When 2020 began I was using an A5 hardcover notebook as a bullet jourrnal, tracking appointments, tasks, reading, birthdays, due dates for publishers—a lot.
In late summer, I realized it was just going to depress me to track cancelled plans, cancelled publication dates, and furloughed projects as publishers and corporations scrambled to stay afloat. I stopped using the A5 notebook, and moved to a pocket sized BaronFig dateless planner.
A pack of four BaronFig pocket sized dateless planners, each with a seasonal cover, costs $14.50 at BaronFig. You don’t have to allocate the seasonal covers to the seasons they depict, but it does make identifying each planner fairly easy.
I’m about to set up one of the BaronFig dateless pocket planners for the first quarter of 2021, so I thought I’d describe how I set it up and use it. This is the Winter cover:
The cover is thicker card stock; sturdy enough to protect the rounded corner pages, but not too thick to fold back.
The back of the cover has a blank white field; I use it to write the year and season.
Inside the front cover is a book-plate area, and a title page where you could add your name and email address, or a date started and date finished or whatever suits you.
Each of the BaronFig pocket dateless planners has 16 two-page weekly spreads:
The weekly spread is designed so that each week has seven days, with a blank area at the end of the right-hand page for notes or tracking habits or what ever.
Because you add the dates, you can decide what day your week begins. Each left-hand page has a line at the top—I use it for the month, and a shorter line on top of the right-hand page; I use it for the week number.
Each of the day areas has a line for the day and date. As you can see, this is a center-stitched pocket notebook; there are no staples.
After the 16 two-page weekly spreads there are two two-page spreads of blank pages, without the divisions for days, and with the lines at the top of the right and left pages.
After those four pages, there are 13 pages of plain dot-grid, without lines at the top, just pure dot-grid.
The paper, as I would expect from BaronFig, works well with pencil, gel, rollerball, and most fountain pens. I typically use pencils, graphite and a Caran D’ache bicolor red-blue pencil, for daily entries.
Here’s how I set up a weekly spread using fountain pens:
I’m still using a rapid-logging bullet journal entry style, I’m just entering a lot less, and fewer deadlines. I often use the blank space at the end of the week to track birds and books.
I keep the current BaronFig dateless pocket planner and an additional pocket notebook for random notes and shopping lists in an expensive (but surprisingly nice) leather notebook cover, with an elastic to keep it closed, and two elastics running down the middle to hold notebooks in place. I bought it on Amazon for $13.95, and couldn’t be more pleased with it.
This is an affiliate link to BaronFig’s referral program. If you use the link and buy $25.00 worth of goods, (the notebooks are great, as are the pocket planners, but also check out the Squire pen), you get a $10.00 discount, and so do I.
Buy me a Coffee! If you find this post or this site interesting, and would like to see more, buy me a coffee. While I may actually buy coffee, I’ll probably buy books to review.
I never used to have anything I’d call a TBR (To Be Read) pile of books. Even in grad school by using a reading plan I managed to keep up with reading for school, work, and still keep the circulation department of multiple libraries busy.
But now, now I have a colossus of a TBR stack, though most of it is digital these days. That said, I still have somewhere around 15 printed codex books, mostly in my field to read. I’ve had a loose schedule of sorts for years, mostly based on what I’m currently researching, but this year, in part because there are So Many Books, I decided to organize a list and create a reading plan, much like those I made in grad school in order to keep up with long lists of required reading.
As I compiled my list, which required me to sort through books printed and digital, I was reminded of other reading plans. There were the Great Books sorts of institutionalized plans wherein reading Great Books was thought to be a sure pathway to being a Great Person yourself; these sometimes took the form of actual books produced and accompanied by a reading plan, sometimes by subscription, as in the Harvard Classics l or in the form of a build your own list like The Modern Library. Just search “reading list” and you’ll be overwhelmed with all the lists of books you should read.
In a similar vein, given the current emphasis on intentionality and reading for personal improvement, just searching the Web for “personal reading plan” will provide you any number of how to guides for creating your plan.Not to mention countless schedules for reading the entire Bible over the course of the year; this practice dates back at least to the medieval monastic tradition for Christians, and far longer for … Continue reading I even found a nifty 2020 schedule for reading all of Shakespeare during the course of the year.
I’m in the early stages of my plan as yet, with not much more than a very large multi-page checklist organized by topic/project. Just listing and categorizing the books was exceedingly helpful in creating a plan. I already use Library Thing and Goodreads for book tracking and inspiration. They were useful in this instance in tracking books I have but have not yet read, and what I need to reserve at a library. I use Calibre to sort and categorize and tag ebooks, making it easy to locate all the books I’ve tagged TBR or to put on hold at the library.
