Even before I discovered the article “The Value of Randomness in Art and Design” in Fast Company, I’d been pondering the balance between randomness and intention in writing and creativity. The article says“Randomness can satisfy the need for surprise,” which finally supplied the words for what I’d been thinking. But I’d also worried about something else in the article: “Randomness can serve as weak rationale for the arbitrary.”

At one end of the creative continuum, there is beautiful happenstance, where ideas that don’t ordinarily fit together give the writing something special.

At the other end of the continuum is laziness. In a story, you randomly assign a rug a geometric pattern. When rewriting, do you keep the random idea or replace it? Can the geometic pattern mesmerize a character, thus revealing something about her or changing the story? Or does it distract the reader, making the reader think of a Charlie Brown shirt zig zag when you’d rather they go to M.C. Escher? Would a dirt floor be better? How about a rug made of feathers?

This could go on forever. When do you stop? Is settling really settling, or is it allowing yourself to finish? The trick is to find the right balance.

Four reasons to embrace randomness:

  1. Random thoughts and what they lead to are a way to get started. The antidote to the blank page, a cure for writer’s block.
  2. Mashing up two random ideas or sets of words can lead to an idea that you’d never get using logic. See my blog post about this.
  3. Even making logical choices involves randomness, because there is rarely just one fitting answer.
  4. There’s a danger in perfection: the possibility of never achieving a work of startling originality.


Leave a Reply