How to Catch a Light Bulb

Let’s start this year off with a practical suggestion. Here’s something you can give your school-age child to help him or her be creative.

A notebook.

Not a three-ring binder. I mean a little, pocket-sized notebook that he can easily carry wherever life carries him. Something to be tucked away, along with a nub of a pencil, ready to be pulled out to jot down an idea as it flies by. Have you ever had an idea that flashed into your mind in the middle of an active day? When that little light bulb turned on, you thought, I ought to write that down. Convinced that you had memorized it, you went on your way only to find out later that there remained hardly a trace of that burst of insight. You could at least remember that you had some kind of great idea. Whatever it was.

A notebook in hand can capture those great ideas. And more than that, it can grab ideas that don’t seem so impressive when they appear – half-formed thoughts, seedling concepts, simple observations, even doodles. Creative people of all stripes keep little notebooks, just so that they can see which ideas still have wattage over time. Francis Bacon wrote a long time ago, “Write down the thoughts of the moment. Those that come unsought for are commonly the most valuable.” Writers know this. As do scientists, artists, business executives. They hold onto those bright ideas before they burn out.

At times, notebooks can record an important moment in your creative development. While looking through notebooks of creative people, I ran across this marvelous doodle by Thomas Edison. He scribbled this when he finally solved, after many tries, the riddle of the incandescent bulb. He called it The Phoenix arising from the fires of the past.

For him, it was an expression of deep delight and satisfaction that came over him one moment of one day. He could have easily simply basked in the glow of the feeling, letting it pass. But he literally put his light bulb idea down on paper. And now, we’re enjoying it. Long after that moment.

A little notebook sometimes can catch a big idea.

Bruce Van Patter

all material ©2006 Bruce Van Patter