Finding your voice…without losing your voice.
Whenever I write, one thing always stifles me more than anything else. The constant nagging in the back of my head prodding me, poking me, asking me if what I am writing is true to me. Asking if it is my voice.
What the hell does that mean? I mean, I have a voice…I speak with it- sometimes way too much, but is it unique? No. It isn’t remarkable in any way, just a deep Brummie accent with very little class but in writing terminology a voice is very different. It is the way you portray your art and it is supposed to be yours and only yours. It is your original style.
But is it ever really truly possible to find your voice?
I remember when I first watched Twin Peaks. It would have been around 1990- so I would’ve been 9 years old- and my Dad was watching it in the living room. I couldn’t sleep for one reason or the other and had wandered downstairs to get a drink. On my way to the kitchen, I looked in on my Dad and was confronted by a room surrounded with floor to ceiling red curtains, with brown and white zig-zagged flooring and a dwarf in what looked like a red velour suit dancing awkwardly to some kind of hypnotic jazz music.
I must have stared at it for a full 10 seconds before asking my Dad- who was fully engrossed in what was unfolding so surreally on the screen in front of him- “what’s this crap?”
It was a reactionary statement, rather than one made with any real intent or thought. I couldn’t really comprehend what was happening and so I just threw something out there in my confusion, trying to make sense out of it. I clearly didn’t know it then, but I had taken my first step towards something, and someone, that has been a huge part of my life since.
Twin Peaks and David Lynch.
Since that moment, I was addicted to the words: Directed by David Lynch. I watched the whole series re-run of Twin Peaks on what was then Cable TV and lobbied the station that broadcast it- Bravo- to repeat it so that I could record the first 3 episodes that I had missed. I scoured the TV listings week after week for anything that was Directed by Lynch and slowly built up a VHS catalogue of his films recorded from the TV. Every time I saw his name in print in the film listings, I got excited and couldn’t wait to stay up late to watch Blue velvet, Wild at Heart or Fire Walk with Me. I look back now and some of the happiest times of my life were spent in my bedroom at my parent’s house, in the dark watching his films on a small TV my Mom and Dad had bought me one Christmas. Over the years I amassed a collection of his work on video tape, then on DVD and most recently on Blu-Ray, as well as any and all books I could track down on his work and process. It is fair to say that as an artist, David Lynch is without a doubt my favourite.
But I can’t say that he is the biggest influence on my writing.
Not that I don’t wish he was, it is just there is no way I could create like he does without resorting to mere copying. He is unique…at least in my eyes. I know there will have been people who have influenced him and his work and maybe there could be an argument for those artists being the true trailblazers- but for me, in my life, he is the one and only.
I love Kubrick and his films too but Lynch has always been the name that conjures up such vivid memories and feelings for me. Everything about his work, the colours, the music, the style of acting, the uncompromising narrative structure, the bravery…it is everything that I feel an artist should be.
And in that is the very thing that plagues me so much.
It’s a common theme for me, trying to balance my own artistic desires with the influences that I so undoubtedly carry into my work from others.
When is it authentically my own voice? Is it ever really just my own voice?
At university one of the compulsory modules we had to take as part of the Masters in Creative Writing was called ‘Reading into Writing’. Before it started I presumed that I would hate it. We had to read, properly. Books that had been critically acclaimed and literature that had been written as far back as the 14th century. I am a terrible reader. I try, I really do but I have accepted that I just don’t like it. I prefer writing my own worlds and stories rather than reading others. I have just never been able to focus and concentrate long enough to really enjoy books. Maybe that says more about me than the books I have tried to read but it doesn’t change the fact that I am just not a reader.
Despite this, I suddenly found myself with work to do that centered around reading and so I did it and, although I’m sure my tutors were hoping, or maybe even expecting me to be converted- it was as tedious as I imagined it would be. But the actual module itself wasn’t. It was all about tracing influences and making connections between works both past and present to see how authors had been influenced by the myriad of inspiration all around them. It was fascinating. I even managed to forge a link and write an essay linking Medieval texts such as Gawain and the Green Knight to Batman and the Joker.
If it wasn’t obvious to me before, it certainly was after the module, originality is pretty much a lie.
There is always something that has been borrowed from something else, be it a book that that takes its central theme from a play or a TV show that borrows liberally from a graphic novel, something always influences something else and if this is the case, then how does one sculpt their influences to create their own unique voice? Perhaps the fact that I struggle so badly to read is stopping me from having much more to draw from, but every time I write, I find myself taking my lead at some point from something else that I have seen.
My last short film, Redundant, which was itself adapted from my own stage play by the same name, was inspired by a single scene in Kubrick’s Eyes Wide Shut. My first attempt at film making- Losing Innocence was equally influenced by Natural Born Killers, Badlands and the character of Laura Palmer. There are sections in the book I am currently writing- Chasing Amy, which owe their existence to David Lynch’s Lost Highway and Mulholland Drive as well as a script I developed alongside Daniel Alexander for an un-filmed pilot called The List. Climbing Trees, the short film we are currently in pre-production for, is less clearly influenced but I have no doubt that it wouldn’t be hard for somebody else to watch it and make connections to other work. It’s just how creativity works, isn’t it? It is impossible to write or draw or sing without drawing on those that inspired you to delve into the art form. Nirvana owe as much to The Pixies as Oasis do to the Beatles. Two obvious examples perhaps but it goes towards proving a point, that a voice is perhaps borrowed more than it is found.
It’s difficult to arrive at what direction and style your art will take until you accept that. Striving for complete originality is not only futile, it is maybe even a lie and that makes it un-authentic. It’s better to acknowledge your influences, the work and the artists that make you want to pick up a paintbrush or pen or camera and incorporate them freely into your work. That doesn’t mean that you can copy and paste your favourite lines of dialogue from a screenplay and claim them as your own, or reproduce a melody on the guitar note for note and try to say it’s just as much your work as the person who at first penned it, but don’t be scared at being led by it, at being guided by it.
It might just take you to where your voice is hiding.