Once I had my checklist of categorized books, the next step was scheduling and finding specific times to read. I generally read fiction at night and for a few hours each weekend. During my week-day working hours, I concentrate on non-fiction and books in my field and related to current writing projects. Even more importantly, I’m blocking out specific times to read specific books. It’s not enough to just put Read Cunliffe’s Ancient Celts second Ed on a to-do list. I need to block out when I’m going to read it (Friday afternoons 12-2). The blocking-out-of-time is one of the most useful techniques I know in terms of actually getting things read or done. I schedule specific items to read an hour or two at a time during the week as part of my regular bullet journal scheduling. I also make sure I always have something queued up on my iPhone for those odd quarter-hours waiting for someone else to do something.
↑1 Not to mention countless schedules for reading the entire Bible over the course of the year; this practice dates back at least to the medieval monastic tradition for Christians, and far longer for Jews.
I’ve written about TextExpander before, because I’ve been a constant user for a little more than seven years. And now, with TextExpander 5, it’s even more useful.
Smile Software’s TextExpander is a macOS and iOS utility that saves keystrokes by expanding a short abbreviation that you type, with whatever text you have previously associated with that abbreviation (a TextExpander Snippet). When you type the abbreviation, TextExpander automatically expands it to a short phrase, a date, a name, a paragraph or or pages of text—whatever Snippet you’ve assigned to that abbreviation. You can even create Snippets that manipulate or format text from your clipboard before you paste the copied text to a document. You can share Snippets between your macOS app and your iOS apps.
I use TextExpander all the time for email, for Web pages, for HTML and CSS and for creating templates for various kinds of notes and glosses. I use ddate, for instance, any time I want to insert today’s date in a document, and TextExpander inserts the current date for me. I write a lot html; while I use BBEdit for most CSS and HTML, when I’m writing blog posts in particular, I rely on TextExpander to quickly insert tags. TextExpander is particularly helpful in terms of short cuts for CSS I and tags like cite or blockquote that I use a lot. I type ,blockquote or ,cite and TextExpander expands the abbreviation to the paired tag, with my cursor right between the open and close tags, so I can easily paste the quotation or or the book title that I’ve previously copied.
TextExpander is a core part of my workflow, for writing of all kinds. I use TextExpander to add closings and sigs to my emails, letting me quickly customize the closing to suit the occasion without taking my hands off the keyboard to reach a menu, and for the body of emails that I send frequently. I also use TextExpander for boiler plate paragraphs and URLs that I frequently need to send to people. I particularly like that I can rely on TextExpander for names of products and publishers, and be sure that I’m using the canonical name every single time. I have a group of snippets for words that I frequently misspell or mistype. TextExpander inserts the correct spelling for me. I also use TextExpander for templates for documents I create frequently. I have a review template, HTML templates for several kinds of Web pages, a proposal template, and, perhaps most importantly, an invoice template.
I send a lot of emails that are essentially the same, except for the name of the addressee, and a few variables. TextExpander makes that much more efficient and saves me time and keystrokes. Let’s pretend you’re thanking someone for a donation to a charity you volunteer for. Type the abbreviation you assigned to the form letter Snippet, and TextExpander creates a popup form. You enter a name, the amount of the donation, choose a category that the donation will go to from a list, and click OK. TextExpander generates the letter, places it on your clipboard, and you can paste it in whatever document you want, in whatever word processor or email app you favor. The new “Snippet Creation Assistant” (see below) walks you through creating similar Snippets yourself (In fact I stole this example from the Snippet Creation Assistant).
Snippet Creation Assistant
One of the new features in TextExpander 5.x is a Snippet Creation Assistant. This interactive tutorial walks you through creating your own Snippets—and it’s available at any time via the Help menu in TextExpander. The Snippet Creation Assistant walks you through adding several particularly useful groups of Snippets: Auto Correction, which automatically corrects commonly misspell and mistyped words, like that for that; a group of words that strictly speaking require accents, for instance, correcting crêpe to crêpe; and a group of CSS and HTML Snippets that will even create paired tags.
Other TextExpander users have created snippets that they share; you can download and install shared snippets, or, if you’re using the subscription version of TextExpander, shared snippets called Public Groups can be added to your TextExpander account.
TextExpander saves me time and keystrokes. At this point, I wouldn’t want to write without TextExpander. I even use TextExpander Touch on my iPhone and iPad. I have access to all my Snippets on my Mac, my iPhone and my iPad via DropBox syncing. With a yearly subscription, you can keep all your snippets (and share them with friends or the public) on TextExpander’s servers.
A new feature of TextExpander 5 and later are “Suggested Snippets.” TextExpander watches in the background while you work, and when it notices you using the same phrases frequently, adds the phrase to a list of “Suggested Snippets.” You can choose to turn Suggested Snippets off of course, but it’s useful to leave it on for a while. You might be surprised at how often you use the same phrases, and Suggested Snippets makes it very simply to turn those repeated used phrases (and sentences) into a Snippet that can reuse with a few key presses.
