The Creative Process: Recognising When to Destroy and Rebuild

painted hands

The creative process can be frustrating and difficult, but we can overcome this and produce our best work if we destroy and rebuild those projects that simply aren’t working. For example:

  • Sometimes it's more cost effective to tear down an unfit for purpose hospital and build an entirely new, more efficient one.
  • Sometimes it's easier to rip out the old, dying bushes in your garden and plant new, prettier shrubs.
  • Sometimes it's genius to scrap that paper, that song, that painting, that style, that process, that website, and start again from scratch.

This was often the creative process I’d follow when I was making music. The destroy and rebuild option was worth it every time, but how do we spot the projects we should destroy and rebuild versus those we can rescue?

The ones we can save

Sometimes, during the creative process, you'll face difficulty, but you'll know, deep down, that you're just one step away from something clicking and it all falling into place. In these situations, you're better off persevering because, given time, it'll come.

I once had an entire track laid out from start to finish: intro, verse, chorus, verse, chorus, breakdown, verse, chorus, chorus, outro. The only thing stopping me from rearing my head out the other end of the creative process with a big smile on my face was the complete absence of an entire bassline, the primary thing that keeps the song moving along. Without a bassline, the track was a hollow, empty shell that lacked heart, soul and a sturdy backbone. No matter how many different ideas I tried, I just couldn't find anything to fit. No matter what I did, everything sounded like my granddad farting in the shower. Should I destroy and rebuild?

Having confidence in the creative process

I didn’t destroy and rebuild in this instance because I had faith in the creative process I’d followed so far and I just knew that there was a bassline out there, somewhere, that had to fit. After a break, then some perseverance, then another break, and more perseverance, it came to me. And it ended up sounding sweeter than a glucose-fuelled Ferrari.

Here, I was determined to find something that fit and I had utter belief in what I’d created so far. When you have that belief and confidence and you’re proud of your achievements so far, then it’s definitely worth persevering and searching further and pushing on.

The ones we should destroy and rebuild

Other times, you'll hit a wall and begin to force the issue. You'll try things for the sake of it, or because something needs finishing, not because it adds value or works. And when you're pushing too hard, ideas compress like a limiter and clog up like Melissa McCarthy arteries.

Starting with that one, single, forced decision that you know doesn't feel right, your mind carries on down that same track until you end up with a finished product, service, process, website, app, that just isn't what you set out for it to be and nowhere near as good as you thought it would be when you started. In these instances, you should seriously consider giving your project the destroy and rebuild treatment.

Forcing the creative process

When you start forcing it and it feels uncomfortable or unnatural, you’re better off starting the creative process again. Destroy and rebuild. When you start over, you can get back to the core of your idea, ridding yourself of negativity and taking yourself off that destructive and restrictive path that was holding you back before. This way, you’re free to rebuild something more in line with your original concept.

If ever I had a song that simply wasn’t working and I'd forced a few changes or added a few channels that I knew, deep down, weren’t working, I’d strip the entire thing right back to the original sample and start again.

Don’t be afraid to destroy and rebuild

It takes guts to scrap everything and start again. It takes balls to destroy and rebuild. Your boss will tell you 'there isn’t time'. Your colleagues will tell you they 'think it’s fine'. And the Devil on your shoulder is paranoid of losing what you’ve already created - what if, when you start again, it ends up worse? What about all that wasted effort?

Well, if it ends up worse, what can you do? Destroy and rebuild. And if you’re not happy with how the creative process is going thus far, and you know something needs to change, then starting again isn’t an issue because it needs changing anyway. And no efforts have been wasted because everything you’ve done throughout the creative process so far had lead to here. When you destroy and rebuild, you’ll end up with something you otherwise wouldn’t have if you hadn’t followed that exact creative process.

You’ve got to have guts and grit and balls and determination and resist those thoughts and opinions and just start again anyway. Destroy and rebuild. Don’t be scared to tear down something that simply isn’t working to rebuild something better.

The phrase "back to the drawing board" has never meant as much as it does today.





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