Creativity Tactics: Relinquishing Control


When creating things, it often feels like it’s best to have as much authority as possible over your environment. It feels natural to assume that absolute control would make your process more adaptable and, in turn, more creative and unique.

However, it doesn’t often work like that.

Being creatures of habit and repetition, having full agency of the creative process can sometimes be more of a hindrance than a benefit. We see things we have done in the past and find comfort in recycling the pattern that is familiar to us.

This can be very bad on two levels. As artists, this can make our work stale and “samey”. We get frustrated that we aren’t advancing our craft and plateauing.

Art consumers are also excellent at recognizing patterns and repetition.  They may realize the artist is simply rehashing the same idea. While this may be fine to some consumers, I feel that most people want to watch artists move forward and adapt with the passage of time and style.

One way to keep creative output interesting is to take aspects of the creative process out of your hands. This could be forcing each paragraph of a story to contain something from a random word generator, or painting what you hear on a random Spotify stream, or using a band name generator and designing some fake promotional posters. It could even be a combination of things, like drawing a picture using a adjective generator combined with a randomized color palette.

The key is to let someone or something generate the subject, allowing you to focus on generating content.

At some point in this process, your creative engine will most likely kick into gear and you’ll know what you need to do to finish the project without the assistance of outside forces. Of course, when the core creation part of the project is finished, you can go back and smooth over the roughness that random generation can cause.

The Internet is a wonderful resource for finding content outside your control. You can use Google to search for “random [something] generator” and you will find a website to suit your needs. Web radio is an amazing place to hear new music in genres you might not be comfortable with.

I recently did this technique with one of my songs and the results were incredibly satisfying. If you are interested, you can find details about the process on my blog here.

When I removed control over part of the process in creating this song, my process changed from “how do I make this song work?” to “how can I make what I want to do fit within the constraints I am presented?”

This created a huge shift in the creative process from dealing with a blank canvas to knowing what to do and filling in the gaps, almost Mad Libs style. It freed up mental and creative bandwidth, which allowed me to focus on other aspects of the song.

What do you think of this technique? Is there anything you use to remove control over your creative process? Is this something that could be improved or streamlined? I’ve love to read your thoughts in the comments.