I remember the first play I submitted to a theatre in Toronto. The dramaturge called me in to “talk”. He was merciless, heartless, and yet that meeting was a gift. It made me face the truth and it awakened my Voice.
“Predictable”, “one dimensional” “hackneyed” “cliché upon cliché” “worse and worse”, were just some of the comments the dramaturge wrote in the margins of my beloved script. He savaged my labor of love, attacking not only my work but my dreams. He would politely stop and ask, “Are you sure you want to hear this?” Even then I realized the truth was preferable to living an illusion. There were harder truths to follow, bigger problems than not being such a great writer. That was solvable although I didn’t know it at the time.
In wrapping up the dramaturge cheerfully suggested I give up writing because I had no talent. He was right; there wasn’t much talent on display. But he was wrong as well, because there was something beneath the surface that had the power to change everything.
What I learned from that meeting is that everything can help us, even the most savage criticism. One’s Voice can turn a negative into a positive. There’s no amount of rejection that can stop you if you don’t give up and if you listen within. His unvarnished critique triggered my Voice to speak and It was determined to put things right. Unfortunately, I wasn’t listening.
When asked, Bob Dylan said he didn’t know who wrote Blowing In the Wind. How could someone with so much access to his own incredible Voice be so completely unaware of its workings? Neil Young might have said it best; “you tap into something and something incredible and mysterious takes over and it is doing the writing”. That, I believe, is your Voice.
Writers are familiar with the concept of “finding our Voice”, but what does it really mean? Whether you are a playwright, song writer, actor, choreographer, film editor, project manager, plumber (everything is creative to some extent) we can all benefit by finding our “Voice” and tapping into its guidance, insights, originality and pursuit of excellence. It may not be easy to explain but enough artists have experienced it to know that it’s real.
My Voice has a tendency to throw out my best laid plans and surprises me with an idea that comes out of left field, something I would “normally” never have considered. It doesn’t care about my schedule, deadlines, and strategies. I’ve had to find a way to meet my business commitments and keep it happy.
But it can provide you with a creative solution there as well. It’s a problem solver but it doesn’t shout, it whispers. We don’t have to listen but that is at our peril. What’s at stake? For me its personal success at the very least, but the ride can be a bit of a scramble.
Have you ever ignored your own instincts because it was inconvenient or seemed too difficult? Maybe you believe you’ve already put in ‘so much work? Or you thought these doubts were just your own insecurities, or for any number of other reasons?
After meeting the dramaturge I was experiencing a lot more of these ‘uncomfortable feelings of doubt and misgiving’. I loved my work when I was writing it, but then I’d come back and read it later I’d invariably be disappointed.
My reason and logic clung desperately to the idea that everything was fine but my gut, my instincts, my Voice said otherwise.
“Try again”, my Voice would whisper.
“I just spent a week on this scene,” I’d argue.
“I’m behind schedule.”
“It’s fine the way it is.”
It was not fine. But I brow beat my Voice into silence and what remained was an uncomfortable misgiving within. There was no peace. I thought I was totally committed, I thought I was “all in” but I wasn’t. I wasn’t anywhere near loyal to my own instincts. More afraid of failure than dedicated to success; I didn’t love my work or myself enough to truly commit. I thought these feelings were irrational but my Voice was being much more rational than I was being.
Listening to it didn’t mean, as I feared, throwing everything out. It meant finding the pony in that pile and riding on. As Laurie Ashbourne said in her recent Stage 32 blog The Road Most Traveled: Shifting Your Perspective on Success in Entertainment, “find the seed that grew it“ and rework from there.
Finding our Voice can have a big impact on us, both personally and professionally. I went through a significant transition in both ways. I went from “no talent” (as the dramaturge described me), to a nationally award winning playwright and screenwriter with several option deals. I am currently working with Academy and Emmy award winning producers to develop film and television projects. How did it happen? I discovered my Voice.
We know what professional success looks like, but what about personal success? For me it’s about finding a secure and unassailable place within where I am sure I can I trust myself, where I know who I am and I’m content with what I have accomplished. It’s not about being the best; it’s about being my best.
If you don’t have personal success how can professional follow? Maybe it can but if it does, will it last? Personal success is the foundation that professional success rests upon. It’s what sustains us and is purely subjective.
This world with its twists and turns, and ups and downs has any number of ways to steal your peace. Your Voice can put you on the path to originality, innovation and contentment. “Same old” just doesn’t work for your Voice because unique and original revelations are its stock and trade.
What fuels the creative fire? Passion, dedication, perseverance yes, but the most essential ingredient is love. Talent can be grown, it can be nurtured and learned through practice but love either is or it isn’t.
