How to Embrace the Random in your Creative Practice

This might be an idea I’ve written of before, but the random came to visit me this morning, and I took it as a sign.

I found a pile of unopened fortune cookies from takeout we ordered last week, and decided to try my luck. The fortune said, “good fortune is on your side.”

I’m not a believer in fortune cookies, or newspaper astrological readings, as being predictive. They are too generalized, even if the advice is generally good. But I do think that we can use these things as thought starters – prompts for consideration. Like a prompt to write this blog post.

Here are some tips for embracing the random as a prompt for ideas:

Carry a notebook, real or virtual, so that you can seize the moment. I believe many great ideas spring from something in the environment – even if it was subconscious or subliminal. Be ready to make notes at any time, grab a sketch, or tuck a piece of ephemera in between the pages.

Our phones can be great as the “camera you have with you” to capture an image that strikes you as inspirational. But remember to return to it! Don’t leave it to become flotsam in the endless stream of images, but come back and make some notes about why you grabbed it. Make a plan for that inspiration, and don’t let the inspiration sink.

There is a concept called “strike while the iron is hot” – it means act on inspiration or opportunity quickly. Mel Robbins expresses the same concept this way: “If you have an impulse to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds, or your brain will kill the idea.” Notice she does not say to immediately complete the whole thing in one go. But the act of reaching for your notebook is a physical move, isn’t it?

Do you write morning pages? These brain dumps are the classic way to clear your mind awash with imagery and and may have a random sense to them. What pours out may contain the tiny genesis of a new idea.

For a more intentional randomness practice – there’s an apparent oxymoron for you – try some kind of daily prompt. I like The Daily Stoic which offers a short and simple statement by an ancient philosopher every day. You can turn any book to any page and respond to the sentence under your randomly placed finger. Write, sketch, sing, make something. Or just think about it on a walk and let it inform your observations. Reach into the Scrabble letter bag, and use the letter in some way. What if you were to write a note to all the people you know whose name started with that letter? (I do know people whose names start with X.) Make a list of colors and a collage (OK now you can put the X back). Or search for a visual representation of that letter in your neighborhood.

Finally, if you want, set a timer, for the block of time you will work on this today. Wait, what if you turn your timer with your eyes closed to a random time frame – and that is all the time you have to see what happens?

Or the next time you get a fortune cookie, go further than a giggle, and use the words as a prompt for a story, poem, or collage. I’ll be thinking on the idea of good fortune and what is “my side”, and brainstorming a word and phrase list. Here’s a start: “Fortune favors the brave.”

To be clear, I did not consume the cookie. I don’t need to press my luck that much.

Now, I would love to hear from you, if you attempt any of these ideas. I have an open Facebook group here, where you are welcome to post images or stories about your creative journey. See you there!