When Creative Tinkering Goes Wild


Creative tinkering is part of any process. Fully shaped ideas don’t often (if ever) fall out of your brain without the need to fine tune them at least a bit to make them ready for prime time. While working with the seed of an idea can feel energizing and intoxicating, sometimes your brain won’t stop yapping at you long enough to let an idea live and breathe on it’s own.

This is when you know you’ve encountered a bout of creative tinkering gone wild.

Sound like you? Join the club! I’m a member myself once and a while. I also think writer’s are natural-born tinker-ers. There’s always a fresher spin, tighter language or another tweak (even in the 20th review) that may make all the difference – or at least that’s what we tell ourselves.

I’ve learned when I find myself focused on excessive creative tinkering, there are a few things at play:

  • I’m scared or anxious
  • I don’t believe the idea is valuable enough to succeed
  • I’m using creative tinkering to distract me from something else I don’t want to see
  • I don’t trust my gut
  • I’m pushing the right idea at the wrong time and have big expectations pinned on it

In some cases all of these hot buttons are lighting up, red hot, which means my brain is going into overdrive. My thinking is scattered and I can’t seem to make much progress other than thinking of more things to change. Other times one hot button stands out more than the rest, and I can start to see WHY my brain is digging into “tweak it” mode.

All of these pieces of information are like breadcrumbs leading me to the truth of what’s really going on, but that also means I have to actively make the choice to do something different.


Powering Down Creative Tinkering Mode

If you take some time to really be honest with yourself, you’ll start to see how you use creative tinkering as a crutch or distraction. The next time you have the urge to fiddle with something just “one more time” before you head to bed or hit “publish”, ask yourself one really important question:

Do I feel ready to let it go, no matter what happens after I do?

If your answer is no, then you have the option to dig in deeper and ask:

  • What am I afraid of exactly?
  • What do I need to set this project free?
  • Is this creative expression meant to be private, just for me?

Your gut response will give you a good idea of what aspects of your thinking need to shift in order to release the brains’ death grip, allowing your creative tinkering to settle down to a reasonable level.

That’s not to say creative tinkering doesn’t have it’s place. If your gut is telling you to hold off and make more changes, by all means, listen to it. I’m saying if you notice the same loop of behavior happens frequently, you might be missing the insight the current creative struggle is trying to show you.


Play with the Idea, Ditch the Expectations

The minute you focus on what you expect an idea to do for you, there is no room to play. Expectations also invite in the “creative tinkering gone wild mindset” as you strive to reach an ideal that may be completely unrealistic. Then you know what rolls through? Judgement. And THAT is a real creativity show-stopper!

Honor where you are right now, no matter where it might be, and find ways to shut off your brain to let something else capture your imagination. The more you step away and become enchanted by something different, instead of chipping away at your current idea, you can expand your view and return your current project with a new freer frame of mind.

So how do you know when you are caught in a mind chatter loop?

Photo Credit: Hernan Kirsten