• Kenzi

For When You Think Your Voice Doesn't Matter

It's no secret that when you work in a creative field you spend a good amount of time second guessing yourself. I know firsthand that if I set aside two hours for writing, at least a quarter of that will likely be spent erasing, re-wording, and convincing myself that everything I've written is crap. The paradox here is that you create because you feel the need to, and yet your ability to "succeed" as a creative relies on how much other people like what you're putting out. This is a big part of why all that advice to "just be yourself," tends to feel pretty empty. How are you supposed to let go of your need to be liked, to have your work admired, when the odds are invariably stacked against you?

I won't pretend to have all the answers, but I think the first step is recognizing that our lives are almost entirely shaped by our perspective. We act based on what we think and feel, and this is how our sense of the world is formed. Obviously, there are a lot of things that go into shaping this perspective (family, friends, environment, socioeconomic status, to name a few). These different elements define our experiences, beliefs, and values, which then determine how we relate to the world around us. This is why, no matter how much your life might overlap with someone else's, nobody will ever see the world through the exact same lens which you see it.

Once you understand this, letting go of outside validation becomes much easier. You begin to understand the value of your perspective (which may or may not be "unique") and start to get in the groove of creating for nobody but yourself. Let me be clear: I'm not saying you shouldn't be concerned with your audience or sales or any of the other countless things artists have to worry about. These are all important, and they will all come into play eventually, so you definitely should be aware of them. But my point is, you can't sell a million copies of your book or make thousands off your painting without a book or a painting to market. If early on you let yourself get caught up with what people will think or how you'll come across, you're only making the process of doing that much harder.

Something else that can make the early stages so difficult is this widely-held belief that there are no more original ideas. Everything is an homage, or a remake, or recycled from something else. It's all been done before. But what this notion doesn't account for is the inherent originality of the voices telling these stories. I'll say it again: Nobody else in this world has experienced what you have in the exact same way you experienced it. No matter how dull you think your life is, or how unoriginal your ideas may seem, there's guaranteed to be something you're bringing to the table which no one else can.

As someone who spent most of my life riding the line between wanting to create and feeling that I had nothing of value to share, I know firsthand how that doubt can paralyze you. It's so important to remember that, in all its many forms, art is (or should be) a cathartic experience. It's something we do for ourselves, because we have a story or idea or emotion that needs to come out. So if you spend this time preoccupied with what others will think, all that doubt and frustration is going to show in the art. Just as some animals can supposedly smell fear, audiences can smell insecurity. If you don't feel sure about what you've created, you can rest assured that no one else will.

The only way to overcome this need for validation is by getting clear on your perspective. When you go to create, why are you doing it? What is that drive, and where does it stem from? What is it that's trying to come out? Most of all, why does it matter to you? Answering these questions will help you clarify two crucial things: your message and your purpose. This also involves finding the common thread in all the art that you make. And I don't mean in terms of genre or style- even if none of your work seems related on the surface, there's something thematic which ties it all together.

Achieving the latter is as simple as answering two questions. What do you do, and why do you do it? For example: I'm a writer who tell stories about people who have to learn that no one achieves anything alone. This is something thematic that can fit into any number of genres or plots, but still gives a clear understanding of the kind of stories I tell. In one sentence, I've told you the what of my writing (my message) while hinting at the why (my purpose).

This is how you begin to find the right kind of people to help push your work forward. You'll never please everyone, and you shouldn't expect to. Instead, focus on making the best version of what your art can be, as you see it. This paves the way for you to connect with the ones who will not only get what you're selling, but will also want to help you sell it.

Get clear on what message you're sharing and why it's so crucial for you to share it. At first, focus only on yourself and on making your work the absolute best it can be. Trust that there will be time to figure the rest out. If you can do that, you'll be surprised by what starts to feel possible.

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   © 2020 by Kenzi Vaughan