Bullet Journals for Better Writing

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Several months ago, I was in a university bookstore with my daughter when I learned about bullet journals.  As we passed a display of Moleskine notebooks, I took a moment to swoon because I can’t pass any kind of notebook, from old school composition notebooks to Moleskines to those leather journals they sell at the Renaissance Festival and as I swooned, my oldest daughter told me about bullet journals.

“A what?” I asked.

“A bullet journal?  You really haven’t heard of this?”

“I’m old.  That’s been well established,”  I said.  “So tell me.”

“Well, it’s like a journal and a planner and a sketchbook and a diary, or whatever you want, all in one,” she said. “Go google it. It’s totally up your alley.”

A few days later, I googled it and my daughter wasn’t kidding–I am not sure what rock I was hiding under, but bullet journaling was absolutely up my alley.

I spent that afternoon mining the internet’s wisdom on the subject of bullet journals, then another few minutes on Amazon buying a Leuchtturm1917 and other supplies (shocking how easy that is to do) and I’ve been toting one around with me ever since.  I am currently on my third one (two are pictured above. The other one I used a different type of notebook [Ren Fest….cough, cough] and it is beautiful, but also huge and cumbersome. I recommend not doing that–use something smaller that you can take with you everywhere) and I use it constantly, which is a positive change in every way.  I keep track of everything from work details to remembering to take out the trash, and I am able to define and take clear steps to achieve all goals.  I use the journal as I never did before. Sure, I have been an avid journal-keeper since high school, but I was also one of those folks who had several journals going at once–one in my purse, one for work, one about writing ideas, one about personal stuff, and I always felt indulgent taking the time to write in them.  But no longer. Now, all of my stuff is in one place and with me at all times. And heck yeah, I’m going to write in it–my journal helps me to tackle all the stuff!

She also wasn’t kidding about how much information is out there on bullet journaling.  If you also have no idea what a bullet journal is, then go google it and meet me back here.

[*waits…..doodles in own bullet journal Makes a shopping list. Tells Alexa to turn off the coffee. Asks Alexa if she’s a spy. Alexa’s answer is disconcerting. Waits again. Huh, what?  You’re back!]

Cool, right?  I know!!  In your search, you probably learned that Ryder Carroll developed the original bullet journal idea.  You can read it by googling and then adapt it to your own life.

Of course, five minutes on Pinterest or Tumblr or YouTube will reveal all of the different approaches to bullet journaling, many of them transforming a simple little notebook into works of visual art that far exceed my abilities or willingness.  If you’re like me, I move along when I see those types of bullet journals (after admiring them for a bit, of course) because those layouts just aren’t going to work for a writer. I’m a writer, after all, not a painter or a sketch artist.  The important point, however, is that you can adapt your bullet journal for your own life, your own needs, and your own approaches.

Enter, writing.  My use of bullet journaling has morphed over the last several months as I have learned how to use it as a tool in nearly every area of my life, which of course, includes writing. To that end, here is how I have been using bullet journaling for writing:

Idea Gathering: This is the most obvious for most writers and the chief reason we carry notebooks around in the first place. Prior to my bullet journal, I had notes scattered all over random Evernote files or on scraps of paper, which I inevitably lost.  Now? When I get an idea, I jot it down and highlight it in orange. I can flip through any book and find all the orange. Easy.

Reading Notes: As I’ve mentioned, good writers read! And what does a good writer do when she reads a nugget like, “It’s odd how much we want to be in love when you think about how much anxiety comes with it, like a tax on money you won in the lottery,” (Joe Hill, Rain), you can write it down.  (Disclaimer:  that Hill quote is just the most recent quote I wrote in my own journal because I just finished reading Rain. I am not implying it’s the best line ever written, but I do like it. I’m just lazy and also giving you an example of how this reading note thing works by flipping through my own notes I took this week).

Really-Rough-Drafts: I’ve also mentioned that I suffer from HUGE writing anxiety. This  is an unfortunate condition for a writer, but what sometimes helps me to get going is to write rough drafts in pencil, on paper, just to get me past the “first draft hump.” What better place than writing in my journal? I have it with me all the time, after all, and if I have some time waiting for something, I can pull out my pencil and have at it.  It helps me by saying, “this is just drafting….you’re just having fun!”  Once I get a good draft going, I move to the keyboard.

Conversation Spying:  Nothing improves your dialog more than eavesdropping in a crowded cafe.  And writing down what you hear. Hey, I don’t judge you.

Character Development: Sure, we can use a word-processing program to develop our characters, but journaling allows us to draw arrows, shapes, doodle our ideas out of our locked minds.  And a bullet journal helps with that.

Habit Tracking: Not writing?  Add it to your habit tracker and watch how, over time, you begin to develop good habits, from eating healthy to writing every day.  Go google that, too, and then have your colored pencils ready!

Those are just a few ways I have used my bullet journal for writing.  At this point, you may be wondering how to keep track of all of this? My own system is just to write the topic at the top of the page (ie: “Character of Marty” or “Lawyer Story Part A”) and then add it to the index (bullet journaling involves updating an index in the front to keep track of the pages). I don’t use the index for every day “to do list” logging, but I do find it useful to use one for keeping track of notes and detailed things that I intend to reference later.

Also, for the technology buffs, I found that if you take a photo of the “Moleskine-sized” journals (and a Luechtturm1917 falls into this category), Evernote recognizes it as an “Moleskine upload” and will recognize the handwriting. Boo-yah!  Now your notes are searchable if you want to also upload some of them to Evernote, just in case. I don’t upload the whole journal, but I do upload work notes or writing sketches, just as backups.

So…my daughter created a bullet-journal monster.  In the end, she doesn’t even keep a bullet journal, but it’s an integral part of my day and I hope some of this is helpful for you, too, writers out there!  Happy journaling!