I occasionally turn Suggested Snippets back on when I start working on a new book or project, and it makes creating project-specific Snippets a breeze.
Take Control of TextExpander
The built in Help (via the TextExpander Help menu) is quite good, as are the user guides for the macOS and iOS apps, but I got a lot more out of TextExpander after reading Take Control of TextExpander, which is organized so that you can skip around and use the specific parts you need at any given moment, if you don’t want to read Take Control of Text Expander cover-to-cover. It also covers TextExpander Touch for iOS.
This post uses affiliate links.
I returned to writing drafts in long hand (as a respite from keyboard-related carpal tunnel) in 2012. I used fountain pens fairly often before that, but mostly for letter-writing. Since late in 2016, I’ve been writing long form drafts, note-taking and planning almost exclusively with fountain pens.
I already knew that I remembered notes I wrote by hand better than those I keyboarded. I’m not new to handwriting, but I quickly discovered that writing with a fountain pen was much easier on my hands than using gel or ballpoint pens.
With conventional pens, you’re physically moving the pen across the paper, and exerting force to move the “ball” so that it coats itself with ink, and transfers it to the paper. Because the pen needs to be impelled with some deliberate force to move, writers grip the pen, creating tension in the hand and arm, which often leads to writers cramp or dystonia.
With a fountain pen, the nib (the pointed metal object at the business end of a fountain pen) spreads the ink; the ink is liquid and the pen is inclined to glide across the paper with little force being needed. Moreover, the fountain pen’s tendency, because the ink is liquid, is to join letters, requiring less effort from the writer. Ball point pens, on the other hand, use thicker ink, and require more effort.
Other reasons to consider using a fountain pen, if the ease of writing alone doesn’t tempt you, include the enormous variety of inks; there are hundreds of shades and a number of different kinds of ink (permanent, archive quality, waterproof, . . . ). If you sometimes need to draw or sketch a diagram or chart, a fountain pen can be a marvelous tool for sketching as well as writing. And, like other analog tools, fountain pens are extremely portable; if you’re not comfortable with the idea of carrying a bottle of ink with you, you can find ink cartridges for almost any fountain pen.
If you’re new to fountain pen writing, a fine point nib or even extra fine (rather than medium or broad or italic or stub) is usually easier to use and still produce legible writing. If you want to use bottled ink (it’s economical, environmentally kind, and there’s an enormous range of color options and ink types), make sure that the pen comes with a converter (an expensive device to fill a fountain pen with ink from a bottle) or that you can purchase one for that specific pen.
There are a number of economical options for those interested in trying writing with a fountain pen before buying a more expensive keeper. There are low-end pens that are $3.00 to $5.00 dollars each, including disposable fountain pens like the Pilot Varsity. The Platinum Preppy fountain is an affordable (c. $3.00) alternative to a disposable pen; it uses Pilot cartridges, so it’s refillable. There are also a wide range of reasonable pens that are under $30.00, like the Lamy Vista, the Lamy Safari, the TWSBI ECO, or the Pilot Metropolitan. These are perfectly good pens and will last for years, but you should try one in person, first, especially the Lamy Vista or Safari; the triangular grip isn’t for everyone.
You’ll have better results with fountain pens if you use slightly better than average paper; a Mead 5 Star notebook is tolerable, but heavier weight paper (c. 70 gsm or better) will work better and you don’t have to break the bank. Ordinary “composition notebooks,” those mottled sewn binding books are often just fine for long-hand drafts in fountain pens; look for composition books manufactured outside of the U.S. (often made with sugar cane or rice bran fibers). Buy one on sale and take it home and try it with whatever you might use to write. If it works, look at the colophon on the back cover, and the copyright date, and get exactly the same model.
Moreover, you’re not limited by the offerings at Amazon; check out the options at JetPens.com or The Goulet Pen Company, both of which offer reasonable “starter pens” and notebooks or pads of paper suitable for fountain pens.
It’s not an app that functions as a an actual journal, rather, it’s intended to help people set up their first Bullet Journal, and be a guide to getting the most out of a Bullet Journal. The internal name is Bullet Journal Companion, and that’s apt; it’s a companion for your analog notebook. The app was released in February of 2017, and while I downloaded it then, I wasn’t really impressed. There have been several updates, and a new feature, the Library, has been added, as of the version released on May 17, 2017.
When you launch the app, the first screen you see is a linked table of contents:
The Reflection section is an exercise in mindfulness, as the Web page announcing the Bullet Journal Companion app notes:
Keeping track of what you need to be doing is important. Keeping track of why you’re doing those things is critical. Reflection will help keep you focused on the why through daily trackable reminders prompting you to unplug and review your notes.
