A Bullet Journal for Writers


If you haven't heard of the bullet journal phenomenon, search bujo in Pinterest or Instagram and behold the latest craze. Enter with caution -- it may take over your life! It's become something the founder of this system probably never envisioned. My version is painfully simple and embarrassingly plain in comparison to the creations of those with more time and better artistic ability. So, it is with a bit of apprehension that I share my version of the bujo.

I never planned to share this on my blog or admit to this level of geeky obsession. But I was having coffee with a former student this week (Anna Kholod), and she asked me how I make time to write while working a full-time job -- the struggle most of us are trying to navigate. So, with a little hesitation, I pulled out my bullet journal to show her my humble system of trying to make my writing goals tangible and real. And we frankly nerded out! 

So, maybe it will be useful to a few other type-A, writer types. If you like school supplies and could spend an hour gazing at the aisle of pens in Staples, you might be a bujo-nerd too. 

Two months ago, I began feeling the need to create my own system for the purpose tracking my writing goals. It sounds funny to say, but I think I'm in something like a writing growth spurt! I'm learning so much about my own process and voice. It has come after some years of angst when writing felt like repeatedly jumping into a very large and unforgiving wall. 

Anyway, I've come to realize that I tend to get lost in the process of writing (a process I love), at the expense of losing sight of forward movement. So, I felt the need to be more organized and thoughtful about my goals. Thus began my latest obsession.

Before I get into this, let me just say, this isn't for everyone. If this isn't helpful to you, please move on with life without a bujo. A year ago, it wasn't realistic for me to put goals on a timeline, so this system would've been discouraging. But for now, it seems to be helping me.

The system: 

Click here to watch a video of the original bullet journal system. I think it's helpful to see where the concept began. And I love the simplicity of the original. There's also a blog at bulletjournal.com that shows pictures of how other people use their journals.

You can glean ideas from these, but it can also be intimidating. Don't laugh at mine after looking at theirs! In fact, look at mine first so you don't judge me too harshly. After that, check this one out. The monthly layout at the end, seems a good system for creative types as it is project-focused.

I use 4 basic types of pages. The beauty of the system is that you create it, so you can adapt it in any way you wish. But these core pages are all I use. 

1. An index -- the first few pages are reserved for tracking the page numbers of your entries so you can quickly find stuff. 

2. Future log -- I use a 6 month future long that spans a full sheet of paper that provides a box for my goals for each of the next 6 months. This is the most crucial part of the system. Taking time to look ahead and make goals is the whole point.

My goals, though they could be more specific in this list, are about revising all of my full-length plays in preparation for finding an agent. By December, I hope to have completed a solid revision on each play so that I can begin the research process of finding the right agent for my work. It may take me longer than 6 months to revise my plays, but I'm working toward a real goal and have broken that into smaller steps to get me there. 

6 Month Future Log

6 Month Future Log

3. Monthly log -- Take the goals you already listed in the future log and list them in the monthly log (expand and/or edit them as needed), as well as a list of tasks that will help you achieve these goals. I use a full-sheet layout for this too. I simply list the numbers of the month along with the day of the week down the left side, and I only include important events and deadlines on it. I still use the calendar app on my phone for other kinds of scheduling. Some people draw out elaborate monthly calendars, and I can see the use of this. But again, I'm focusing on my writing goals. On the right page, I list my goals and tasks for the month.

Monthly Layout

Monthly Layout

4. Weekly log -- this is a full sheet spread for me, too. I list my goals for the week on the right side, along with a couple of other quotes/lists I want to meditate on during the week. On the left side, I break the page into small sections for each day, where I list tasks and events. This is an empty weekly log because I wanted to show you what the shell looks like for me. 

Blank Weekly Layout

Blank Weekly Layout

That's it. I list some appointments, important dates/events, and daily chores as well that help me keep my week in focus. But I don't put everything in it.

Some people use it for grocery lists, meal planning, and book lists. All of this is well and good. But I know that if I use it for more things, it will become a chore rather than something that helps me stay connected to my goals.  

The simpler the better for me. And really, the uglier/messier the better for me too. I'm trying to find a balance between organized and free-flowing (which is more akin to how my brain actually works). You should see my office! But really, if it looks too neat and pretty, I feel pressure that what I write down has be profound or something. So I feel weirdly free with a little mess. 

Messy Filled-in Weekly Log

Messy Filled-in Weekly Log

A few additional tips about bullet journaling: 

1. Don't get caught in comparison funk. It's easy to feel completely overwhelmed by it when looking at what others are doing. Use it for your purposes only. If you want to feel better about yours, look back at my crappy layouts! 

2. Keep it simple. Some people use elaborate keys/symbols to visually identify each activity in their day. I have two symbols -- a dot for tasks, a circle for events or appointments. I put an X through tasks that I finish and an arrow through ones that I don't finish so that I can "migrate" the task to another day. 

Another thing many bujo-folks do is a goal-tracker, in which they color in squares for each day they complete a task. But I skip this. I know I'm making progress or not by looking at my goals each week. And I don't want to be too focused on filling in little blocks or on beating myself up when I haven't completed a task. That's one step too far for my own enjoyment of the process. But hey, whatever works for ya! 

3. Get a good journal. I use the dotted Leuchtturm 1917. But I like the Moleskin journals too. The Leuchtturm has more pages, which means it will last longer. It also has numbered pages  and a built-in index. On the flip-side, it's a bit heavier to carry around. It's working great for me though.

4. Don't get too elaborate in terms of tools. Just get started. I use a small ruler and a few Sharpie pens.

5. Stay connected to your Future Log goals. Keep refining, adding, deleting as needed. But keep that the central focus of this endeavor. 

Okay, forgive this nerdy blog entry. I feel a little silly for sharing this. But Anna seemed to geek out with me, so maybe it's something that other writers will find useful. If so, let me know! If not, maybe my ugly layout photos were entertaining.