facebook and SEO plugins: Learning the rules of what makes a blog successful has been hugely important. So I’m not saying that a solid understanding of the basics of your craft doesn’t matter. It very much does.
However, the rules always come with a risk. If you follow them too strictly, you end up feeling bored and restricted, and what you create might appear uninspired and formulaic. There are a million articles out there teaching you how to write blog articles. There are free blog business plan templates. It pretty much feels like “insert your niche here”, “insert your name here”, you’re good to go. But going about blogging entirely by following step-by-step instructions on “how to be a successful blogger” is like filling in a colouring book, while next to you sits a person with the same book, but much prettier pens. No matter what you do, you’ll never be able to make just what they made. You’ll always feel second rate. What if instead you took the pens you had and started drawing outside the lines just a bit?
There is no such thing as doing it perfectly
Of course, by default, the way you make something is always unique to you. However, there’s a profound difference between theoretically knowing you have a unique creative voice and actively embracing it. A while ago, I found my enthusiasm for blogging waning. I consulted a friend (the wonderful Tabitha of Seeking My Perhaps) and told her that I still had tons of ideas about what I wanted to write, but that every time I sat down to start a post, I came up empty. “Are you thinking about it too much?”, she asked.
“Hmm”, I said. “I guess! Either I ask myself if the topic really fits my niche, or I think I should do more research. Sometimes I don’t want to be just another person who wrote about a topic – especially since I’m not an expert. I guess it’s perfectionism. Also, I wonder if anyone would even be interested. Then I start questioning if I picked the right niche for my blog. Maybe nobody cares about trying to bring together a conscious, balanced lifestyle and overflowing, hard-to-balance creativity. Maybe I should just leave it.” – “But what is a blogger”, she said, “if not someone telling things from their point of view, sharing experiences and connecting with others?”
I mulled over this, knowing she was right, but not sure what to do about it. I knew that my creative voice was different from others. It didn’t seem to enable me to just use it. I kept questioning that unique voice I had. Wondering if it was adequate. Wanting it to be different. Wishing it was more profound, maybe, or clearer.
Then I read Gretchen Rubin‘s “The Happiness Project” on the subway and stumbled across an insight that struck me as so profound, I took out a marker and highlighted it. I never highlight books. It’s a passage in which she talks about the imaginary critics she dealt with with as she was writing “The Happiness Project”, and comes to the following conclusion:
Oh well, I told myself. If it’s not one thing, it’s another. If I do my project my way, I’m unspiritual and gimmicky, if I tried to do it a different way, I’d be inauthentic and fake. Might as well “Be Gretchen.”
Lightning struck. It might sound silly to you, but it was that exact moment when I realized: Something is always going to be wrong with what I write. Someone will hate it. Someone will find fault with it. I could have always done it a million different ways. It will never be perfect. So what better choice is there, faced with only imperfect alternatives, than to choose my way? To be authentic?
Embrace your unique creative voice!
My natural style of writing tends to be a little wordy and rambling. I know this and try to counteract it for the sake of legibility. Of course, I could tell myself that bloggers need to be succinct and to the point, but then I might end up with shallow writing because I was worried going deeper into the topic would make the text too long. Similarly, in art journaling, I could try to limit the chaos on my pages more – make them sleeker – but then they’d be inauthentic. I might come closer to the style of someone I admire, but people might call me a copycat. If I stick with my style, they might say “there’s too much going on”, “there’s no good colour scheme”, or, in the case of writing, “she just goes on and on forever”.
The point is, as Gretchen Rubin put it, if it’s not one thing, it’s another. You can’t get it right – but that also means you can’t get it wrong. Repeat after me: You can’t get it right, so you can’t get it wrong! There’s no such thing as perfection. And that’s a good thing.
What do your imaginary critics say about your unique creative voice? What have you kept from doing because you were afraid to fall short? Are you all way ahead of me and have successfully implemented this epiphany into your everyday life? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments!
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