The idea is that you set an AM and PM time to reflect each day on why you’re doing what you are doing. There are several inspirational quotations, and you can “log” or track the fact that you did in fact reflect by tapping a calendar date. If you set up Notifications, the Bullet Journal Companion will remind you to reflect. I’m not one to find this appealing, but others may.
I think that the purpose of the Library is to allow you to use your iPhone’s camera to take photos of a BuJo® page, give the Bullet Journal app permission to use the photo, and then associate it with a specific journal, date range and one or more tags to create a digital index of sorts. The search function appears limited to tags, rather than actual contents. I suspect that there are plans to allow OCR or some better ways of locating data than tags; as it stands it’s not terrible useful, and it’s certainly not innovative (see for example EverNote or Moleskine notebooks and app or Baron Fig notebooks and Codex.app.
Most of the articles appear to be also available on the official BulletJournal Website, though I admit I can’t find the one on Reflection on the site. The articles are a useful resource, especially for those getting started.
The Pocket Guide is a version of the step by step setup guide Carroll wrote for his Website. It goes through the basics of creating your first bullet journal with a blank notebook. It’s quite useful in that respect, and much easier than trying to look at a Web site while you work. I would absolutely have found it helpful when I set up my bullet journal. It’s updated, by the way, when the app updates, but the content is local to your phone, which means you can use it without being connected to the ‘net.
This appears to be an overview of the Official Bullet Journal notebook, also sold from the Website, but it doesn’t appear to be an actual store in terms of being able to buy one from your iPhone.
The Guide has merit for those starting out, but not $2.99 worth. The free .pdf Starter Guide you can download when you subscribe to the Bullet Journal Newsletter is, in my mind, more helpful. I’m not outraged at spending $2.99, but the Bullet Journal Companion app strikea me as somewhat useless; it’s not going to stay on my phone.
When I first started experimenting with a standing desk, to see if it would work for me personally, I used odds and ends of household furniture two create two setups for test-driving standing desks.
But the Spark by Ergodriven is a much better option. It’s a flat-packed sturdy cardboard temporary lift, meant to be placed on an extant table or desk and thereby convert the furniture you already have to a standing desk. The Spark comes in threes sizes, allowing you to choose a desk suited to your height. It’s made out of surprisingly sturdy corrugated cardboard, and it’s pretty easy to assemble.
It’s also dirt cheap. Small Sparks for people under 5′ 4” or Medium Sparks for people 5′ 4” to 5′ 11 are $20.00 from Amazon; Large for people over 5′ 11” are $25.00. And because it’s flat-packed, it strikes me as something to consider if you do a lot of consulting that involves working from hotel rooms. You could have Amazon ship the Ergo Spark to your hotel, or stash it in your luggage and assemble it there. Most hotel rooms have a desk or table, and you can use the Ergo Spark to allow you to adjust your position from cramped and hunched, to standing.
There’s a high probability that you already know what a Bullet Journal is, in which case you can skip ahead. If you think a bullet journal is for gun enthusiasts, read on.
What’s A Bullet Journal?
As originally designed, the Bullet Journal is a minimalist system relying on a notebook and numbered pages. You use short codes to tag kinds of data and tasks. You create your own pages to suit your personal needs and style. A bullet journal (BuJo for short) is an efficient way to track your time and goals, and other data that you use for short-range and long-range planning.
If you’re completely unfamiliar with the concept, a place to start is the original bullet journal video Bullet Journal – YouTube by Ryder Carroll. I’ve also linked to some useful pieces about how to create, customize and use a bullet journal in the Resources section below.
Bullet Journals for Writers: The Basics
Because a bullet journal is so very flexible, many writers use a BuJo just for managing their writing time and tasks. I find a bullet journal especially useful in terms of tracking multiple projects and deadlines.
The first thing to do when you start using a bullet journal is to number the pages. (Some notebooks have pre-numbered pages, like the Leuchtturm1917 notebook, but it takes mere minutes to do it by hand).
The second thing to do is reserve the first three or four pages of your notebook for your Index. The Index is a list of pages and what’s on them; it makes finding your information very quick.
Tobias Bucknell, SF/F author, has written a helpful post about his experience creating, using, and customizing a BuJo for use by a writer This is how I Bullet Journal | Tobias Buckell. Bucknell says that for him the Index was a key point in making a Bullet Journal personally useful:
But creating an index, that was interesting. Because now I suddenly, like a light bulb going off, realized I could create not only daily to-dos, but project to-dos, and flip back and forth. Even better, while I used a variety of to-dos via digital software, some projects of mine were getting so complex that I needed a way to glance at the 30,000 foot view quickly.
Bucknell’s post provides a wealth of information about customizing the basic concepts and practices behind bullet journals with lots of specific suggestions about how writers might want to use a bullet journal.
