Finding a good planner for writing can be a struggle. I looked for years and couldn’t find one that worked well with what I needed as a writer. And truth be told, I didn’t really know what I needed as a writer because I was (and still am) trying to figure out my process. I only knew two things: I hated buying planners that I didn’t use because they didn’t work for me and I was going to need a planner that was as flexible as my writing process.
Enter the bullet journal.
There is so much information out there about bullet journals. The internet is saturated with it. You could literally spend days watching people on YouTube put together complicated bullet journal spreads and talk about the way it helps their productivity. This makes bullet journaling seem daunting, time consuming, and impossible. But at its core, bullet journaling is flexible, so it can be as complicated or as simple as you like.
The Bullet Journal: A Quick Overview
A bullet journal takes different forms for different people. For some people, it is an art form, and for others, it is a simple system to track and maintain ideas and tasks. Ryder Carroll, the creator of the bullet journal, defines a bullet journal as an analog system used to track the past, organize the present and plan the future. He created it because needed a system that could be flexible and work with his ADHD. He used a blank notebook so he could adapt his spreads for exactly what he needed at the time he needed it.
Turns out this fit my bill as well.
Bullet Journaling for Writing
Even though this is my third year bullet journaling, I am only now figuring out some of the ways I can use my bullet journal to help me with my writing. Regardless, I wanted to share some of the discoveries I have made so far, fully acknowledging that I might have to do another one of these blog posts at a future date sharing other discoveries I make as I go.
Here are some of the spreads/methods that I have discovered work well with my writing process so far.
Monthly Focus Spread
I developed a monthly focus spread as a way to get a high level view on the big projects I have on my docket. I include tasks I needed to get done, their due dates, plus any additional goals I am working on. I also include a writing quote to help keep me motivated and a habit tracker, if I need it.
The Editorial Calendar Spread
In January, I made a goal to publish a blog post every week, as well as start working on my social media presence. I knew I would need a way to plan my content, so I pulled together an editorial calendar that fits in after my Monthly Focus Spread. My editorial calendar one month ahead of the current month to help me always be planning ahead.
I run my editorial calendar by writing my content on sticky notes, so that if I need to reschedule something, it is easy to move it around. Once the content comes out, I write the content title on the day I published it in pen on the editorial calendar so I can look back and see what came out when.
Dual Daily Planning Spread
Because I use my bullet journal for more than just writing, I have my daily planning spreads separated down the middle with a side for writing and a side for daily tasks. I arrange my them into a weekly view to limit my space for tasks because I work a day job and tend to overschedule my evenings. This has worked well for me because it forces me to think about the top 3 things I need to do in each category each day, keeping my list at a (semi) manageable level.
As you can see, I overloaded this particularly week because I was heading out on a trip.
One other thing I do is put a content sticky note from my editorial calendar on my daily spread the day it goes out. I didn’t include a photo of that here, but this declutters my editorial calendar and I gives me a traveling reminder of the content I’m supposed to be preparing.
Collections can be any information you need to reference frequently or would find useful. Here are a few that I found really worked for me.
Cool Words I Learned
Every so often, I will come across new words I would like to add to my vocabulary. I decided putting them into a collection in my bullet journal was the best way for me to keep them on hand.
I also did this because my husband and I started getting really competitive with word games, and I realized having a list of really long words to learn would give me an edge.
Motivational Quotes Page
I’m always looking for quotes to include with my focus spreads, and as of January, for my Instagram. I started writing them down in collections so that when I needed them, I wouldn’t have to go fishing around for that one quote that I saw that one time by that one guy…
TBRs and Reading Log
Since one of the things I do regularly on this blog is book reviews, I created spreads detailing the books I read, the books I want to read, and whether or not I have reviewed them for my blog.
This is super useful if you are doing a lot of reading for research and are trying to keep track of all the books you want to read in the genre you plan to write in.
In December last year, I began research into building a social media presence. I was ingesting a lot of information from a lot of different sources, and I knew I would want to reference back to the information I was learning frequently. So, I gave it its own section and it has proved to be a helpful reference over the course of this year.
One of my new favorite things has been keeping all my notes in my bullet journals. This year, I began keeping all my writing class and writing conference notes in tabbed sections of my journal. No extra notebooks and all my notes are all in one place! I even taped in the business cards of people I met so that I would have context on who they are and what we talked about because I am so bad at keeping in contact with people I meet.
NaNoWriMo Word Counts
I’m still trying to figure out exactly how I’m going to meld my NaNoWriMo experience with my bullet journal (graphing by hand is a nightmare), but here is my first iteration on working something out.
Next to my focus spreads, I have a monthly calendar spread, and this past November I took to writing my daily word counts in the boxes. That was a really great way to get a quick overview on how my word counts were looking everyday.
Tips and Tricks I Learned Along the Way
Learning to bullet journal has been a journey for me, and I had to figure out how to do it so it best fit my brain. Here are some quick things I learned that I wished I had known before I started.
- TAB YOUR COLLECTIONS PAGES. Collections are awesome, but not if they get lost. The first time I tried collections, they got buried, became half filled out (or even half designed) and were useless. The moment I marked them with a washi tape tab, I used them religiously.
- CREATING YOUR INDEX LAST WILL TEACH YOU HOW YOUR BRAIN WORKS. The original bullet journal method has you creating your index in real time, but I couldn’t keep up with the page numbering and the index logging as I went. So when I filled my first bullet journal, I went through and catalogued what was in there, grouped them, and discovered what things my brain wanted to take notes on and what was totally useless. It allowed me to create more effective spreads and keep track of things that actually mattered to me, instead of what I thought I should care about because that is what all the other BuJo-ers out there were doing.
- IF YOU ARE RESISTING OR AVOIDING THE USE OF YOUR BULLET JOURNAL, YOUR METHOD IS TOO COMPLICATED. This is huge. Many people put so much artistic effort into their journal, and I just can’t do that. I also can’t consistently make super duper complicated spreads. I went through a phase where I was creating a weekly overview spread, then breaking it down into daily spreads with hourly calendars and stuff. I used it for a while, got tired of drawing the stupid things, and started avoiding my bullet journal. Once I realized what was happening, I got rid of daily/hourly spreads and just went back to my limited space weekly spreads.
I realize that the bullet journal is a method that won’t work for everyone, but it is a method that has worked for me. This is totally an iterative process and I’m currently investigating how I can better use my bullet journal as a project tracker because that is something I desperately need for my writing projects. But that is the beauty of the bullet journal! Who knows? Maybe in the next months or I’ll be able to come up with a system that works.
What are you looking for in a writing planner? Will the bullet journal fill your needs? If you already use a bullet journal for writing, what have been the methods or spreads that have worked for you? Let me know in the comments below!
Carroll, Ryder, director. How to Bullet Journal, 21 May 2015, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fm15cmYU0IM&t=75s.
How To, ADHD, director. Bujo Update + Tips From the Inventor of the Bullet Journal! 21 Dec. 2017, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TTlHT3d2Grs. Accessed 2020.