E-courses & originality

[self portrait from 1995, aged 22]

Yesterday it was brought to my attention that someone had launched an e-course that not only had the same flavour as my own but the course plan was almost identical and, most bizarrely, the website was pretty much a carbon copy of my Unravelling page. After emailing with this person I’m happy to report that the matter has been completely resolved, the site has been taken down and i received a very sincere apology. I don’t feel i need to speak any more about this, but it got me thinking about originality and how we find our own voice.

It took me a very long time to find mine and it is still a work in progress as the things i want to say with that voice, and the things that i know, change and evolve as every year passes. The most wounding accusation you could ever level at me would be that i wasn’t original, that I was copying someone else. As babies we learn to speak by imitating the sounds our parents make and even into adulthood we learn by imitation. And we are all inspired by others; the internet gives us access to such a wealth of information and heck, isn’t there always someone else whose idea is the Best Thing Ever and you wish you’d thought of it? But here’s the thing: as you try to find your feet as a creative person it’s natural that you’ll find artists you’re particularly intrigued by and will set about analysing and imitating, whether you realise you are doing it or not. Same with blogging or writing or making music – we gravitate towards our teachers, the people whose art and/or success we wish to emulate. But the aim must be to take this inspiration in a new direction, not use the same outline and fill it in with different colours – the shape is still the same.

As recently as October 2007 I found myself sitting in Christine Mason Miller’s studio in LA, collaging paper and paint alongside the artist who’d been an inspiration to me. As an illustration of what a diamond friend she is, Christine didn’t point out that my creations looked remarkably like hers; instead, she showed me how to apply the paint. At the time i was struggling with my path and playing with mixed-media was a great way to stretch my creative muscles in another direction; however, I would never have dreamed of trying to sell work like my friend’s. Apart from humbly knowing that she is a much more talented artist when it comes to paper and paint, I so ardently want to give the world my OWN vision…My own pictures… My own words. I’ve been striving to do this from an early age.

The photo above is me in 1995, a fledgling photographer at art college, trying to figure out not only what I had to say, but who I was. Most of my self-portraits from age 20 – 24 were naked; I reasoned that my skin was surely the real me, because when I put my clothes back on, I was trying to look like someone else. There was an older girl I admired at college and I spent a lot of time trying to dress like her, reasoning it was my new look. She fascinated me and I wanted to be like her. If blogs had been around back then I would have hung on her every word; I was working out what it meant to be me by trying on another skin first.

[My new dress ~ very me circa 2009]

Fast forward to London, 1998; I’m doing my journalism degree and had the incredible good fortune to get two weeks’ work experience at the Independent on Sunday newspaper. Journalist Annalisa Barbieri took me under her wing and seeing my eagerness, and recognising my writing ability, gave me several articles to write before offering me a weekly fashion column. You can imagine how ecstatic I was! At the time Annalisa had just had her first book published, and she gave me a copy with the following inscription inside the front cover:

‘Carissima Sue, le parole belle si fanno piano piano. Bacioni, Annalisa. Nov 98’

Roughly translated she told me that ‘beautiful words are made slowly, slowly’ – it takes time to find your voice. Be patient.  Let the words develop. At the time i was impatient to have a book published, be a successful journalist and live the life I’d dreamed of. Now I understand the wisdom of letting time pass, of letting your voice mature. Eleven years later, and I think I have finally found my voice.

There’s nothing new about creating an e-course, or a self-awareness course, or, for that matter, a photography course. It’s been done before and it will be done again. But Unravelling is my voice, my heart, on a page. I’m offering my course to the world to share what I know, and what I have learned from four years of grief, therapy, healing, photographing, writing and being patient as the words matured inside me. I share as much as I can on my blog, in my photographs and in my teaching, and I do it to help, to inspire and also, because I am a single person who is proud to look after herself, I do it to pay my rent and bills. So if what I do inspires you that is truly fantastic – but please share your own unique voice with the world, not a differently-coloured version of mine. Deal?

For more wise words, please go read Meg’s excellent post on authenticity, over here.

38 responses
  1. Chookooloonks

    Lovely, my dear friend. Really, really lovely.
    Rock the hell on.

