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Content creation is never linear

I’m feeling a little lost this week. Partly because I’m working through a hazy jet lag after spending a week in Israel with my oldest daughter.

But mostly it’s because I left my bullet journal in the backseat pocket of a Turkish Airlines plane.

My bullet journal contains so much more than just a year’s worth of tasks and lists. In it I’ve tallied every meaningful book I’ve read this year, plans for improving my offerings, ideas, inspiring quotes and most importantly–my success notes. The success notes are little moments in time where it feels like all the work is, well, working.

I was mourning my loss until my husband told me about someone else who once lost a journal. U2’s Bono lost a little blue spiral-bound notebook containing the band’s sophomore album notes after two girls stole it from backstage in 1981.

Has anyone found a brown leather bag? It’s a brown leather kind of a case — tannish brown— because I lost it. I think it was twenty years ago this week … here in Portland. Two very beautiful girls walked out of our dressing room with a tannish brown bag. It had lots of important stuff in it … lyrics to the next album …. I’m ready for forgiveness. – Bono, April 15, 2001, Portland, Oregon

Losing these lyrics caused U2 to struggle terribly while recording October. The album didn’t do nearly as well as the band’s other ones.

Losing these lyrics caused U2 to struggle terribly while recording October. The album didn’t do nearly as well as the band’s other ones.

That certainly puts the loss of my bullet journal in perspective.

But, what I love about U2’s lost album story is more about the woman who gave the notebook back. U2 fan Danielle Rhéaume writes about her experience of returning the lost briefcase once she heard a co-worker had discovered it in her attic.

Creativity is never linear

Rhéaume shares that she always imagined the process of creating lyrics, or any content for that matter, was linear. You sit down to write the thing, and the idea comes to you fully formed.

Peering through Bono’s notes showed her that the creative process is anything but linear. Half formed ideas, photos and notes were nowhere near the songs they’d eventually become. But the shape of them was instrumental to the process of Bono’s songwriting.

In an interview with Scientific American about the neuroscience of creativity, Anna Abraham, answers the following about what happens in our brains when we operate in a creative mode versus an uncreative mode:

“What is obvious is that a lot about what triggers a creative mode as opposed to an uncreative mode is situational. The creative mode is called for in contexts that are unclear, vague and open-ended. The opposite is true of the uncreative mode. And so the uncreative mode involves walking firmly along the ‘path of least resistance’ through the black-and-white zone of the expected, the obvious, the accurate or the efficient. Whereas the creative mode involves turning away from the path of least resistance and venturing into the briars so to speak in an effort to forge a new path through the gray zone of the unexpected, the vague, the misleading or the unknown.”

Most of us realize that creativity is a messy process of ambling through gray when it comes to our own work. But we assume things come easier to others.

Our creative processes tend to be random, scattered and just plain hard. Rare is the moment when something comes to our minds fully formed. But for some reason, we look at the product of others’ work and assume they don’t have to go through that messy process. We see the outcome and nothing of the sweat and labor behind it.

It’s a mentality that sets us up for feeling inadequate.

Which brings me back to those success notes in my lost bullet journal. I started that list at a time when I felt particularly lost in my entrepreneur journey. The benefits are many when you work for yourself, but so are the struggles. Zooming out and seeing that all your effort is going somewhere eventually is what keeps me motivated in the hard parts.

I don’t know that I’ll ever get my journal back, although I’ll try. What I do know is that I’ll start a new success notes list and keep on giving it all I’ve got.

Here’s to celebrating your successes and sticking through the hard parts,


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