While memory is known to play a key role in creativity, previous studies have not isolated the critical component processes and networks. We asked participants to generate links between words that ranged from strongly related to completely unrelated in long-term memory, delineating the neurocognitive processes that underpin more unusual versus stereotypical patterns of retrieval. More creative responses to strongly associated word pairs were associated with greater engagement of episodic memory: in highly familiar situations, semantic and episodic stores converge on the same information enabling participants to form a personal link between items. This pattern of retrieval was associated with greater engagement of core default mode network. In contrast, more creative responses to weakly associated word pairs were associated with the controlled retrieval of less dominant semantic information and greater recruitment of the semantic control network, which overlaps with the dorsomedial subsystem of default mode network. Consequently, although both controlled semantic and episodic patterns of retrieval are associated with activation within default mode network, these processes show little overlap in activation. These findings demonstrate that controlled aspects of semantic cognition play an important role in verbal creativity.