Bullet Journals for Writers

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?

Image credit: Mario Valdez

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 Index

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.

The Key

Image credit: Mike Rohde

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

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.

Migration

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 can 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.

  1. Handwriting aids retention.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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, using a mechanical pencil and my travel fountain pen.

Bullet Journal Resources

Getting Started
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.

Supplies

There’s a section in the Absolute Write Amazon Store for Bullet Journal supplies; but 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?

My Best Ideas are All Wet

By Sue Marquette Poremba

Without fail, when I am in the shower or the swimming pool, a million article or story ideas flow through my mind. Unfortunately, my notebook isn’t waterproof.

Why the water? Other people sing in the shower. I tend to sing everywhere else, so maybe it is because the shower is the one place where my mouth is shut long enough to get some quality thinking done.

However, I think the best ideas come when you are least able to write them down. When recording my ideas immediately is virtually impossible, my brain goes into overload, but I’ll be lucky if I can remember anything by the time I get to dry land.

It may help too that water is my cheap version of a full-body massage. Water relaxes me. Stress floats away when I sit on the beach, watching the waves wash up on the shore. Rain falling on the roof soothes me to sleep. When I’m in the water, I find my mind uncluttered by thoughts of housework, carpools, and in-laws, allowing my brain to wrap itself around ideas for my writing.

Not only am I completely calm in the water, I’m also completely undisturbed. No one is there to talk to me. Moments completely alone with no other distractions rarely happen outside the water.

In the shower at the gym, my memory drifted to the toddler antics of my now-teenaged daughter, which I turned into a published essay. During a lingering bubble bath, I wondered if the story of an auction would make a nice story (a regional market thought so).

Swimming, while not necessarily the source of the best ideas, gives me the best opportunity to think. There, as my mind works in tandem with my strokes, thoughts flow as complete sentences and paragraphs, with beginnings and endings, an entire article or query letter written, edited, and rewritten during a thirty-minute swim. (I’m convinced that I could complete my novel if I could swim enough laps in one session.)

The problem is keeping the article in my head until I can write it down. I do carry writing goodies with me to the gym, but someone stole my shower stall once when I tried taking a break to jot down some thoughts. At home, there is usually an entourage at the bathroom door, ready to pounce the moment I walk out the door. Swimming? I simply pray that at least a few snippets of the “perfectly written article” will stay with me until I get to my computer. Sometimes that happens—an article about marriage and exercise virtually wrote itself on paper after it was developed in the pool. More often, though, the swimming stories are like dreams—foggy at best, completely forgotten at worst, evaporated by the time I get to the hot tub.

My best ideas are all wet. All I need to do is dry them off.

Sue Marquette Poremba is a freelance writer based in central Pennsylvania. Her writing credits include The Christian Science Monitor, Road King, iParenting.com, and Notre Dame Magazine, among others.

Write an Article a Day: Using an Outline Template

By Larry M. Lynch

So many readers wrote to ask me for my simple article writing template mentioned in “Five Ways Posting to Article Banks Can Spark Your Writing” that I decided to flesh it out just a bit as another complete article. A sincere “Thank you” to all of you who responded so kindly. It was none other than Abraham Lincoln who said, “Whatever you are, be a good one.” Writing practice makes perfect. This format helps me to do just that. It will help you to practice your writing, too—a lot.

Use This Simple Outline Template for Writing Online Articles

Here is the short, simple outline template that I use to tell me if I have enough information for an online article. It also helps me to organize what I have and ensures that I stay on track with the flow of the article. Follow this format and you’ll have absolutely no trouble writing an article each day once you get the hang of it.

First I draft this out by hand and if there’s enough or almost enough information, then I know the article is a “go.” If not, I can either research the additional data I need or simply scrap that article idea for a new one—I always have plenty of ideas, don’t you? On occasion, working through the article outline template will spur the piece or idea into a slightly different direction. That’s fine too, so I just “go with it.” I sincerely hope this basic online article outline template helps you generate more writing faster.

Headline: Write A Killer, Stop-Them-Dead-In-Their-Tracks Article Headline.

You must slam the reader to a screeching halt when he reads your headline. Online, if you don’t grab readers, they’re gone. Your piece won’t even get read as the lost reader tunnels deeper into the bowels of the web and into another author’s article only a couple of mouse clicks or so away.