It doesn’t matter how good you are now, all that matters is how much love you have for your art, your craft and yourself. It’s not about ego. It’s love for the work and for the creative process a.k.a. that mysterious Voice within.
I finally ran across a story idea that connected with me deeply, something that I truly loved. But my initial drafts led to that same old feeling of doubt and misgiving when I read them a few days later.
One thing I realized that made me look at the Voice a little differently, on this particular story (about King John and the signing of the Magna Carta), I could not afford to equivocate. I loved it too much to accept any doubts or misgivings about the quality of my work.
It was then I realized that maybe these doubts and feelings were not my fears of inadequacy but in actual fact my creative Voice speaking and trying to encourage me to try harder and do better. In this world of brutal indifference to our dreams and desires nothing less than our best will do.
The story of King John and the signing of the Magna Carta was just too important and too fascinating to me to give it anything less than my very best. So instead of suppressing my instincts I started listening to them.
“Be merciless”, my Voice seemed to whisper.
“Merciless? What does that mean? Merciless with who? About what?”
The answer leapt at me-
“With yourself. Do everything in your power to be the best you can be. Survival in this highly competitive world demands it.”
If there were doubts they had to be relinquished, if there were fears they needed to be overcome. Instead of avoiding work and multiple revisions as I’d done in the past, I started to embrace them no matter how many followed. I came back to read my work a few days later my Voice spoke, “Try again”, “Go deeper”, “Take a different look at it”, “How about this, or that?”. My Voice was coming from the heart and not my head.
I gave myself to it, surrendering to the Voice and it grew stronger.
I put the play through between seventeen and twenty revisions in total (I lost count). Along the way I began to wonder what this inner feeling, this Voice really was; this Voice that refused to settle, that urged me on to the best I could be. Was it part of me or was I part of it?
It was operating at a deeper level than my intellect. It came from the heart, from the gut and all my rational objections were swept away in the light of its insight and inspiration.
I made up my mind that I would complete as many drafts as I needed until my Voice was satisfied and at peace. I would no longer choose to run the risk of complacency. I was now ruthless with myself, merciless with my work and prepared to start over and change things again and again and again until the Quiet Voice no longer objected.
This calm, this inner peace, became my yardstick for completion. I would apply it from this moment forward to everything I wrote, or perhaps I should say it would apply me. Some people say that the definition of mental health is trusting yourself, listening and following our Voice is an exercise in trusting ourselves. With this historical work, I finally reached a place where the Voice spoke less and less and was finally content.
I read and re-read the latest draft and guess what? To my amazement, I had no uneasy feelings. The Voice was silent. I could read the story cover to cover without the immediate urge to revise a scene or a section or the entire story.
It was a wonderful feeling of peace and contentment. I had finally satisfied its call for higher quality, at least to the best of my ability in that moment. The play was finished because I was finally fully committed.
Shortly thereafter I submitted the play to British Columbia Theater’s Canadian National Playwriting Competition. It was selected as one of four finalists out of 134 submissions. Not bad. Then I submitted it to the producers of The King’s Speech and The Tudors, which brought about collaboration and we are now working to turn this story into a multi-year television series. Even better. The Voice had spoken and personal (and perhaps even professional success) followed. It works!
Myself, Gareth Unwin “The King’s Speech”, Michael Taylor “The Tudors”
Trust your instincts, trust your gut, don’t rationalize, evade or debate, ACT.
Be primitive, organic and brutally honest, even ruthless with yourself and your own instincts.
Deep down are you at peace with what you have created, or are there nagging doubts? That’s your Voice speaking. Are you truly committed to doing everything in your power to make it the best it can be, no matter how long it takes or how many revisions? That’s commitment.
Not sure how you feel? Put it aside for a few days then come back to it fresh. How does it make you feel? Listen to your heart, not your mind. The peace and fulfillment you experience when your work is done, when your Voice is calm and at peace, comes from a trust in yourself and is as close to personal success as I can imagine. It doesn’t really matter what you do in life, these principles can apply.
Is everybody going to like your work? Probably not. Could you have made it any better? Probably not. That could change because everything is always changing but for now you have reached your defining moment.
Chris Morley is a playwright and screenwriter with several options on pieces he has written or co-written. His play “The King’s Disposition” was awarded as a finalist in BC Theater’s Canadian National Playwriting Competition.
Chris is currently working with the producers of “TheTudors” and “The King’s Speech” to develop a television series based upon his play. He is also working on a memoir “Reaching For The Light”. Find out more at: Playvel.com
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