  2. Jo

    Bravo x

  3. Ann Marie

    impressive words. important message. thanks so much for sharing them.

  4. Susan

    Very honest and very true. Finding your own voice isn’t easy as I’m trying to find my own. I really hope you don’t encounter the same problem as your course develop into something even bigger. Btw, love the new look of the site.

  5. megg

    I admire YOU.
    (and you are even more beautiful now than in that picture – unravelled even!)

  6. sas

    You are such an original rockstar superchick there is no way you can be facsimilied!
    I have just found her blog through yours and what an awesome lady she is. I left a comment on her post and it left me in tears. At my desk! Ahh well, realness, rawness, authenticity – when I recongise it in myself and others, it moves me.
    kia kaha
    (stay strong)
    You’ve handled this whole copygate episode with such dignity.

  7. furiousball

    Beautiful rocker girl

  8. ceanandjen

    This was written with such truth and grace and ever so spot on. xo

  9. gypsy Alex

    Great words, Sus. You know you have my support. And I did not comment on the previous post about the blog, but being a fellow BYW classmate and a long time reader here, I want to say that your voice comes through with unbelievable grace. I wouldn’t want anything else, but the real naked you, (oops that sounded naughty ;) but you know what I mean). So even if people copy you, it will still never be the same, because your lovely unique spirit is what makes it golden. People take the e-course also because they want to spend time with the marvelous Susannah! At the end of the day, all ideas are sort of small. What makes someone stand out is how they bring in their own magic and originality to things. Just keep on going strong and don’t let these kinks on the road stop you from going even further. Those who copy only reach a certain point, but your authentic potential is infinite! xxox

  10. Leslie

    i do believe that is the most beautifully and thoughtfully written post on such a subject ever written.

  11. bella

    I’m sorry that this happened to you ~really~ and I know through reading your blog from the beginning how you came to be where you are now. I’ve always cheered you on and put good thoughts “out there” for you.
    *After reading Megg’s post and as an outsider looking in (because I’m not a member of a blog clique – and let’s be real, they exist) I see a lot of copying and borrowing of ideas. There are very few (very,very,very few) authentic spirits sharing their creativity in this little web. I’ve seen the same idea re-hashed a thousand different ways, often wondering while going through my blog reader: “are you kidding me” ??
    There are a handful of ladies who I feel are sharing original slices of their world, their art, their photos, and their lives. These ladies have been friends and sources of inspiration for the four years that I’ve been blogging. (you’re one of them!)
    My voice is mine ~ all my own. I don’t duplicate or imitate and I’m proud of that. Truth be told ~ that’s what keeps me out of the cliques ~ it’s all ass kissing and idea borrowing. Oh, girl.. I can go on.
    Just go on being you. Your words here are beautiful.

  12. tanaya

    Elegant, graceful, eloquent, thoughtful and entirely you.

  13. Laura.

    i have been thinking about this recently, ever since someone blogged about that jim jarmusch quote about nothing being original but how everything is stolen and the best way to go is to be authentic in what we do, because we can never hope to be original. and also, that what we do with what we borrow from others is what matters–taking ideas we like and pushing them in our own new direction. blah blah blah.
    so it is good to read your personal experience with it, and to be reminded that finding our voices comes slowly, with time and work and patience. beautifully written, thank you for sharing. :)

  14. jan

    Loved this Susannah! Your words so wise, and they were written with such grace and dignity (for everyone involved).

  15. Kathryn - Collage Diva

    I’m so happy to hear that the person who admired you so much, respected you enough to “cease and desist” with her knock-off e-course. I am drawn to take your class as it echoes for me where I am at in my own life. I’m all about authenticity — it is very important to me. I look forward to learning from you in the upcoming class. I’m excited to absorb, experiment, and see how I can take what I learn to express my own voice and vision.

  16. charlane

    beautiful and how happy a peaceful resolution. an important message and a reminder that I am still struggling find a style that truly defines me.

  17. Wayfaring Wanderer

    I wanna be like you when I grow up ;P

  18. pen*

    you are an inspiration.
    thanks for reminding me what the real journey is about.