  • Put reader benefits into a Hooker Headline
  • Use keywords for SEO (search engine optimization)
  • Try out at least four or five different titles for each article
  • Use an online keyword search tool to help narrow down high-frequency and top-rated keywords

Opening Paragraph:Write a killer opening sentence and a grab-’em-by-the-throat first paragraph.

In addition to a Hooker Headline, you’ll need a Hooker opening sentence and paragraph, one that will draw your reader in and give him reasons to start or continue reading. Based on this paragraph readers frequently decide to read the article or not, so make it as strong as you can. You must grab and hold the reader here. Your opening paragraph should be attention-grabbing, short, and descriptive. At times I even use my first paragraph as the “teaser” description of my article.

Main Feature Paragraph 1:

Write at least three supporting sentences for each main point in your article. Typically there are five to seven feature paragraphs to an article. Often though, I’ll write five to seven supporting sentences for each main feature paragraph for a somewhat longer, more in-depth piece. I’ll also add more support for each main feature if there are only three or four of them in the piece. If there are online references or websites you’d like to include, bullet them at the end of the paragraph. You can also include a quote, anecdote, and another reference to flesh out the main feature if you wish. You can open with an anecdote or quote if you have a strong one to pique reader interest.

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quotes
  • Anecdote
  • Reference

Main Feature Paragraph 2:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Main Feature Paragraph 3:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Main Feature Paragraph 4:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Main Feature Paragraph 5:

  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Supporting sentence to illustrate main feature
  • Quote, anecdote or reference (or a combination thereof)

Conclusion (Wrap Up):

Write a strong closing summary of your piece as a conclusion to your arguments or information. Leave the reader hungry for more—you’re not writing a definitive piece on the topic. You don’t have the time, space or necessity for that. Do give plenty of GOOD information, but if there are things you must leave out— great. Include them in another article—a part two, etc., if you need to. There’s no problem with that. Be sure to dress up, clean up, and edit what you’ve written– at least twice. Finally, you could add a phrase similar to “For even more helpful advice and information on ‘your topic’ go to ‘your website, e-mail, etc.'” It’s really a nice touch if you can tie your closing in with your opening.

I sincerely hope this basic article outline template helps you generate more writing faster. Again, following this format, you’ll have absolutely no trouble writing an article each day once you get the hang of it. If you have a question, doubt or just want to let me know how it’s working out for you, please feel free to drop me an e-mail—even after you’re famous. Good luck and keep writing.

Prof. Larry M. Lynch is a bilingual copywriter, expert author, and photographer specializing in business, travel, food, and education-related writing in South America. His work has appeared in Transitions Abroad, South American Explorer, Escape from America, Mexico News, and Brazil magazines. He teaches at a university in Cali, Colombia.

20 Ways to Keep Your Writing Inspiration and Creativity High

By Catherine Franz

When we are stressed or blocked, it is wise to make a change so that we don’t stay in that place. Yet many times we forget some of the simple things that we can do for ourselves, quickly and easily, to bring our inspiration back and increase our creativity.

  1. If you usually type your first drafts, hand write them. Nothing compares to the feeling of the ink melting into the paper and the surge of that creative flow.
  2. If you spend too much time at the computer, take a break every hour. Go for a walk or just sit outside in the sun. Even five minutes in a winter sun does wonders for a mood and creativity.
  3. Flip through magazines or books. Their colors and ideas will give you sparks and switch your attitude. Blue and green can reduce your stress levels by 30% or more.
  4. Add strong smells to the room. Light scented candles around you, visit the fruit aisle at the grocery store, or go to a store that is heavily scented. Find an orange or strawberries and smell it. Both will change a mood or create inspiration. Smells awaken your creativity. Smells trigger memories and are a great method to rekindle stories from the past.
  5. Go see or rent an inspirational movie. Relaxation time is important. You can even take your notebook and record inspirational phases. Afterwards, free write what those phrases bring up from your subconscious.
  6. Read a book that stirs you or sparks your creativity. If you prefer, read poetry.
  7. Look at bold and bright colors for a few minutes. These change your mood.
  8. Talk with a friend about your topic to flesh out ideas and creativity. Record the conversation, with his or her permission of course, and play it back to hear the little nuances that you might have missed.
  9. Write an e-mail to a friend to tell him or her what you want to accomplish. If you are stuck, say so and ask for help.
  10. Check in with your vibrational energy and do something to switch it into high gear. Take a shower. Go for a walk. Turn on some music and dance naked for a few minutes.
  11. Hire a virtual assistant to do some typing so that you can stay focused on writing. You can fax your writing or dictate it into the computer and send her a voice file for transcription.
  12. Go to church for the noon service or whisper a prayer or two. This reconnects your energy with the universe and replenishes what might be missing.
  13. Complete an appreciation exercise. Pick something around you, like the telephone, lamp, or pen. Talk to it and tell it how much you appreciate having the electricity to turn it on, the opportunity to write with a tool that has the ink inside (not like a quill), or the softness of the paper you write on. Be grateful for that you have and not what you are missing. Or make a list of “count your blessing” items.
  14. Write a personal note to friends or family and tell them how much you love them, appreciate their thoughtfulness, or kindness.
  15. Authentic, flat-out, raw laughter frees the psyche and opens the creativity process.
  16. Find a setting with lots of trees and flowers and feel nature. If the weather permits, take off your shoes and socks and feel the grass between your toes. Nature has a way of freeing our spirit and renewing our soul.
  17. If guilt or a past incident has captured your mind, write a “Dear Me” letter and ask yourself for forgiveness to to loosen its grip and expand your freedom.
  18. Are you used to writing in a quiet place? Find a noisy place to write, like McDonald’s or the mall. When your space is noisy, you will have to focus harder in order to write with clarity.
  19. Go for a quiet leisurely drive, listen to a favorite CD. You can sing out of tune and no one will notice (laughter allowed).
  20. Do something nice for someone else that you wouldn’t normally do and be a gracious receiver of a hug.

