Here in the U.S., it is almost a major holiday. So in honor of July 4th (tomorrow!), today’s post is centered on the topic of Independence — but not the hard-fought political kind that established the United States of America (which I’m so thankful for, by the way!). Instead, I want to discuss Creative Independence.
What is Creative Independence?
I’m glad you asked. 😉
Creative Independence, essentially, is the ability to balance the influence of what came before with the authenticity of your own unique vision. I’m specifically talking about this in application to writing, but it could apply to any creative endeavor, really. We are all influenced by the writers we’ve read in the past, those who came before us… but the ultimate goal for any up-and-coming writer is usually to establish something of their own. Yes, a new writer might like to be called “The next ______” (fill in the blank with your favorite author), but what a writer doesn’t want to be called is unoriginal, a copy-cat, or a mimic. There is a process to achieving Creative Independence by implementing what you’ve learned from your predecessors while still producing something that’s all your own.
So today, I want to discuss this process in a little bit of detail, in the hopes that it might help some of you who are stuck or still struggling to find your personal voice. And because I’m sometimes cheesy, my points just might be slightly 4th-of-July themed. 😉 (Note: I do not intend for this to be a political discussion. I’m simply using the history of the U.S.A. as an allegory for a writer’s journey to find his or her own voice. Whether you’re an American or not, I hope you find today’s post helpful. )
1.Honor your heritage
The United States of America became a brand new nation, but the people who established this country still had British roots. Even though they broke away from the political structure of their initial homeland, they would always carry with them the experiences and knowledge of their lives across the sea — and that was a good thing. It was their lives over there that led them to come to America in the first place, and which equipped them with the knowledge and life experience to craft a whole new set of guidelines upon which the new country was founded. Yes, the new country differed from the old, but without Britain, those specific pioneers who settled in America and carved out something new would never have existed.
Likewise, every writer is first a reader. (I cannot imagine that anyone who writes can say they’ve never read or heard another story first!) When we set out to craft our own personas as writers, we cannot help but be influenced by what we’ve already experienced through the work of other writers. And that’s a good thing! Those experiences light a fire within us, give us something to aspire to, and then — hopefully — set us on our very own path to become something different, something that better suits us as unique individuals. The original works that inspired you can be the fuel for something entirely new and — if you work hard enough at it — completely amazing in its own right.
2. Declare your independence
But even though we honor our heritage, there comes a time when we must depart from it. For the people who established the U.S., this came for many reasons, and they let those reasons drive them and shape the parameters of the new country. They did so because they believed firmly in the ideology of the new nation they were forming, and felt a desperate need to form and protect a country founded on that ideology. When the Declaration of Independence was signed, it was an act of courage and conviction, for the preservation of faith and freedom.
As a writer, you will likely hit a point where you feel the need to carve out your own place within the writing community. You will have your own unique ideas, your own tastes about what makes a story good, and your own dreams and vision for where you want to go in your writing career and how you want to get there. These are important. These are valid. Take advice, yes, but don’t let your own writing career be dictated by what someone else is doing or what has worked for other writers. Declare your own vision — write it down if you can! Even if you never share it with anyone else, have conviction about your dreams and goals, and then create a realistic plan to get there. Cement it in writing, and let it guide everything you do from there on.
3. Listen to the people BUT
The United States of America is a democracy, founded on the idea of giving a voice to the people. All people. We choose our leaders based on a voting process that does its best to balance the desires of the people with certain parameters and requirements for who is eligible to run for office, how the votes are weighted, etc. (Is it always functioning perfectly? No… but it’s a concept with honorable intentions.) This rose out of a desire to balance the control of the government and preserve freedom for all citizens. But still, those citizens must abide by the laws set forth in the Constitution and by the elected officials. It is not a free-for-all chaos in the streets; there is an established structure of authority and law, but that structure intentionally provides opportunity for the people to have a voice in impacting its ordinances and leadership.
As a writer, you will have the opportunity to receive a lot of feedback on your work. I call it an opportunity because it really is one, if you embrace and implement it smartly. But if you are sharing your writing on any level, whether just to close family and friends or online in an open forum or even through a widespread publication format, you are likely to receive some kind of input and feedback from your readers. You then have a choice — you can ignore all their feedback and do what you want even if it isn’t having a good response, you can embrace all their feedback and change your entire approach to writing even if it feels like it’s not true to who you are as a writer, or you can go for a middle ground and hear the feedback but sift it through the filter of the goals and vision you’ve declared, choosing what to apply and what to dismiss.
I am a strong advocate of this third option, because it is the best of both worlds. If you can hone your ability to receive feedback gracefully, even thanking readers for it and asking genuine questions to understand it more deeply, you can then select which comments seem to be part of a pattern of feedback from readers, particularly from within your target audience. There may be things in your story you thought were clear which aren’t, or parts of the story which didn’t communicate the same feeling to your readers that you felt when writing it — these are the parts where implementing feedback actually helps your writing become more of what you wanted it to be, rather than changing to something different simply to please readers. And then you simply dismiss any comments that seem like outliers, realizing that your writing cannot please every audience, and standing firm in your conviction of what you want your writing to be.
Rather than letting your readers run rampant in your intellectual streets and crush your creative spirit, set limits on how strongly you allow yourself to be swayed by feedback, and let your vision for your writing determine which feedback you deem helpful and which you simply let go of because it is not in line with your vision. Uphold your personal “Constitution” and use it to guide you as you make changes for the future. But do value the feedback and intentionally craft spaces for it and opportunities to receive it, and seek it out so that you can become better from it. There is a process to learning to really sift through feedback this way, but it is one worth working toward.
4. Stand firm in what you’ve established
The founders of the U.S.A. were willing to fight to protect what they had built. They were willing to fight an actual war for their freedom to live independently and to have their freedoms and rights. It was worth fighting for to them, worth dying for if necessary.
You, as a writer, are working to build something independent, a little niche (or maybe even a huge cityscape) within the writing community that is all your own. Your freedom to write in your own unique voice, and to write the things you’re passionate about writing, is worth protecting. (Actually, freedom of speech and freedom of the press are two essential American rights that tie directly into this creative freedom as well!) If you are writing true to your vision of who you want to become as a writer, then don’t give up. Seek out help, strive to learn and grow continually, but never give up. If you receive negative feedback from readers, sift it and apply what’s relevant — be honest with yourself about areas where you still have room to grow — but don’t let that negative feedback crush you. Fight with conviction for the creative independence you have built.
I hope this is helpful to those of you who are still on the journey to find your voice. For me it is a continual process to hone and improve myself as a writer, even though I have a clear vision of who I want to be and what I want to do. I am always happy to hear readers’ feedback and always strive to learn and grow and become better and better.
Do you have questions? Comments? Please post them below!
And Happy 4th of July! 🙂