There are lots of writers of every sort using bullet journals; some of your peers are likely using bullet journals, and may very well have some specific tips. In the meantime, here are some suggestions about ways to use bullet journaling as a writer.
One of the primary techniques behind bullet journaling is what Ryder Carroll calls “rapid logging.” It means making brief notes about tasks, events and ideas, marked with identifying symbols to make it possible to tell what kind of a note you’ve made, and whether it’s a completed task or event or re-scheduled, at a glance. There’s an “official” Bullet Journal key; it looks like the image to the right. People customize the symbols they use all the time.
Collections are Powerful
A bullet journal Collection is a collection of data; that data can be lists or images or mind-maps or sketches, or trackers (more about trackers later). These are some possible Collections for a writer
- Backstory and plot notes
- Character notes (and sketches)
- Setting notes (and sketches!)
- Scene or Chapter breakdowns
- Brainstorming—ask yourself questions about your WIP (why does Whitney go to the barn? What does Simon need? What does Simon want?)
- Inspirational Quotes (See Tobias Bucknell’s post on starting with a motivational quotation)
- A list of those words, you know, the ones you can’t spell without having to look them up.
- List special character and place names, or special spellings of standard words, archaic words, idioms or invented words that you’ll want to submit to your editor so they won’t get changed.
- Your personal style sheet; leading and trailing spaces before and after em-dashes, or not; spaces before and after ellipses, or not; preferred spellings of words that have options. Sure your editor and publisher may have different opinions, but if you standardize the way you do it, they’ll be much easier to change later, if it’s necessary.
- Patricia Wrede has some great questions for fantasy world building that are useful to answer in a bullet journal as part of your backstory.
Trackers are a visual method of tracking repeated events or habits. They’re often used for things like tracking sleep or miles walked, or water imbibed, or pages read, or words written. Technically, trackers are a subset of Collections in official Bullet Journal terms, but they’re endlessly flexible.
- Trackers can be as simple as M T W Th F S S to represent a week. Draw a line through the letter to mark the days on which you met your daily goals.
- Use a row of boxes with numbers for tracking monthly goals. Cross off or fill in the boxes on the days you met your goal.
- If you want to track multiple daily habits for a month, create a simple graph; habits or tasks across the top of a two-page spread, and numbers for the days of the month down the side of the left-hand leaf. Use a filled- in square or dot or X to mark the task (or habit) you completed under the column across the top. (Here’s a tracker example from Heather Haft).
You can get colorful of course, and there’s lots of advice and models about using trackers in your bullet journal. See for instance Bullet Journal Habit Trackers from Productive & Pretty. Lots of people use trackers to track good habits and health. You don’t have to be artistic; personally, I’m pretty utilitarian.
Migration in bullet journal terms refers to an event or task that wasn’t completed when you planned, so you migrate it to another day. In other words, you move it from Tuesday the 6th to Friday the 9th (or whenever). The official Bullet Journal Symbol for migrating something is >; lots of people use other symbols. Part of the point of migration is that you have to write the thing down again every time you migrate; if you find yourself doing this repeatedly, it’s an indication that you really don’t want to do the thing, or, that maybe, it doesn’t really need doing. As Ryder Carroll, the inventor of the Bullet Journal says:
You can reduce the amount of things you have to do by transferring things by hand. If a task isn’t worth the time to rewrite it, it’s probably not important. Spend time with things that are important and be mindful of how you spend your time.
Plan to Write
As writers, we all struggle with time management; with finding time to write. One way that a bullet journal habit can help with that is that you plan not only the time but what you’re actually going to write.
By reducing the time we spend in non-writing activity in our writing time, we can actually get writing done. Those collections with questions, and character notes, and plot points can be springboards, specific starting points for your daily, nightly or weekly writing time.
Tip: A particularly useful technique in terms of tracking your narrative and writing progress, is to make a note when you end a session about where to start the next session.
Bullet Journals are Analog
We’ve got Google Calendar, and iCal and all sorts of ways to sync data between our phones, our computers and our tablets. I’m still using them. But there are some advantages to writing by hand on paper.
- Handwriting aids retention.
- Handwriting allows us to use the parts of our brain that we don’t when we keyboard; there’s a thing that happens when we’re doodling or brainstorming with a pen in our hand where we solve problems, whether of plot, narration or character motivation, or planning. Some of it is perhaps not conscious, but as we write, we formulate a solution.
- Because of the way we concentrate on what we are doing and because it is slower than a keyboard, writing by hand gives us time to think.
- There’s something to be said for having a single place to track our time and ideas, especially when we write on a digital screen. Think of the journal as a portable extra screen, one that doesn’t require switching windows or apps.
A Note On Aesthetics
Lots of people spend a great deal of effort on prettifying their bullet journal; if you’ve got the time and skill that’s great. There are some incredibly beautiful BuJo’s out there. Me, I have neither time nor talent. I started my bullet journal in stumbled-upon blank page notebook.
