Writing is a messy process. For an organized person like me, revising a novel can feel overwhelming.
There is so much to do: Develop flat characters, adjust the plot, review feedback from critique partners, check for overused words (“just” is my bugaboo). Not to mention detail work! If a character is described as wearing braces, how often do the braces have to be mentioned throughout the book? Should that detail be cut?! Her bands are red and black in Chapter 3, but purple in Chapter 12. Ack!!
This describes my state of mind in February, when I started a major rewrite of my next middle grade novel. The whole project felt like too much.
Then, inspiration struck. For a few months, I’d swapped out my personal to-do lists for a bullet journal. And while I didn’t follow #bujo techniques to the letter, the journal was cutting back on my list-writing time and helping me stay organized. Why not apply these techniques to my revision notebook?
This Saturday, I’m running a workshop for our local SCBWI chapter, “Bullet Journaling Your Revision Notebook.” You can find details and RSVP here.
My colored pencils and markers are packed. I’ve got stickers and rulers. I’m excited to share ideas with other authors.
This workshop and the resources in this post are for everyone, whether you:
- have never heard of bullet journals;
- are #bujo curious;
- use a bullet journal for day-to-day, but haven’t tried one for writing;
- or you’re are a literary bullet journal master.
My favorite YouTube videos for simple bullet journals:
How to Bullet Journal
*Short explanation from bullet journal system creator Ryder Carroll
A Dude’s Bullet Journal Walk-through
*Great for the basics
Easy Ways to Decorate Your Bullet Journal
*If you want to learn simple hand-lettering technqiues and embellishments
Bullet Journal for Writers
*Not for perfectionists! I love this bullet journaler’s inspiration page based on Lord of the Rings.
10 Bullet Journal Hacks and Ideas
*Simple, inventive ideas you can incorporate into your journal. These focus on organization and are great for Washi tape lovers.
Check out these website and blog posts about bullet journals, especially for writers:
*Where the whole craze started
Something Delicious, “Bullet Journaling for Fiction Writers”
*Lists collection ideas for WIPs (Works in Progress)
BoHo Berry, “NaNoWriMo Bullet Journal”
*Ideas for setting up a new project
Writer’s Edit, “The Complete Guide to Bullet Journaling for Writers”
*Includes tips on tracking submissions and feedback from publishers
Page Flutter, “Inside My Writing Journal: The Ultimate Study in Craft”
*Our local SCBWI events coordinator, Sarah Maynard, found this amazing resource. Includes photos and explanations of color coding, and great journal page ideas/spreads for writers: 7 Key Elements of Fiction, The Hero’s Journey, and Three Act Structure.
Confessions of a Bullet Journaler by picture book author Marcie Flinchum Atkins
*There are some great page ideas for writers here: Mentor texts by category, “Book of Stars” — which is a “well-done you!” spread.
Peek Inside Kate Messner’s Bullet Journal
*Even famous authors use #bujo. It’s fun to see some of this beloved children’s author’s journal pages.
The Mixed-up Files Middle Grade Blog
This post has an extensive list of resources for writers who want to try bullet journaling.
The biggest tip I can share is this: Do what works for you.
I had a three-week window to complete my revision and turn it in to my editor.
My revision journal is profoundly lacking in calligraphy, embellishments, and colorful flourishes. But it has an index (the single most helpful bullet journal tool) and helped keep my thoughts organized as I was re-writing.
My everyday bullet journal has a few pages dedicated to book notes, including this one, decorated with a doodle.
POST UPDATE: June, 2017
Thanks to everyone who came out to the SCBWI bullet journaling workshop. We shared a lot of information and ideas for organizing your writing with a bullet journal.
This post update includes more details on bullet journaling techniques, ideas for “collections” (notebook sections) for your writing project, and a list of writing-related pages that the workshop attendees brainstormed.
- Bullet Journaling Techniques
Ryder Carroll’s bullet journal technique includes a coding system, organizing items by symbols for TASK, NOTE, EVENT, COMPLETE, and MIGRATE. This allows for “rapid logging” of to do items.
I prefer to organize by priority, so I skip these symbols. Instead, I color code: RED for high priority tasks, ORANGE for medium priority, and YELLOW for things I’ll do if I have time.
Another useful bullet journal suggestion is scanning. Quickly review pages for open tasks, then assess them. Are they still worth your time? If not, cross them out. If so, either migrate them to a current task list, or schedule them for later.
A new tool to me is threading. (I mistakenly called this “channeling” during the workshop — sorry, all!) Threading is a way to group similar pages, e.g. all of your pages with plot ideas, so you can find and review them quickly. There’s a great explanation at Tiny Ray of Sunshine.
2. Setting up a 5 section notebook.
If you’re revising a whole novel, you might need a bigger, sloppier notebook with lots of space to explore and create.
Once you’ve set aside several pages for an index, the next step is deciding what will go in each of the five notebook sections. In this way, you’re organizing first, then plugging in notes.
Our workshop group came up with a list of suggested sections for an author’s revision notebook. In #bujo-speak, these sections or grouped pages are called collections. When you’re setting up your notebook, choose the 5 that work best for your story and genre.
If you’re working on SF/F or historical fiction, you may need an entire section for setting.
- General Notes and Themes
I found it helpful to have a catch-all section in my revision notebook.
- Main Characters
- Minor Characters
If your book has more than a handful of minor characters, this section could have a page dedicated to each person.
I liked having one section set aside for notes from my critique partners and suggestions from my editor.
3. Ideas for individual pages
Now that you’ve got your notebook sections set up, think about some specific pages that might be helpful. Here are the ones we came up with.
Note: I added pages to my revision notebook as I went along/as needed.
- General Notes and Themes
Word count tracker or log
Problems to fix/To-do list
- Main Characters
Character profiles or interviews
- Minor Characters
Ideas for names
Food in this world, era, or culture
Books read/Research sources
Author/book spread for comparables, with quotes, ideas, and notes
Chapter by chapter plot overview from antagonist’s POV
What ifs/”out there” ideas
Calendar of events/story timeline
For picture books, 32 thumbnail layout
Scene by scene work tracker
- Not Writing-specific, but helpful!
Wins for the week
And here are a few last, non-bullet-journal, resources shared by the group.
- Best writing blog: Chuck Wendig’s Terrible Minds (High tolerance for adult language required)
- Best craft book: The Emotion Thesaurus, by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi
- Another blog to check out: Modern Mrs. Darcy
- TBR: OCDaniel, by Wesley King (middle grade, Edgar Award winner)
POST UPDATE: December, 2017
We had another gathering of authors and would-be bullet journalers at the Eastport-Annapolis Neck Community Library this month. In addition to all of the tips above, we brainstormed some new page ideas. With several historical fiction authors at the table, we talked about the importance of research and as a form of world-building.
General Notes and Themes
“Word” Building (vocab lists, interesting or favorite words, definitions)
List of symbols and metaphors used in the novel
For historical fiction, research and useful details
Dress for this period and/or climate
Characters in order of appearance
Character’s driving need, guiding question
Places to visit
List of everything that could go wrong for the protagonist/potential obstacles
Dramatic structure map
List of key scenes or “set pieces”
Have you tried using a bullet journal? How has it helped your writing process? Leave a comment!