Last night I was about to go to bed when I suddenly remembered an idea I’d had for an article a few months ago. Though I say so myself, it was a great idea, and I was keen to revisit it, so I opened up the Scrivener project where I had written it down… and found nothing!
At first I couldn’t believe it – I had had the idea walking back from taking my kids to school, and I could swear I remembered writing it down in detail afterwards. But I couldn’t find it anywhere in my Scrivener files. So I realised with horror that I had omitted to write the idea down.
In a growing panic, I grabbed some paper and wrote down everything I could remember about the article, but it slipped through my fingers – I got the basic idea down, but I knew there were some important twists in my argument, not to mention elegant turns of phrase, that were clear as day when it first occurred to me – but which had now vanished forever.
First thing this morning I woke up and had a rush of hope. I looked in Evernote instead of Scrivener and there it was! A photo of two whole pages of handwritten notes, laying out the idea in detail. I had in fact written the idea out as soon as I got home, but I’d done it in my notebook and saved it to Evernote instead of typing it into Scrivener.
All the details were there. I could have kissed my phone in gratitude.
This experience brought home to me something I’ve been saying to coaching clients for months: ideas are Leprechauns. If you take you eye off them for a moment, you can lose them forever.
A leprechaun, in case you’re wondering, is a kind of faery in Irish folklore. It is usually portrayed as a twee little man in green clothes and a big hat. But originally a leprechaun may have been one of the Tuatha Dé Danann, the ancient gods of pre-Christian Ireland.
According to legend, if you see a leprechaun and catch him, he has to grant you three wishes in return for his freedom. They are also supposed to have a pot of gold that they keep at the end of the rainbow, so most people spend one of their wishes on getting the pot of gold.
Do you see why ideas are leprechauns? A good idea opens up new possibilities for you, which is the equivalent of having wishes. And if the stories about the pot of gold are true, maybe it could even make you rich.
There are no guarantees of course – the old stories are full of people whose wishes had unexpected consequences, so you need to use your ideas and wishes wisely.
But if you want to have any chance at all of your wishes coming true, you need to bear in mind something else about leprechauns: once you catch one, you must never take your eyes off him even for a split second – otherwise he will disappear, along with all your wishes and the pot of gold.
So next time a brilliant idea pops into your mind, as if by magic, don’t take your eyes off it, even for a moment. Write it down right now in as much detail as you can. (or draw it or record a voice note or however you capture ideas best). Then put it somewhere safe, straight away.
Whatever you do, don’t trust your memory.
I hadn’t thought of my brilliant idea for months, and when it did finally occur to me again, I only managed to recapture the bare bones of it. It had faded to such an extent that I knew the article wouldn’t have come out right. There was almost no point trying.
And make sure you put it somewhere safe. Right now, I couldn’t tell you where the notebook is that contains those precious two pages of notes. I’ve got several notebooks and they all look the same. Maybe it’s in the cupboard in my office. Or it might be in my briefcase. Or possibly it’s the notebook in the pile of books by my bed.
But I knew exactly where to look in Evernote – a folder I have for capturing new ideas. And that’s where it was. Because the instant I finished scribbling my notes, I took a photo of the pages and saved them to Evernote. Which means they are there for me in the cloud, whether I want to consult them.
So if you want to have your creative wishes come true, and maybe even get your hands on a pot of gold some day, I suggest you don’t take your eye off the leprechaun for a moment until you’ve recorded your idea somewhere safe.
You can hear an audio version of this article in this episode of The 21st Century Creative podcast, starting at 8’37”.