Kellye Garrett

Bullet Journal Tips For Writers

I love my iPhone. If I’m being honest, it’s the first thing I reach for when I wake up. If I had a dollar for every time I check it during the day, I’d be a millionaire in a month. But as much as I love my iPhone, there’s just one thing I simply cannot use it for: planning.

Call me old school, but I prefer to write things down. And apparently, there’s a reason. Studies have found that reading and writing on paper is actually better for your brain.

When it comes to planning, I use something called a bullet journal. A bullet journal—or BuJo for short—is an analog system created by Ryder Carroll that’s part planner, part journal and part scrapbook. You create it so it’s essentially whatever you need it to be at that exact moment. Need to brainstorm ideas for a Mother’s Day party? It’s got you. Need to write down your daily schedule? It’ll do it. What about keep track of how much water you’re drinking each day? It’ll help you do that too. In fact, I’ve done all of these things in my BuJo and more.

All you need to start one is a notebook and a pen. Once you number your pages and create an Index to keep track of what’s on each page, you’re pretty much free to run wild. And if you have ever checked the #bujo hashtag on Instagram, you’ll see the amazing things people do with their bullet journals. It can be a bit intimidating to a newbie. The first time I tried it a few years ago, it didn’t take. But after spending tons of money each year on pre-printed planners I never used because they didn’t fit my life, I revisited bullet journaling again last year and fell in love.

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I fell so much in love that—in addition to my everyday bullet journal—I created one specifically for writing projects. I’ve always kept notebooks when starting each book in my Detective by Day series, but they were never organized. It was more just me using the pages as a brain dump where I scribbled whatever came to mind and then struggled to read my handwriting later. So it made sense to be more organized by creating a bullet journal. Plus, I figured, if I made it look pretty, I’d be way more willing to write. I’m that writer who finds writing to be a painful experience. (Spoiler: It still is. As Dorothy Parker once said, “I hate writing. I love having written.”)

When I developed my writing BuJo, I essentially put my informal story development process on paper and combined it with other things I realized I needed. Then I grabbed my ruler, felt tip pen and colored highlighters and got to work. The finished product isn’t perfect looks-wise but it’s perfect for me. It includes:

  • Yearly calendar: I found a printable online and then taped it in the journal. Book 3 in my series is due July 1 so it’s helpful to see an overview of how many days I have to make this happen.
  • Monthly calendars: Again, I found pretty calendars to print. I use these to keep track of my progress. I ordered some neon color coded dots from Amazon. I’ll stick one on each day that I wrote, include my page count and then pat myself on the back!
  • Milestones: I work better when I can break a big task into something smaller, so I have a box for major milestones like Outline and First Draft. I’ll color them in when they’re completed. I also have a separate page where I keep track of when I hit page count milestones as well.
  • Story Breakdown: This is essentially my story in one place including the logline, victim/crime details, themes, setting and time frame.
  • Act Breakdown: I used the three-act structure when writing so this just lists each act’s investigative question/focus and end of the act twist. I stole this basic idea from Hallie Ephron’s book, Writing and Selling Your Mystery Novel.
  • Character List: I write a series so I have several main, recurring and new characters in each book. This helps me easily keep track of everyone! For my main characters, it’s essentials like age, height, etc. For new characters, it’s more their role in the investigation be it suspect or witness.
  • And finally, I have my favorite thing in my BuJo: the character name list. I listed the entire alphabet one page and filled in any names I’ve used throughout the series that start with that letter. I discovered tend to love names that start with J or M. Names that start with C? Not so much. It makes it easy when I need to name a new character.

This is what works for me. It might not work for you but that’s the beauty of a bullet journal. If you do one, figure out what you need to help make finishing your latest project as painless as possible, so—like Dorothy Parker—you can proudly say that you “have written.”

What about you? How do you keep your life (and your writing) organized? Anyone else BuJo?”

**This article originally appeared in the March 2018 issue of Guppies First Draft newsletter.**

22 thoughts on “Bullet Journal Tips For Writers

  1. I love my bullet journal!. Took a class for children’s writers on “Using a Bullet Journal for Writing” taught by SCBWI instructor, Laura Shovan. Check out her blog. What do I love? Using colored pens to be creative, because I am not an illustrator, just a colorful person who wants to have fun with writing and planning. Thanks for sharing, Kellye!!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Very cool. I’ve always wondered how these work. Thanks so much explaining! I’m tempted, but have a feeling I’d never find the time to figure it out; I have the same feeling about Scrivener.

    But I’m also someone who needs organize through an old-timey datebook. About fifteen years ago, I discovered Letts of London datebooks – but one specific style. I only buy the datebooks that have a small year-monthly calendar that runs along the bottom of the two open pages. It makes life so much easier when I’m planning ahead. I just look down and there’s the whole year.

    I’m also a compulsive list maker. The kind of person who puts “Look at list” ON an actual list! The girl who took over my apartment bedroom after I graduated college said she was still finding lists I’d made and notes to myself six months after I moved out.

    Liked by 3 people

    • The planner community calls it Planner Peace when you finally find the planner you love. Looks like you found your Planner Peace so no need to mess with it. The reason I love bullet journaling is b/c I couldn’t find a planner that worked for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Great post, Kellye! It’s nice to see how someone actually uses these. I scribble notes everywhere, so I bought a nice planner with places for notes, a vision board and even a spot for a “mind map.” Almost three months into 2018 and I’ve yet to make a mark in it. Sigh.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. I’m way too lazy to write stuff down, so I try to keep it all in my brain. It seems to work, but it also allows me to put things I want to do over things I should be doing. Hmm… Maybe if I wrote stuff down, I’d do better at getting house work done.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. Love this–you made such pretty pages, K! Thanks for sharing.

    This is so me > “It was more just me using the pages as a brain dump where I scribbled whatever came to mind and then struggled to read my handwriting later.” I have a small spiral notebook where I make lists of things I need to do/change. It makes sense to me at the time, but if I wait to long to make the changes on the MS and I look at the list, I’m often baffled by what I meant. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

  6. You make a strong case! I love systems, but I’ve never found one that really stuck. Maybe it’s time to try bullet journaling. Oooh, maybe you could do one of those 15 minute long talks at left Coast about it, just for us! 😊

    Liked by 1 person

  7. Kellye, great post.
    I have looked at the BuJo system. Would love to use it. But I can’t seem to wrap my head around it. I will keep looking at it though, cause I’m always willing to try something new until i find what works for me.
    Yeah, I have 2 planners. One for work (has to look official in case it goes to court) and one for home (Erin Cindren). My personal one is vertical, with 3 daily sections, home, noveling and blogging. And because my life is so busy, I use post it’s on what I want to do for the week ipuntil I do it. Then it becomes permanent. And decorative.
    I do have a story bible I’m in the process of reorganizing and revamping so it makes more sense. One for my faux novels and one for my short stories.
    And yeah, I use Scrivener as well. I’m too organized, to the point where organizing takes away from writing!

    Liked by 1 person

  8. So impressed, Kellye–your bujo is a true work of art!(Do you still have your passion planner?) I’m currently trying to use up all the planners and blank journals I’ve purchased in the past few years to keep any brilliant idea seedlings in one place
    (or at least a few). Sadly, I am just too undisciplined and disorganized to do this. I lasted 2 “notecards” with Scrivener. And I have a beautiful set of colored pencils and coloring books I never even opened. (Don’t think they’re even a thing anymore.) Sigh.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. I wish there was more pictures! I love the bullet journals it’s not for me though I can never stay organized and it always get messy but what I do is a command center – that’s what I call it lol


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