Put a Little Bowie into Your Creative Process

By this time we’ve all experienced homages to David Bowie—everything from celebrity interviews to rare footage, and even artists creating new work in his memory. What this flurry of activity points to is Bowie’s unique place in that elusive, exclusive Land of the Truly Original Artists. He continually explored new creative cobwebs, corners, spaces between artistic disciplines, and identities. Life as Bowie was unsatisfying otherwise.

As a content creator and storyteller, I look for ways and tricks to begin that creative process. Sometimes the starting point is laid out, and other times it is a deafeningly white page, a blank screen. So how did Bowie get past that starting point, or create new ones if other attempts didn’t generate results? Here are a few examples.


When Rick Moody asked Bowie what he was thinking when he wrote his album The Next Day, he responded with a 42-word vertical, left-justified, double-spaced list:

  • Effigies
  • Indulgences
  • Anarchist
  • Violence
  • Chthonic
  • Intimidation
  • Vampyric
  • Pantheon
  • Succubus
  • Hostage
  • Transference
  • Identity
  • Mauer
  • Interface
  • Flitting
  • Isolation
  • Revenge
  • Osmosis
  • Crusade
  • Tyrant
  • Domination
  • Indifference
  • Miasma
  • Pressgang
  • Displaced
  • Flight
  • Resettlement
  • Funereal
  • Glide
  • Trace
  • Balkan
  • Burial
  • Reverse
  • Manipulate
  • Origin
  • Text
  • Traitor
  • Urban
  • Comeuppance
  • Tragic
  • Nerve
  • Mystification

It’s easy to imagine playing with what those words evoke, what they mean, and the moody corners one can go.

Recreating the Dream State

The connections that make perfect sense when dreaming sometimes fall apart when we’re awake. Reality seeps in and our minds tighten up, navigating around established pathways. Bowie found a way to get to that state with the Verbasizer. He explained: “It’s almost like a technological dream in its own way. It creates the images from a dream state without having to go through the boredom of going to sleep all night; or get stoned out of your head. And it will give me access to areas that I wouldn’t be thinking about otherwise…I can then re-imbued [the generated sentence] with an emotive quality if I want to; or take it as it writes itself.” Before the Verbasizer, Ty Roberts, co-creator of the Verbasizer, described Bowie as taking multiple word sources, from the newspaper to hand-written words, cutting them up, throwing them into a hat and then arranging the fragments on pieces of paper. He’d then cross out material that didn’t fit to create lines of lyrics. Roberts suggested he could create software for Bowie to speed up the creative process, and the Verbasizer was born.

Rules and Rule-breaking

Bowie played lots of games when creating. He would create a rule and then “…take it as far as you can go with that little rule, then break it…” in order to break writer’s block. Another technique was to force the accidental to occur. He described one game: “Maybe I’ll write out five or six chords, then discipline myself to write something only with those five or six chords involved. So that particular dogma will dictate how the song is going to come out, not me and my sense of emotional self.”

The next time a blank page stares back, consider a new starting point, new perspective, or tear up the page until the pieces form a new idea. Taking Bowie’s tack, the goal is to sidestep the established and familiar and find yourself in a new creative space. – Stephanie Foerster, Director, Ensemble Media

R.I.P., David Bowie nee David Robert Jones (January 8, 1947 – January 10, 2016)