Finding your voice


“Don’t sound like a grandmother with all your emotional Christianese when you talk to him,” my son said reprovingly.

“Then what do I say?”

One of my grandsons called me a couple weeks ago. He is an up-and-coming screenwriter in Hollywood and on a mission to make a difference in the movie industry as a Christian author. He just finished a new script and asked if he could send it to me. It felt special to know that my grandson was entrusting his creative work to me, so I told him to email it over.

He asked me if I would read the script and then tell him if I could “see the light.” I did, but I certainly didn’t. As I read, I found myself asking the same thing over and over, “Whose voice is this?”

The writing didn’t sound anything like I would have expected from this grandson. It is almost as if he has plunged headfirst into the same darkness as that of some of his colleagues. He had written a generational piece which seemed to lose his voice while trying to appeal to a specific audience.

As a writer, I know just how important it is not to dash another person’s confidence. I have had that done to me a few times and have even done it to others in the past. It is a lesson we can’t learn quick enough when dealing with the like body of work of others. It is important to approach the work of a creative person seeing things from the value of an artistic accomplishment, not a critical point of view.

His screenplay is professionally written, creative and engaging. It is a complete page-turner from start to finish. It is something that I would think someone would want to grab ahold of. But, some of the dialogue was too hard for me to swallow.

I asked my son how to approach my grandson, how to provide feedback on writings that beat against my moral convictions. He said, “Approach him as a writer, not his grandmother.”

He told me not to dwell on the darkness I felt. “As a writer, tell him how to appeal to his generation without the need for shock words. Ask him if he knows he is opening a door that may become difficult to shut. Specific to the original ask, you don’t have to ask someone if they can find the light, if it is not hidden.”

I have walked a creative path for years and have asked myself if my viewers and readers can “see the light” in my own work. Now I have grandchildren following the same creative bent, asking the same question.

As a Christian artist, there is an interesting balancing act that takes place when putting yourself out there, all the while maintaining your own voice — meaning something to others while staying true to yourself.

We all need to express ourselves, that’s how we are made. Painting was my expression. I threw myself into it for 45 years. Words never came easy for me. Even naming a piece of art work seemed much harder than it should have.

A friend whose words trickled off her tongue like honey always gave me such swelling titles for my paintings. I loved hearing what she would come up with, but when all was said and done, they weren’t my words. They were words that were missing the true expression of who I was as an artist.

How do we find a persona that is our own voice when certain passions scream inside us? It probably starts by recognizing and appreciating what our voice sounds like in the rough. Dare I say that it is important to honor the direction we think we want to go, before we ever move an inch. If we move before we think, we may find ourselves mindlessly off course. Once we acknowledge where we want to go, it makes it easier to determine the width of the lane in which we want to run.

I can’t kid myself. Even my voice has evolved over the years, but never outside of certain guardrails that I have put in place. That is the beauty of truly knowing our own voice. We always know just how much we can move to the left or right before falling in to a ditch that we may or may not be able to get out of.

Final brushstroke: So, what did I tell my grandson? “Give your main character strong ethics and unmovable morals. Do not let your hero fall below a certain standard. This way others will see his light through the darkness — not in spite of it. It is OK if the protagonist needs to evolve as the story unfolds. Just make sure his transformation doesn’t take him further than you yourself are willing to go.

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