Whether you’re a writer, an artist, an entrepreneur, a musician, or any other creative type, I’m betting you’ve fallen into the comparison trap at some point or another.
You know the game, don't you? The one where you look around and wonder to yourself, Where in the world do I fit into this sea of talent?
You want to figure out your thing - your unique creative voice. The perspective that people will come to know you for. BUT, you don't know where to start.
I remember when I finally decided to start my own personal blog back in 2011, I would read some of my favorite blogs and think, They have such a distinctive writing voice. I wanted that for myself. And while I don’t necessarily think I’ve nailed it down entirely yet, I do feel I’m a heck of a lot closer.
So, the following five tips are the ways that I’ve been able to uncover the unique creative voice inside myself, and I hope they serve as guideposts for you to do the same.
1. Create more than you consume.
This is probably the most important point and the one from which the rest all stem. Consumption can be a great thing because it gives our creative brains some fantastic stuff to chew on -- inspiration to form future connections.
However, if you’re heavy on the consumption end of the spectrum - in other words, if you’re taking in more than you’re putting in - you’re going to clog those creative parts of your brain with other people’s work. If you want to discover your style, the simple answer is this: make more stuff. And certainly, at the very least, make more stuff than you see or read or analyze.
2. Limit your opportunities to imitate.
This one is probably an extension of the former point, but more specifically, you have to crack down on the inner comparison glutton in you.
Limit your temptation to imitate by removing your opportunities to consume.
Listen, I get it, this seems counterintuitive. If you’re an artist and you like the work of another artist, you’re going to want to follow them on Instagram. If you’re a blogger, you’re going to subscribe to the blogs of other writers you enjoy. BUT, what I’m suggesting is that until you feel you have a handle on what makes you unique, it’s in your best interest to unfollow, unsubscribe and cut the inspiration from your life. Temporarily, I promise. Only until you find security and confidence in your perspective.
When I decided I wanted to start a weekly newsletter with inspiration and action on how to grow in business and in life, do you know what I did? I unsubscribed from every inspiring newsletter that came to my inbox because I had to discover MY voice and I knew that if my email was constantly being flooded with reminders of someone else’s voice, it would prevent me from moving forward.
3. Establish consistency and keep yourself accountable.
Consistency is key when you’re trying to cultivate any sort of creative discovery. I truly believe that your voice shows up when you create momentum for it to arrive. What did Picasso say? “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” Yes, a thousand times YES!
I’m a big fan of 30-day challenges because I feel 30 days is long enough to see improvement and progress, but short enough to feel that you can accomplish your goal. I can assure you that if you commit to creating your art for 30 days - whether that’s writing a blog post, making a piece of art, doing a small video, etc. - when you emerge you’ll have a MUCH better idea of what your unique tone and style is. But the key is sticking to it and finding some sort of accountability to keep creating.
4. (Caveat to #3) Leave room for growth.
Now, consistency is fantastic and I definitely recommend giving yourself a time frame or some sort of parameters to your creation process. However, there’s just one caveat to that strategy that I have to mention. As much as it’s important to hone your skills and refine your voice as it sits right now, you also have to be aware that your true creative voice might be just on the other side of your current comfort zone.
I think of it like this: Many big Fortune 500 companies have their formula for how they run their business and how they grow year over year. Each year it’s their goal to execute this formula well and keep that growth alive. However, the really good companies have something like an “innovation” budget or department. The goal of this line item is to keep pushing the envelope, to keep seeing what’s possible. You have to view your creativity the same way. Yes, it’s your intention to cultivate your voice as you know it right now and to keep honing your craft (see #3 above). BUT make sure you leave room for growth and innovation. Make sure you’re experimenting too because that could lead you to something that’s truly original. So, try a new medium, think outside your typical box, explore a completely different style than you're used to once in a while. This will give your creativity the breath of fresh air it needs to come to life.
5. Remove self-judgment.
Self-doubt is the thief of art and of growth. If you really want to explore your creative muse, you have to convince her that she’s safe. Create an environment in your own mind where no idea is a bad idea. This is easier said than done, sure, but it’s the only way to truly push the boundaries and see what your inner creative voice is telling you. Maybe 90% of the art you make during this exploration phase is crap. And that’s okay. Why? Because that 90% could lead to the 10% that’s pure gold. Write with abandon, make art that doesn't make sense, do it all FREELY and know that eventually you'll find the inner voice inside.
So there you have it, my tips for uncovering your unique voice. The underlying theme here of course is simply this: get out there and make stuff. Create from your heart, from what you feel, and not from what you think other people will like. That’s when you’ll stumble upon what makes you truly original.