  19. Tahni

    thank you, this is really encouraging to someone who wishes she was already established, already felt secure in her own voice. though i have seen it grow over the past 4 years at university, i know that i still have farther to go. but this post reminds me that it is a process and you don’t just happen upon it. so, thank you for that.

  20. Shanon

    Excellent. Thought provoking. Beautiful.
    Just like you!

  21. Emma

    what is it they say about imitation and flattery and all that? Your words are wise and so are you. Some people rush about and don’t listen and absorb life but you do and then have the ability to turn it into beautiful thoughts and words, that inspire the rest of us… thank you,
    Emma x

  22. beth

    the honesty here is tangible and I love it !
    thank you for being you and sharing youself so wonderfully with all of us!

  23. Pauline G.

    Thank you for sharing those words. When I started designing for a small packaging firm, I found myself copying the designs of those I loved. But over time, I have come to design my own unique ideas and patterns. It does take time to become who you are meant to be.
    Thanks for those words. You have so much to offer to the world.

  24. meg manion silliker

    this is why you are a fav of mine – it’s that “something” about you that i love and in this post it’s your voice, your ability to so poignantly rise above, with beauty and grace. you encourage while being encouraged – you are an amazing YOU. xo m.

  25. .kat.

    There is such a fine line
    between admiration and
    imitation. I don’t think
    there has ever been a
    doubt in anyone’s mind
    that there is genuine
    authenticity that flows
    here. I truly appreciate
    what you wrote when you
    mentioned that our voice
    needs time to mature, to
    be patient. That affirmation
    truly means a lot to me.
    Thank you.

  26. amy

    bravo! so beautifully written. your photos and your words definite feeling to them. there is a light in your photos and a spirit in your words that would be impossible to copy.

  27. Jennifer White

    You continue to amaze me and I cannot WAIT to uncover what is hidden for me through Unravelling next week….I’m almost giddy, but nervous as well.
    To quote Chookooloonks above… couldn’t have said it better… “ROCK THE HELL ON”…

  28. Parusha

    I love your story and your inspiring post. Glad to hear that all was resolved with that person. I feel like I’m absorbing so many ideas and styles all the time that I really need to be careful that I haven’t unconsciously imitated someone whose style or work I admire.

  29. B

    I struggle with this, with finding my own voice. I really, really try to be honest, but it’s so hard when there is so many people out there already doing what you want to do… There is a very fine line between inspiration and copying someone, isn’t there? But I’m discovering that, at the end of the day is HOW you do things. As you say, there are many ecourses on photography, self discovery… but the way you put the unravelling ourse together is what made it special. I know that one day, I’ll find my own voice too! :)

  30. Lee

    Brilliant and so true. Thank you for being you.

  31. Marianne

    So well expressed my eloquent, elegant friend. Sending all the healing vibes I can muster over to kick that virus’s ass. xx

  32. Catherine (from Paris)

    I would have dreamt to express this in such an explicit way … All this is a great and grand journey that one must learn to appreciate and enjoy.

  33. amber

    thank you for keeping it real and sharing it with the world!

  34. Thea

    such clarity and strength. Well said…very well said.

  35. Stephanie

    your words never cease to resonate & inspire me.
    thank you Susannah for bringing us all into your world and into your heart.
    keep on keepin’ it real!!! :)

  36. grace

    I look forward to giving you the biggest hug on the day we meet in person.
    Thank you for finding your voice and so lovingly coaching me to find mine.

  37. joanne

    this is such a wonderful post for so many reasons…
    it has taken me many, many years to discover my own voice through writing and art/photography… a journey that has meant diving into the deepest of heartache, grief, and loss… a journey that is still ongoing…
    when cracking ourselves open in front others to share in our journey, it is an invitation, and we offer that invitation with trust… you have written this post with such kindness and grace, and at the same time you are so impressively standing up for your own voice, experience and creation… i am really inspired (and helped) to see that in you, as standing up is not an easy for me to do on my own behalf…
    what a loving gift of the heart to create a course such as this that helps guide others on the path of their own discovery…

  38. Kelli

    I love this…
    It was really good to read in a time when I am trying to find my voice – both as a writer and a person.

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