Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Organized Writer: A Case for Non-Fancy Bullet Journaling

By Angela Quarles, @AngelaQuarles

Part of the Indie Author Series

As we wrap up another year here at Fiction University, I thought I'd spotlight the biggest savior for me this past year, organization-wise. In of my earliest posts here I talked about how I found myself back to being a paper planner. I still am, though the type of planner has evolved. Now I believe I've found "planner peace" ever since settling on the bullet journal system.

What is a bullet journal?

Created by Ryder Carroll, at its simplest, it's a bulleted list of tasks that you write down. But there's also a way to log future tasks, which is where the magic comes into play. One of the problems I had with paper planners was that each day was different for me as an indie writer. Some days I had a ton of stuff going on, and other times, not so much. Plus there were some repetitive tasks, and also ones I needed to remember to do later and my paper planners were just not capturing this stuff for me. The pre-printed layouts were too confining.

Instead, a bullet journal is organic. It expands to be as much as you need on a given day or week. It acts like an extension of my brain, capturing every little detail.

Proceed with Caution: There be dragons!

Do NOT get sucked into all the pretty Pinterest and Instagram posts about bullet journaling. I made the mistake of doing so last year and it prevented me from adopting this system for months because I believed it was too much work. Those pretty posts make you believe you have to do these intricate layouts with to-die-for handwriting, and you don't. You simply don't. Because I believed this initially, I was like, who has time to do all that? I'm trying to save time, people!

Finally, because I just was not using my existing planner well, I decided to try bullet journaling, but I promised myself to only do the bare bones at first. If I got the hang of it and wanted to get fancier, I could, I told myself. That was on August 1st, and I haven't looked back. AND I use the thing every day. I do not know how I'd have managed to stay on top of my hectic fall release schedule without it.

If you'd like to try the system, here's the bare bones tutorial. Once you get the hang of it, and IF writing pretty and doodling brings you zen, then by all means start getting fancy, but don't make the mistake of equating bullet journaling with the fancy stuff like I did.

My Bullet Journal parts

Since I also love traveler's notebooks (TN), and already had one, I decided to use a Moleskine Cahier notebook inside my TN. I also went a little rogue and opted to use two notebooks inside my TN. The first one is for all of my calendar stuff. Basically, it contains about two months of all of my tasks, events, plus some diary notations and photos I printed out on my Polaroid Zip. Once it's filled up, I shelve it and start a new month.

In my second notebook, I put my longer-term collections. These are discussed in the tutorial, so I won't go into it here, but I knew that I'd be filling my notebooks up fast, and I didn't want to have these collections, which can take longer to fill, or are static, to be rewritten every time I moved to a new month.

I've also started to use it as a memory keeper. Each night before I go to bed, I pull this into my lap and write out my next day's list. Sometimes, I'll make diary notations of how my day went, but I don't always. That's been wonderful because I don't feel a pressure to write diary entries if I don't want to. If I have something to note, I note it, but otherwise I move on. I also will sometimes get fancy when I've been to an event I want to remember--I'll print out fave pics on my Polaroid Zip and paste them in, etc.

Peek Inside

Here's a pic of my traveler's notebook (which I made myself)

My simple monthly and weekly spreads. Nothing fancy here:

An example of a Collection I have in my second notebook. On the left is the second page of my Launch Blueprint, so that I can refer to it each time a launch approaches and I can fill in my tasks accordingly. On the right is a task flow of things for me to do around Cover and Blurb.

And these last two are spreads I made when I was drafting a recent book. I decided to get a little fancy and make a fun thing for me to fill out at the bottom for each 1000 words I finished. The other page is a tally of my sprints.

Wrapping Up

If you've heard of bullet journal and have been intrigued but intimidated by all the fancy spreads, don't be. Take a "page" from me and just keep it simple. You want it to work for you, not have it be something you're afraid to do because you're not artistic or don't have time to do all that fancy lettering.

Now, that's not to say there isn't value in that. If you're someone who loves that, by all means go for it! I know many writers who find it soothing to sit down on Sunday and do their weekly spread and let their creative juices fly. If that's you, go for it! But if it's not, don't be thinking that's what it's about, when it's doesn't have to be.

Have you tried a bullet journal? Do you have any questions for me?

Angela Quarles is a USA Today bestselling author of time travel and steampunk romance. Her debut novel Must Love Breeches swept many unpublished romance contests, including the Grand Prize winner of Windy City's Four Seasons contest in 2012. Her steampunk, Steam Me Up, Rawley, was named Best Self-Published Romance of 2015 by Library Journal. Angela loves history, folklore, and family history. She decided to take this love of history and her active imagination and write stories of romance and adventure for others to enjoy. When not writing, she's either working at the local indie bookstore or enjoying the usual stuff like gardening, reading, hanging out, eating, drinking, chasing squirrels out of the walls, and creating the occasional knitted scarf.

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About Must Love More Kilts

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  1. Hi Angela!
    I started to use Bullet journal over a year ago and I love it ever since. As you said, the preprinted diaries are just not working for me, because there are days when I am not using it at all and I think it's a waste of paper to have blank pages and I hate wasting paper.
    But I have to say I love all the videos and pretty pictures. I know that I won't every be that artsy. I cannot really draw like that and I don't have the patience to try to learn it. I'd rather read a book. But those videos are incredibly relaxing, especially those where there is music playing and you just watch people to doodle and draw. I am fascinated by that. Plus there are some great tips in those videos. So after coming to peace with fact that you won't doodle like them, I recommend them.
    By the way I love the TN! How did you make it yourself?? I now purchased something similar and I'll see how I will end up using it. But I can't stop looking at it and touching it and playing with it. Hopefully it will come to good use :)

  2. I started bullet journaling early this year and have fallen in love with it. My handwriting is atrocious and I can't draw a straight line to save my life, but I love the artsy potential. Easy solution: let yourself love stickers again! I now have a HUGE collection of stickers and washi tape to fill my BuJo with color. Some days I only have a few things to journal and sometimes I have a full page. I got about 7 months out of my classic Moleskine and I expect a couple more out of my current Leuchturm. I really, really love being able to look back over the last several months and see what happened in my life. It also made a fun way to track my word count during NaNoWriMo!