Bullet Journal Resources
There’s the video that Ryder Carroll made, of course, but these are some particularly useful guides to getting started using and customizing a bullet journal to suit you.
For a quick intro see Buzzfeed’s WTF Is A Bullet Journal And Why Should You Start One? An Explainer
It’s worth signing up to the once-a-month newsletter at Ryder Carroll’s official bulletjournal.com site to download a copy of the free .pdf starter guide. It’s a cheat sheet for getting started with a bullet journal.
The best starter guide (full of practical suggestions for customizing) is How To Bullet Journal: The Absolute Ultimate Guide from the Lazy Genius Collective. Lots of useful pictures, and down-to-Earth advice.
Kim at Tinyrayofsunshine.com has an excellent Thorough Guide to the Bullet Journal System. Her pictures are very helpful and there are some excellig ideas about simplifying and customizing.
Bullet Journals for Writers
Writer’s Edit’s The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers has some excellent suggestions about getting started, tracking submissions and using a bullet journal to plan and to manage NanoWriMo.
Victoria of Something Delicious has more specific tips for writers using bullet journals in Bullet Journaling for Fiction Writers. (Scroll down past the introduction to bullet journaling to see specific tips for writers).
Belle Cooper has some great practical suggestions for using a bullet journal to track freelance writing.
You might want to try bullet journaling first before making an investment in pens and notebooks.
According to Bullet Journal inventor Ryder Carroll “All you need is a notebook and a pen . . . ” Consider using something you already have to start with (I did!). If you don’t have a blank page notebook (notebook paper isn’t really suitable) consider something like this Amazon Basics Classic Notebook, in either blank or “squared” (graph paper lines).
If you’re sure you’re game, consider using a notebook that has either a square grid (like graph paper) or a dot grid; they’re easier to use for charts, and they make it easier to write legibly.
If you already use a BuJo, let us know how you use it. What tips do you have for those just starting out? What do you suggest in terms of bullet journaling for writers?
Originally published on AbsoluteWrite.com
I’ve been using a Bullet Journal for a month now (I started on January 9th, 2017).
My bullet journal trial has been successful. I’m going to continue using it, at least while I have limited ’net access.
The portability factor of my bullet journal, and the ease of planning and tracking my time without access to the ’net has really helped. My access to the Internet has been particularly spotty due to weather problems, so I started using the bullet journal just in time. While I’m still using my digital tools, I can work without them, thanks to the bullet journal.
I am not one of the many artistic people using a BuJo, nor am I one with beautiful handwriting and perfect spelling. I use mine to track deadlines, keep lists of projects and due dates, and to track blog posts and writing-for-hire work. My BuJo isn’t pretty, but it is functional and it doesn’t require a lot of effort to maintain, leaving me more to write (and read!).
I’ve essentiall decided on my format. I got some super advice from this post.
How I Use A Bullet Journal As A Writer
I have three broad stages of writing (not counting intermittent stages of pacing, self-directed hair-pulling and long walks):
* Research and brainstorming
I track all of them in my bullet journal. I brain storm ideas via lists of possible topics for various venues, with short notes about the venue and about points for research. I track research tasks—locating a particular book, obtaining and reading the book, potential interview subjects, etc. (These are lists, but in official BuJo parlance they’re called *Collections*).
I also track pitches, submissions, due dates and publication dates.
My Bullet Journal Set Up
- I use colored ink (red for deadlines, due dates and holidays, green for other kinds of emphasis) to highlight and differentiate information.
- I don’t use the standard Bullet Journal “key,” symbols to identify information by type that Carroll created; I use some derived from the lazy genius post I linked to earlier.
- I use reduced-size monthly calendars, three months to a page through January 2018, for long-range planning.
Ryder Carroll calls these pages the “Future log.” His is a list of days/dates; mine is a miniature calendar. I use these for visualizing blocks of time as I plan what I need to do when. The visual indication of blocks of time in a calendar helps me “see” my time.
- Month-by-month spreads for each individual month, pretty much as described by Ryder Carroll; a list of days and dates on the left page, with a blank page on the right for memos etc.
I’ve not yet needed the right hand page much, but I suspect I will, eventually.
- Individual month pages; a list of days and dates, divided into weeks via a separator line.
I list projects due dates, and bills, and tasks that are repeated weekly on the appropriate dates.
- Daily pages include appointments, tasks, and occasional notes.
I usually create the daily pages (or really, portions of pages; a day’s entry doesn’t take an entire page for me) the night before the day in question.
I list appointments or items due on that day, and tasks I want to complete. I fill in the box (or diamond in my case) as I complete a task, or partially fill in those that require more than one day to complete.
