How do inspired voice actors acquire creative inspiration?


We’ve written about inspiration before. About the importance of having a wide view of the world. Of observing and listening to the people and events all around you. Of letting an initial thought gestate and develop into a full-blown creative idea, if you have that opportunity. But why does this work? And how can you help it along?

Did you know that the brain’s creative processes weren’t seriously researched until only half a century ago? For starting the ball rolling, you can thank J.P. Guildford, a noted psychologist more generally known for his work in measuring a wide array of factors that represent intelligence. He proposed a new way of identifying which individuals have creative personalities.

His focus in that regard was children. And, yes, perhaps a battery of tests might be helpful in determining which children are more likely to be “creative,” than ... than ... whatever the other options are. But when it comes to adults, with a track record behind them, it’s a bit easier to tell. Simply observe which people have created stuff.

At least, that’s the way it works in the voice-over business. Nobody much cares what you might be able to do. Clients and casting people want to know can do. The exceptions to this viewpoint are you and your coaches. You should care about your potential. Work to develop it. By making yourself open to inspiration, you enhance your creative capabilities. And you give a voice-over coach much more raw material to work with.

That said, beware of spurious research. For example, we’ve seen an article claiming clinical support for various claims regarding creativity. It said that people are more creative when they’re tired ... that is, during the time of day that they’re otherwise not optimally productive. (The time of day varies from person to person.)

But the study it cited measured the ability to solve a problem having a specific answer. That might be a fair indicator of inspiration required to solve that particular problem. But some problems do not have a particular answer, and those would seem a better measure of creativity in a much broader sense. In fact, in our industry, the whole point of creativity is to delve into a range of options, one of which might be the fresh, creative answer that the script and client want.

So, supposedly “clinical” research suggesting that you’re more creative when drunk, tired, worn-out or overworked might be interesting ... but then again, it might be so much hooey.

You may also have noticed that your mind gets very creative when you’re about to fall asleep. Some people report having actual hallucinations if they’ve gone to bed well after the point when they should have ... they report hearing a voice clear as day, or music, or imagine they’re in some impossible situation. A psychologist has told us not to worry about such hallucinations as long as they occur only in this brief transitional state.

But again, although they’re “creative,” and maybe even inspiring, is being so sleepy of practical value in your career? You’re unlikely to remember them, let alone wake up and make notes. And it’s either impossible or unwise to try replicating some supposedly “creative” conditions on a job – no client wants you to show up exhausted, distracted or tipsy.

For real-world results, it’s probably better to deal with practical real-world matters. For inspiration, what works for you?

The answer to that is, “input.” Acquire more input from a diverse range of sources. Also, train yourself to be flexible and thoughtful in managing. Don’t just listen to people; understand them. Ultimately, you’ll be more inspired.

Yet, there is a point where the various analytical viewpoints, valid or not, come together – revealed relatively recently, as researchers learn more and more about how the brain is organized. Or rather, how the brain organizes itself.

For example, memories. We don’t have memories, as such. We have myriad stored sensations – smell, touch, colors, emotion, etc. – and our brain conjures up a memory by assembling those components into a conscious remembrance. But the pathways used in making the assemblage aren’t rigid. They become rigid only when a memory is recalled again and again. So even if the original memory was faulty, even totally erroneous (for example, one an adult suggests to a child), it can seem very, very real. In fact, it’s been said that the only reliable memory is one you’ve never remembered before.

But wow! This bit of (admitted) psychobabble suggests how having a wide range of input can result in a wide array of creative output, rather than one rigid, unchanging approach. As inspiration, the number of combinations of this input, that input, and other input are seemingly infinite.

But there’s another point to be made here, one much more obvious and irrefutable. That is this: you don’t accomplish inspired recollection just by walking up to a mic. You have to acquire the input well beforehand, usually with no particular purpose in mind. And, to work efficiently and confidently in the booth, it helps immensely to have structured those neural pathways well before. So when a director says, “give me this line from three different characters,” or “let’s hear a trio of emotions,” you can summon up options from your mental roadmap, combine it with factors in the script (and other unpredictable variables), and deliver on demand ... without delay, anguish or embarrassment.

Truly professional voice actors can do this, because they acquire input constantly, consciously observing their world and pushing their personal boundaries. And then they practice applying their observations in a methodical way.

Be inspired by their ability, and you can do it, too.

Inspirational & Thoughtful!

This is very good advise and well presented. I like to think I'm a very observant guy. With an eye for detail and being a bit of a dreamer my whole life. Always feeding into my creative nature with everything I've done professionally and personally.
This article reminds me to stay on that track and increase my awareness each day. Applying that to my work, growing as a talent. Thanks!

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