A Writer's Bullet Journal: Friend of the Busy and the Foggy

 Photo by Simson Petrol. 

Photo by Simson Petrol. 

Wait. Wait. Don't let the words "bullet journal" make you run. I promise, there are no multi-colored trackers, fancy layouts, mandalas, or zen tangles here. However, if that's your thing, they can easily be integrated into what I'm talking about here--A writer's bullet journal. Not one geared toward character profiles or plot lists, but one geared to project management and publication. 

Last week, I sat in front of my computer, staring blankly at an empty document, my mind foggy and thick. I was unable to think, my ears kept popping, and my eyesight was blurry. On days like that I usually end up closing my computer and staring at the TV.

I still have trouble accepting that I’m not a machine, that I can’t just sit down and crank stuff out all the time. Even though I’ve dedicated time in front of my computer,

set down boundaries, and gotten rid of distractions, I'm still not guaranteed a productive day.

The truth is, no matter how much we want to write, or how understanding people are, there are things that will get in our way. One of the more frustrating symptoms of my mast cell disease is the fogginess I get sometimes. It makes it hard to focus, so I become scatterbrained and forgetful. Maybe you aren’t dealing with a chronic illness, but you have a job, a family, schoolwork, an emergency. Life continues to happen to us no matter how well we organize and schedule, or how dedicated we are.

This makes having a way to organize even more important. It’s really easy to let life come in and distract us from writing. Writing can be hard, and sometimes it’s easy to make excuses for not working.

To keep me motivated through the busy times and the bad times, I’ve found having a bullet journal to be incredibly helpful.

Type bullet journal into any search engine and you’ll be confronted by lists, and pictures of layouts, and ideas for tracking things, and art, and doodles, oh my. I admire these bullet journals. They really can be quite beautiful. I kept one like that a couple years ago, but for me it wasn’t a useful tool. I spent more time on the journal than on the projects I was supposed to be working on.

If that sort of journal appeals to you, go for it. If you’re stuck on a project, doodling and sketching might just loosen a solution. But my journal is very basic, even boring, but it serves my purposes well. First, it reminds me of what I need to get done, and second, having a list where I can tick off each accomplishment is extremely satisfying.

It’s very easy to feel like I’m not making progress. Having a list of tasks helps anchor me. It reminds me of my goals, and gives me a record of my accomplishments.

Writing can be a lonely, slow process. It’s very easy to feel like I'm not making progress. Having a list of tasks helps anchor me. It reminds me of my goals, and gives me a record of my accomplishments. This helps keep me motivated when life is hectic or I'm going through a rough patch. 

The Pages

My journal consists of five basic page types.

  1. Monthly calendar pages
  2. Daily schedules
  3. Weekly summary pages
  4. LIsts
  5. Project pages

I’ve found if I make too many layouts, or have too many features the journal loses its usefulness and becomes too complicated and cumbersome. It’s just another thing to keep up with. My goal is to spend as little time as I can maintaining the journal, and most of my time engaged in writing work.

Monthly Calendar Pages

These are very simple. 

September.JPG

The above picture is a mock up of what I keep in my journal. This allows me to note upcoming appointments, deadlines, meetings, etc, but I don’t waste time drawing out a graph to make a traditional monthly calendar layout.

Daily Pages

At the top I note the day of the week and the date. Just below that, I note appointments, deadlines, meetings, and such for the upcoming week. This way I know if I have to get materials ready for an upcoming meeting or submission window.

Below that, I make a simple list of items that need to be done that day with a check box next to it so I can mark it complete. If it’s vital I get a task done that day, the checkbox gets an exclamation point next to it.

As I go through my day I also make notes on my daily page. This might be an idea for a story or blog post, or an answer from a submission—a list I don’t have is a submission list, at least not in my journal. Instead, I list all submissions and answers on the day it was sent or received. I then highlight these entries with an orange highlighter. If it's important, I note it. If I think of something that needs to be done the next day, or the next, but I don’t have the next day’s page made I note it on the current page with a forward pointing arrow. These notations are very similar to the standard bullet journal noting system.

Summary Pages

The purpose of the summary page is to keep track of what I've accomplished the past week and what needs my focus on the upcoming week. I do these on Saturday nights. Looking back, I note what’s fallen through the cracks, and where I stand on each project. If there are tasks that have been repeatedly pushed back I reevaluate their importance, deciding whether to toss it, move it to a list of unorganized tasks, or make a commitment to get it done in the upcoming week. Then, I write down my fears, frustrations, and how I'm feeling about my current projects. Are they going well? Have I hit a snag? What do I need to do to move things toward completion.

Lists

My lists are all geared toward writing. Some have checkboxes, some don’t. These are a combination of tasks, and goals. They’re pretty self-explanatory, but here’s a list of my lists.

  1. Repeated tasks: These are things I need to remember to do regularly such as checking social media, checking certain websites for new information etc. It's basically the mundane things I need to do to keep informed.
  2. Call List: This is a dated list with upcoming open calls, and submission deadlines for journals, grants, and contests. I also list upcoming conventions here. 
  3. Authors I Chase: And by chase I mean I want to be published alongside them. (Please don't actually chase authors, we're known to be an unruly sort.) 
  4. Recommendations: Sometimes people will recommend a certain story or author I should read. These get listed here.
  5. Undated Tasks: These are things I want to look into, or things I need to do, but they’re not urgent and there’s no set deadline.
  6. Blog Post Ideas: Self explanatory.
  7. Market Goals: These are the markets I admire most and want to be published in. 
  8. Reading List: These are the books I own, but I haven't read yet. And because I'm an organization hound, I have it divided into categories. 
    1. Just for Fun
    2. Fiction for Study
    3. Short Story Collections
    4. Books on Writing
    5. General Nonfiction

That's a lot of lists, and I'm hesitant to establish anymore because again, I don't want it to become unruly.

Project Pages

Project pages are just another type of list. These help me break down a project into more manageable tasks. So, at the top I list the project, and then I give myself a deadline. These deadlines are important. They give me an idea of how much I need to get done in what period of time. It makes me accountable to myself.

These pages are the most useful when I’m rewriting. They point out problems, and what steps I need to take to rectify them. I try my best to hold myself to this deadline, but if it doesn’t happen, it doesn’t happen. Remember, be kind to yourself.

That’s it, and it’s all in one place where I can keep track of everything with relative ease. 

Journal Maintenance

The journal takes very little upkeep, but it does have to be maintained. Each night I set up my page for the next day, and each Saturday night I review my week. This helps me manage my writing, all that other work that goes into being an author, and the busyness of life. 

This is what works for me. Take what you can use, or use it as a jumping off point for your own system. Maybe your memory is better than mine and you won’t need one so detailed, or maybe you need different lists. They'll change depending on your goals. Strip it down or dress it up, but if you're struggling to keep up with everything and stay motivated and on task, this is a great tool.