During the course of the day I make brief notes about things I might want to know later; people I’ve met, birds I’ve seen or heard, sometimes the weather or what I’m reading (Mostly though, I’m all about the birds)
“Collections” in Carroll’s terms describe data that is not primarily task or appointment related. Mine include:
- Books to read
- Books I’ve read
- Things to write & pitch that are not yet contracted
- Potential blog posts—I move these to specific days as needed in terms of drafting and then publishing them.
- A list of long term projects in the research phase
- A list of birds for the year
- Recipes that I need to use fairly often but don’t know by heart (I prefer paper in the kitchen)
Future Plans: I Need a Notebook
I’ll use the current no-name blank book I have through March, I expect, but I’m going to need a replacement soon, since I’ll have run out of pages.
While there is an official trademarked Bullet Journal, available from Leuchtturm.us and BulletJournal.com, most of its extra features (three ribbon markers, designated Index pages, a printed key code and guide to Bullet Journals) don’t matter to me. And I’m not thrilled with the paper.
What I Want in a Bullet Journal Notebook
- I want something around 5 inches by about 8 inches. (A5)
- I want better quality paper.
By that I mean paper that I can use pencil on and erase, and that I can use fountain pens on with minimal bleed-through.
- I think I want dot grid paper. Dot grid paper has faint dots marking a grid. The dots help me keep my handwriting legible, and they’re useful in creating the occasional charts or diagrams I sometimes use in planning writing. That said, dot grid paper is not a deal breaker for me, and paper quality is.
- Other features that are common—elastic bands that keep the notebook closes, ribbon markers, pockets, pre-printed pages—are less important to me.
I’m currently considering the accepted standard notebook for bullet journals, the Leuchtturm1917 Medium Hardcover, or a Rhodia Webnotebook. Both come in dot grid (as well as graph, lined, and blank). The question of Leuchtturm vs Rhodia is apparently a bit of a quandary for others, too.
The Leuchtturm1917 Medium Hardcover is an A5 size hardcover bound journal, available with dotted, grid (“squared”) or lined pages. It’s 5.7 x 0.6 x 8.3 inches, and has 249 pre-numbered pages (125 sheets), a reserved set of pages for an index in the front of the notebook, two ribbon markers, and a pocket for notes inside the back cover, and an elastic band to keep it closed.
The Rhodia Webnotebook with dot grid paper. It’s roughly the same size as the Leuchtturm A4 at 5.6 x 8.3. The paper is 90gsm, versus the Leuchtturm1917 which uses 80 gsm paper. But the Rhodia, while it has heavier weight paper, also only has fewer pages; 192 pages (96 sheets).
There are other minor differences (the Leuchhturm1917 has pre-numbered pages, a reserved area for an index, and two ribbon markers, where the Rhodia has one, etc.), but essentially, for me it comes down to a question of more pages (Leuchtturm1917) vs higher quality paper and less bleed- through (Rhodia).
The popularity of bullet journaling has made the Leuchtturm1917 Medium Hardcover scarce, especially some covers in the dot grid paper. But if you venture outside of Amazon, you can find various covers and sizes at JetPens.com (where you can also find the softcover black A5 Medium journal/notebook) and The Goulet Pen Co. Or at Leuchtturm.us where you can find a wide variety of Medium Leuchtturm1917 hardcovers in various colors.
Having just drafted this post and link-checked it, I’ve discovered a third possibility via Amazon. A newcomer called Scribbles that Matter — Dotted Journal Notebook Diary. There are four colors of cover, all with icons, but with black, gray, pink or teal backgrounds. The icons on the cover don’t thrill me, but I like the 100GSM ivory dotted paper with 185 numbered pages (plus a key page, 3 index pages and 2 pen test pages, two ribbon, markers, a pocket, and a pen loop). List price is $24.99, but right now, it’s $19.99, and I confess, that paper is really tempting. There’s a Scribbles that Matter lined paper journal as well as the dot grid version. I see from the Scribbles That Matter Facebook page that they’re planning on new covers in different colors (possibly including a really nice blue, and contrasting elastics), and they’re at least discussing covers without icons.
I haven’t had a chance to do any local shopping yet, but it wouldn’t surprise me to find something locally. I quite like the blank book I’ve been using, which has high quality paper with minimal bleed. I’d use it again, honestly, but I do think dot grid paper will be helpful.
I started noticing references to bullet journals from people in various writer-related communities and on Twitter about six months ago. I’m not one for journaling so I didn’t pay much attention. This fall I saw a serous discussion about bullet journaling and quality paper notebooks on one of the writing and stationary pr0n sites I keep an eye on. Intrigued, I thought I’d maybe take a closer look later.
