How to Use a Bullet Journal for Writing in 2020

I’m a snob when it comes to organizing, collecting, and using notebooks. That’s why the new year is always my favorite time. I get to sit down with a crisp, new notebook and plan out my new year.

Last year, I discovered the magic of bullet journals — a collection of all my scatterbrained ideas into one universal journal affectionately called the #bujo. The great thing was, it was an all-in-one resource. I planned school, schedules, writing, journals, lists, habit trackers, and more. It was my go-to place for everything I needed.

As writers, the bujo can be a huge asset to planning our next year — think of it as creating your own editorial calendar, collecting writing ideas, plotting novels, keeping track of your content, dumping character sketches, etc. It can literally be used for everything! The best part is, it can be as messy and clean as you want — it belongs to you so create it however you want!

You don’t need anything fancy to start, so pick up a fresh notebook and pen or pencil and get going.

Create your bujo index

First off, number your first 50 pages or so (you can always write the rest in later). Depending on the size of your notebook or lines or dot grid, mark off the first few pages as your index. Because I write small to begin with, I started with two pages in my first bujo. In the next notebook I bought, it had a built in Index that I used.

Develop a journal key

I’ll be completely honest — I don’t follow this key at all. Sometimes my heart wants to use little arrows or triangles or circles or bullets. It just doesn’t care. Still, if you’re needing a system to mark the difference between events, tasks, notes, or more, a key is a helpful place to start.

Fill out your future log

Personally, I start with the future log which essentially draws out the calendar for the next year. I leave enough space around the little months to write notes as appointments come up. This is where you will keep any notes about upcoming events in months where you haven’t created a monthly log yet.

Create your collections

Here’s where I like to go a bit out of order. I like any big collections of ideas to start at the front of my notebook rather than randomly throughout the book. The collections are where you keep any writing things you’d like to collect (or general things). These can be novel ideas, titles, goals for the year, running lists, prompts, quotes, blog ideas, and more.

Some collections might be month specific such as notes, habit trackers (migraines, self care, writing, etc.), or goals and plans for the month. Think about NaNoWriMo in November!

Collections don’t have to necessarily be the same every month. The bujo is your creation, and you can design it however you want. A tracker that works for you might not work for someone else. Design and create things that make you work more efficiently!

Design your first monthly log

Here’s the thing — I’m creative, but not artistically. Those fancy month layouts that people post on Instagram and Pinterest are not for me. That’s why my personal style is minimalist. I stick to simple title pages with a place to put notes (which I still rarely use).

After this page, you can put any collections that refer to that month. For example, November is National Novel Writing Month so you might have a collection for your word count tracking. Maybe you are editing a novel already written and can have a progress tracker as your monthly collection. You can have as many or as few collections as you want.

Put in your daily log

Because writing last year was a hobby, I didn’t need my daily log to be large. I used one page for each week of the month and had enough space to fill in all the tasks I was doing. This is really where that key comes handy if you use it. You can mark off events, scheduled posts, things you still need to do, and everything else you might need.

The goal of the daily log is not to have a lot of scribbles everywhere. Whatever task you write in, make it as short and sweet as possible. For example, writing this post on Medium would turn into a single bullet like: “Med bujo”. Or, if I had a specific symbol that designated a Medium post, it could just be “~bujo”.

Make sure you leave space for any weekly or daily goals you might have. You can either keep this all in the monthly collection, or, if your goals change by week, make a smaller tracker at the top of your page.

Create a collection you forgot about

The bullet journal is meant to hold everything, but sometimes we forget a collection or something from the beginning of our notebook. There’s nothing against using your next page as a collection, even if you’re in the middle of a month.

Say you started a new novel in the middle of June. You might decide to create a collection called “Plot outline” or “Scene breakdowns”. Maybe you pull character names from a previous collection somewhere else. What if you only started sending submissions in the middle of the year and need to track them?

There are a million possibilities for bullet journal collections. Just because an idea comes to you late doesn’t mean you can’t still include it in your bujo. You can also use these pages as continuations of a collection you started at the front of your notebook. This way you don’t have to worry about setting aside enough pages for a collection.

The best part about a bullet journal is that it is completely fluid. You don’t need a rigid structure to follow, and you can arrange it however you see fit. My spreads change every month depending on what works and what doesn’t. Sometimes I try new spreads that I’ve found on Pinterest or Instagram. Use others for inspiration, but make it your own.

With my new writing goals in 2020, I’m moving to a more formal editorial calendar, but I’m still keeping a version of it in my bujo. That way I always have something with me (because I’m anti-digital calendar because I’m stubborn) and can always keep track of both work and writing. As that develops, I’ll be adapting my schedule and figuring out the best method so I can help you!

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