DISCOVERING YOUR VOICE, OR THE PROCESS OF UNAPOLOGETIC EXPRESSION
Hi. I’m Jess.
I am a woman, Canadian by nationality, and Chinese by heritage. As you’ve probably gleaned from the previous sentence, I apologize. A lot.
Please accept my apologies for disturbing you. I am so sore-y for trying to contribute to the conversation. I am disgraced and unworthy of your forgiveness and I will owe you a great debt until you do me the honor of remitting my shame for existing.
I don’t say all of these things aloud, of course. I consider myself a modern, educated female raised on Sex and the City and taking women’s suffrage for granted. I mean, these days Canada is practically the golden child of North America and, if money indeed talks, China’s spending power is set to surpass the US as the world’s biggest consumer market this year. You’d think I’d be vocally manspreading all over New York City!
But, try as I might, I still think these undermining thoughts.
And I think these undermining thoughts most often when it comes to my art.
Please accept my apologies for inviting you to my show. I am so sore-y I can’t identify that interval by ear. I am disgraced and unworthy of your forgiveness and I will owe you a great debt until you do me the honor of remitting my shame for that imperfect rhyme.
I know it’s unfair for me to entirely blame these thoughts on being a woman, Canadian, or Chinese. My apologies to all the women, Canadians, and Chinese out there who don’t have these thoughts. Dammit. I did it again…
I also know imposter syndrome isn’t unique to artists, but some of us have perfected it in the same way we’ve perfected surviving on the showcase code stipend in New York City. We justify the crap out of it and worse, we allow ourselves to believe it’s what we deserve - or at the very least what we have to do to survive while making art.
But if I apologize for my writing, I won’t be disappointed if it’s not successful.
Reality check. Rejection hurts, even when we’ve resigned ourselves to it. Perhaps more, because we’ve denied ourselves the joy of possibility. Why even bother to create if we’re already preparing for it to fail? Insecurity sucks, doesn’t it!
For me, the root of my insecurity mostly boils down to comparison: My perceived arch-nemesis *Jen (*name changed for privacy) graduated from program X, has achieved Y in the industry, and has Z skills that I don’t possess. I see Jen’s Xs, Ys, and Zs as the reasons her voice has found success and my art is unworthy of an audience.
But, what if I could detach from the idea that there is only one way to do things? What if I stopped looking at Jen’s circumstances as the template for success and instead saw them as what they are – unique to Jen. If I had no knowledge that Jen existed, the fact that she has X, Y, and Z would have no bearing upon my life. In reality, Jen’s Xs, Ys, and Zs have no physical effect upon me so why am I letting them do actual damage to my mental health and my creative work?
By releasing the idea of Jen’s perceived ‘correct path’, I can begin to empower my own.
I graduated from program A – what an accomplishment! After working my butt off, I’ve achieved B in my life! I have C skills that I gained while achieving B that have given me a ton of insight into the screenplay I am writing set at A! Go me!
So, what does this have to do with finding your creative voice?
First, we need to acknowledge that everyone has a creative voice. We can’t help but possess one – it is the sum of our individualized experiences, exchanges of ideas, and all the communication we’ve ever received. If you are breathing and you have thoughts, you have a creative voice.
Second, we all need to realize that our creative voice is valid. Unrestrained, our voice is chomping at the bit to get out but we’re really good at beating it into submission with negativity. We are constantly strangling it with anxiety and silencing it with doubt. If our creative voices were pets, the ASPCA would have been called a long time ago.
The act of discovering my own voice has been an ongoing process of grabbing a figurative shovel and excavating that voice from the enormous pile of neuroses, negative comparisons, overwhelming expectations, and pervasive fear I bury it under on a daily basis. Some days it’s more difficult, but the results are always rewarding.
Once we get out of our own way, only then can we begin to direct, cultivate, and inspire our creative voice! That’s the fun stuff. But that’s another article.
Jessica Wu is a NYC-based writer, director, songwriter, dramaturg, and occasional performer. She is the founder of Inspirate Creative Consulting and Development, dedicated to providing clients with purposeful creative coaching and open-hearted, collaborative development sessions for works in-process.