That was exciting, wasn’t it? Post this list in a conspicuous place so that it is readily available when you need it. Do one or two of these daily and keep on writing. Your readers are waiting to read your words.

Catherine Franz is a marketing industry veteran, a Certified Business Coach, Certified Teleclass Leader and Trainer, speaker, author, and Master Attraction Practitioner. Business clients include professional firms, restaurants, retail stores, coaches, writers, the marketing challenged, and independent professionals across the globe from Japan to New Zealand.

The Value of Writing Prompts

By Uma Girish

I often feel like a motor car, for I have starting trouble.
Pen poised over paper, I wait for the words to trickle.
Rarely do they gush from the word “go.”

When my brain does the freeze-mode act, I flick the computer on and run through my “Favorites” list. I look for a writing prompt that will thaw my machinery. I pick one that catches my fancy, then set my timer and start to scribble.

I don’t know about you, but I’m a big believer in the value of writing prompts to rev up my writing session. A writing prompt lubricates my creaking creative joints and limbers them up nicely so they can do cross stretches when I need fresh, inspiring ideas. Believe me, it works.

What I do is very simple. I give myself a program to follow.

  1. For the next fifteen minutes I will write non-stop.
  2. I will correct nothing; I will simply let my thoughts flow, whether they’re good, bad, or ugly.
  3. I will not think about grammar, punctuation, and syntax; I will let the words pour out of me.
  4. I will start my writing session with a positive reinforcement — I know I can do this really well.

When the timer goes off, I zoom back to the real world, and find I want to write more. When I read what I’ve written, I cringe, groan, shudder. A lot of it needs re-working, but I invariably spot a gem or two in the huge word rubble. Gems that I can polish and buff for later use.

I’ve actually sold a lot of work that started out as ordinary writing prompts and morphed into personal essays and short stories. What happens when I consciously turn off the Inner Critic is that my writing is unshackled, my ideas flow freely. I find a glimmer of something, the beginnings of an idea, a phrase I didn’t think I could produce. All valuable grist for the writing mill.

Many of us have trouble deciding how to start, and what to write when we arrive at our desks. I have at least 4–5 jobs on my To-Do list but I sometimes cannot figure out if I’m in the mood for a personal essay, a work of fiction, or an article that needs to tap into my reporting skills. So I choose my prompt of the day. Write about jealousy. Sounds simple enough. I’ve been jealous a million times, over issues big and small, and I can surely unearth one anecdote worth telling. I follow my instinct and slowly feel the sluice gates open wider and wider.

There was a time when my writing day got off to a predictable start with a prompt. With my top-heavy To-Do list I find myself diving into my assignments right away these days. But I always turn to a prompt to rescue me from dry days and find that it unclogs word passages and frees up idea highways.

Sites that Offer Writing Prompts

Uma Girish is a freelance writer based in Chennai (India), and mother of an 8-year-old. She writes both adult and children’s fiction. Her articles on parenting, freewheeling columns and short fiction have appeared in newspapers, magazines and websites. She has written extensively about coping with grief. You can find her Web site at UmaGirish.com