Researching: pain and bliss

There are three types of people in the world. Those who jump into the water without learning how to swim and that try to figure it out once drowning. Those that don’t put a finger inside the pool until they have read the magnum opera about swimming. And those that find their way in the middle.

While in real life matters we tend to pursue the third way, when it comes to researching for a creative project we might find ourself indulging more in the first or second possibility. Or we don’t start until we are sure to know everything on the subject – and that sounds like an excuse not to start, doesn’t it? – or we write without doing any kind of research.

Your idea is to write a medical series? There is no need to become a doctor but sure, if you write and you have no notion on the concept, this will surely show at some point. The faith your audience have in you will fade and nobody  would watch your series again.

So, how to balance researching and creative work?

There are many ways, it depends on the person. Famous screenwriter Steven de Souza, for example, doesn’t like research to interfere with his creative flow, so he first writes an emotionally driven draft, and then does the research it needs. Michael Schiffer likes to live and breath what is writing about, so he not only buys DVDs and books on what he is writing, but also tries to travel to the locations he wants to describe and to stay with the people that inspire his characters.

Of course, everyone will have their own method. But, since doing a great project might take a while, I think that is important for you to do your research in a way that it enforces your creativity.

One of the best examples I could think of is my best friend writing her first novel. As she started what was going to be the first volume of a trilogy, my friend didn’t know she would have gone that far. Everything had started from a glimpse, a sparkle of an idea she had when she discovered the historical figure of who was going to be her main character. She had started working on the main storyline and the characters but, because she was writing a period novel, she soon found herself in need of learning more about historical and geographical settings. So she started a two way journey. On one hand she was structuring characters and drama, on the other she was researching historical events, cultural details and other elements she would have needed for her story to be credible for her audience.

One might think this work to be very hard and boring. Maybe, but more than once I saw my friend enthusiastic because the knowledge she gained on the subject she was writing gave her not only the ability to solve problems that might have sorted in the continuity, but also to find new ideas for her drama.

If you think about it, it’s normal for us to create in relations of what is close to us. Unless you are some sort of genius, your creativity will in some way be related to what you live and experience everyday. Not to mention all the films, books and art you have encountered in your life. So, the more you would try to immerge yourself in the world, characters and story of your project, the more you and your creativity would be influenced but them.

Why don’t you give it a try? Just remember not to go to far. If you are writing a story about a psycho killer and you go berserk, I don’t want police to check on me for suggesting you to do that. 😉


(This image is property of Tracy J. Butler – check her awesome comic)

What’s to do with envy and regret?


On Monday night I decided to attend to a book presentation where many great screenwriters were going to partecipate. I expected to go there, listen to some brilliant words and then get home for dinner. What happened, instead, was a great chance for me to meet both new contacts and to confront with other two characteristic elements of mine: envy and regret.

These two are feelings connected to insecurity and low self-esteem. You are more prone to feel them if you are in a moment of your life where you feel you don’t have accomplished so much. You tend to confront with others and with your past, you are envious and wish you had done things differently.

I felt envious because I met people who managed to accomplish what I am still struggling to obtain. And I felt regret, because I thought (like it always happens when I feel envious) that if I had done things differently, that if I had chosen another path some years ago, maybe today I would be where these people that I admire are.

Luckily for me, I am not a person who indulges in these kind of emotions anymore. Being aware of who I am, of what kind of path led me – both psychologically and physically – where I am now, helped me overcome envy and regret and focus on what I can do to make things be what I want them to be. Now and given what are my true resources, not what I wish them to be.

Yes, I haven’t gone to a full time screenwriting school, and it was because it took me all my 26 years to fully understand and accept what I wanted to be. And there is nothing wrong with that. Knowing exactly what you want to do with your life at 19 years old is something society want you to do every time, but people are different, we get things differently. Yes, I am not a screenwriter nor a story editor nor a storyteller yet, but there is no one out there who could say that I don’t try my best to become one every single day of my life.

The best way to overcome envy and regret is to focus on what you want to do and to act. Don’t care about what others did, think about what you could do, now! 

So, I took the courage and spoke to a couple of screenwriters there. They have been both kind and helpful and, even if they reminded me of how hard this choice of life is, I felt encouraged. One of them actually offered to read and value some of my works, I couldn’t be more happy.

Besides, this encounter was also an occasion for me to meet again with some of my former colleagues from LUISS Business School and to start talking about some collaborations we could make.

So, in the end, being envious and regretful was totally pointless, don’t you think?

Ah, there is a final annotation to this story. Today, in a store, I met a former university colleague of mine, whose work I had always admired. We chatted a bit, since we hadn’t seen each other for years. As he spoke, he kept telling my sweetheart how much he used to admire me because of my determination.

You see? No matter how low you might value yourself, somewhere there is at least one person who can see things in you that you’re not even able to consider.



How much is right to be paid?

One of the first issues I had to face when I started to work independently in the freelancing market was: how much do I value? How much is right to ask in exchange of my creative and professional services? As I talked to those friends of mine who similarly live on the income they get from their newborn self-employed jobs, I realized that they are asking themselves the same questions I do.

If you are a creative worker it will be very hard to put a price tag onto your works, especially if you care very much about them (thus valuing them excessively) or if you are still too insecure about the quality (not to valuing them enough).

But to give yourself the right value in the market is important not only for you as a professional but to the whole system as well. Since the creative industry is now the most fluid and changeable, not to say the least structured, it is important to remember our partners and clients that what we do is a job no different from all the others.

Just because you work with creativity, it doesn’t mean you don’t work at all. Probably, many people out there are not capable to look behind the complete work or service you give them. They don’t see the time, struggle and study it required. If they think creativity is a sparkle, that your job is something everyone could do, is your duty to help them change their mind.

First, by showing them the process that led you to a level of quality no amateur could ever have. And second, by giving your services a price. Like any other professionals would do.

Now, the question is: “yes, but how”?

Here, now is the right time to compare with others. Check the market, figure out how much your “colleagues” out there would be paid for their works. But don’t stop there. Consider you qualifications, the type of service you offer. Do you help elementary school kids do their home work or do you help teenagers preparing for their high-school diploma? Do you make a pencil art work or a painting? Do you write a sketch or a film? The price, of course, changes.

And, ultimately, it would change according on who your client is. This is new, isn’t it?

This suggestion was given me by my wise coach, Sonja. Again she was able to see it right. I know that in usual economy the price of a piece of bread is the same, bought by a prince or by an accountant. But if you are starting today your self-employed job, wanting creativity to be the core of your work, I don’t think that you would go very far if you think you should ask the same price to every client.

Could sound in contrast to what I wrote earlier, but trust me it is not. In this kind of industry I firmly believe that, as is important to be able to provide quality and efficacy, is also important to keep in mind that what you are providing is not a physical object, yet an experience, a lesson, a strategy. While bread would be bread for everyone to eat, your products would inevitably be influence by who your audience and clients are.

You work with them, create for them, you know who they are and what they want. Consequently you would know how much they can give you. As Sonja doesn’t ask me to pay as much she would ask a CEO of a big company, so I ask accordingly, yes, to how much I value my work, but also to how much my client can give me.

This way we create a relationship, based on quality, experience, knowledge and trust, a relationship that can progress in the future.

As soon as I get paid I’ll let you know if it works. 😉