Later arrived with a bang this month. For the foreseeable future, I’m working remotely, away from home, without reliable access to the ’net, and without a lot of anything else, either. No standing desk here; in fact, no desk. Just me and my ancient laptop, iPad and iPhone (with a tiny data plan), and intermittent WiFi. Most of my time and project management tools tools are digital and cloud based; at home I use Wunderlist, Evernote, and email, a lot, for managing time and tasks. They’re great tools but they’re not really viable without reliable Internet.
[perfectpullquote align=”left” bordertop=”false” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]All you need is a notebook and a pen[/perfectpullquote]
I generally travel with a cheap spiral bound notebook, a mechanical pencil or two, a couple of gel pens, and a highlighter in my laptop bag. This time, planning on sending postcards, I also brought a Lamy Vista fountain pen. My plan was to do what I used to do, back in the day, and use the notebook to make lists and track projects.
Then I remembered the bullet journal, and did a little reading.
The Bullet Journal® (sometimes shortened to BuJo® for short) was invented by Ryder Carroll. A video about bullet journaling he created and posted to YouTube is frequently identified as the way devotees first discovered bullet journaling. Carroll developed his system over time, and via use. He wanted an analog way to track time, to keep track of what needs to be done today, what was done yesterday, and planning for the future, that didn’t require a great deal of time to manage. He wanted it to be analog because of the way our brains work when we use pen and paper.
The online tutorial Carroll created claims “All you need is a notebook and a pen . . . ”
I scrounged an old blank book that was a giveaway from a bookclub; my mother had kept it thinking it would be useful. I numbered the pages, created an Index, twelve months of month-at-a-glance calendars, a set of calendar spread pages for known scheduled events, a few lists (“Collections” in BuJo parlance”) of books I needed to read, and posts I needed to write, and my first daily page.
The basic sections (“modules” in Carroll’s terminology) are:
- Numbered pages with topic headers
- An Index that tracks where various items are in terms of the numbered pages.
- Rapid logging: a method of quick memos using a basic set of codes that are customizable. Symbols indicate whether a task was completed, migrated to a later date or scheduled, other symbols denote ideas, notes, and priority.
- A calendar for the year’s events; Carroll calls this the Future Log
- Monthly calendars in a list form; Carroll call this the Monthly Log
- Daily lists of what you plan to do on that day, created the night before or in the morning of the day in question. Carroll calls this the Daily Log.
These are very easy to set up in the minimalist style Carroll advocates; the calendars are essentially lists, with days identified by short codes: M 23 is Monday the 23rd. Set up doesn’t have to make than an hour, beginning with a blank book.
An important technique inherent in Bullet Journals is migration. You migrate a task or event to another date if you don’t complete it. Eventually, if you keep migrating the same task, you either recognize the procrastination and complete the task, or you realize that it’s not really important. As Carroll notes:
The purpose of migration is to distill the things that are truly worth the effort, to become aware of our own patterns and habits, and to separate the signal from the noise.
The key concepts about why bullet journaling works for so many people are, according to Carroll:
Putting pen to paper helps retain things significantly better and there’s a lot of science to back that up. At the same time, technology allows you to share that information, parse the information, and compartmentalize it to work with it in new ways.
There’s a built-in time-management curb in Bullet Journaling in that
You can reduce the amount of things you have to do by transferring things by hand. If a task isn’t worth the time to rewrite it, it’s probably not important. Spend time with things that are important and be mindful of how you spend your time.
In my case, the analog aspect means I can track my time offline with ease. I’ll post an update in February, after using a BuJo for a few weeks, but in the meantime, if you’re curious, here are some of the links that helped me:
I can remember all the stuff about the “paperless office” quite well, and even at the time, I didn’t believe it. Nor did I necessarily think going totally digital was a viable option for me. I still don’t.
I like paper.
It’s portable and doesn’t require electricity for operation. I can write just about anywhere with a notebook and a pen.
High quality paper, as any Medievalist will tell you, is durable and if stored properly, makes a decent archive media.
High quality paper and printing are sometimes easier for me to read than the screen; it depends a lot on the typesetting, the local light conditions and how heavy the thing is I’m reading.
But much as I enthuse about paper, I don’t want to have to keep filing bills and receipts. For one thing, it’s time consuming, it takes up physical space we really don’t have, and it’s hard on my hands.
We already receive as many invoices and statements as we can via email / .pdf. I’ve started scanning and OCRing the others. I’ve tried using my iPhone to photograph and OCR cash register receipts but it’s not worth the effort; they’re often just too hard to read as digital images, never mind OCR. So cash register receipts I need to retain are going into envelopes by month and date, and they’re going into a shoebox (I know, just like grandma !) after the data goes into a spreadsheet.
My goal is to create a backed-up, cloud-synced, searchable archive of digital business/tax related documents, where I scan paper bills on receiving them (or as soon after as possible), and store the digital version as a searchable PDF.
Once I’ve wrangled the secular materials into a digital archive with redundant backups, I’ll start on a digital migration for scholarly files.