Well, I thought that I’d talk about research and creativity today since I seem to be going through a bit of a phase where I’m watching and/or rewatching as many films from the 1990s as possible (hence the ridiculously large number of film reviews on here recently). Although I’m mostly just doing this for the fun of it, it is also a way to gain an even better understanding of the 1990s – which could be useful for any of my future creative projects.
So, here are three random tips for good informal creative research:
1) Set yourself rules: When I started this informal research project, I set myself a few vague rules. These mostly included things like focusing slightly more on the mid-late 1990s than the early 1990s (since I actually remember the mid-late 1990s), not buying second-hand DVDs that cost more than a certain amount (so that I could buy more films) and avoiding films with a running time of more than about 100 minutes or so (since I’m more likely to actually watch a film if it is shorter).
In addition to this, I mostly tried to look for films that I’d either heard of or watched when I was younger. I’m also trying to stick to my usual rule about not posting film/game reviews on here more than once every two days (for a whole host of reasons). I also try to watch no more than one film every day or two (mostly for time reasons, and to avoid running out of films too quickly). I also set myself the rule of “when the research project stops being fun, seems less fun than another type of research or starts costing too much, then take a break from it“.
Setting yourself lots of rules might seem like a restrictive thing, but it can actually help your creative research in all sorts of ways. It can keep your research more focused, it can stop “fascinating” research turning into an all-consuming obsession and it can also make your research more effective too. As fascinating as totally uncontrolled research into something really interesting might seem, it can quickly end up gobbling up your time, energy and/or money if you aren’t careful. The thing to remember here is that your research is supposed to support your imagination and creative projects, not overwhelm them.
Of course, you’re going to have to come up with your own set of rules. So, try to think of rules that will not only improve your project but are also the kind of rules that you will actually follow too. So, make sure that there’s a useful practical reason for each rule. These rules don’t have to be set in stone, but they also shouldn’t be too vague either.
2) The emotional component: Simply put, the best types of informal creative research have some kind of emotional component to them. In my case, this seems to include both personal nostalgia and cultural nostalgia. It includes a feeling of curiosity about a decade that is both recognisably “modern” and yet also very different to the present day. In addition to this, it also includes things like a desire to learn more about how to make my creative works look, read and/or “feel” more like they came from the 1990s.
Having some type of emotional component to your informal creative research is absolutely essential since it provides both a feeling of motivation as well as source material for your imagination to work with too (in other words, things to get inspired by). Whilst academic research requires the researcher to be an objective observer, you can get a bit more personal and emotional if you’re doing informal research in order to improve your imagination and/or creative works.
At the end of the day, the main point of informal creative research is to both improve your imagination and to create better things (by gaining a greater understanding of the things you’re researching, that you can later use in your own works). You aren’t going to get any kind of academic qualifications or immediate reward for it. So, make sure that it is something that feels both emotionally and creatively rewarding to you.
3) Look for similarities: The best way to keep your informal research both useful and focused is to look for similarities, both when gathering research materials and when studying them.
If you’re fascinated by something, then try to work out what specific category of it you are most interested in (eg: “films that are mostly from the mid-late 1990s”) and then devote most of your efforts to that one category. This will help to keep your research manageable and focused.
Likewise, when actually looking at research materials, one of the best ways to learn from them is to see what they all have in common with each other. This can include things like narrative style, emotional tone, lighting techniques etc… If you can work out what the things you’re researching have in common with each other, then you can use these common generic elements in your own creative works.
Anyway, I hope that this was useful 🙂