Why Bullet Journaling Is Becoming My New Best Friend

illustration of journal with clock aboveI’m typically not a hop-on-the-trend-train person. I’m far more likely to hang back and wait to see how things go for a bit before trying something new.

But I ran across something called bullet journaling lately, and it’s fast becoming the best habit I’ve adopted in a long time. Right up there with regular mammograms and drinking more water.

What’s a bullet journal?

Well, the inventor of the concept has a whole website with explanations about the goals of a bullet journal, how to use it, and tips for customizing it to your life. But I couldn’t find a straightforward definition there, nor really anywhere else. So I’m making up my own. A bullet journal is an analog planner, journal, and idea holder all in one.

Using any journal, notebook, or spiral, you create monthly, weekly, and/or daily planners that work best for you. You keep track of activities, goals, to-dos, and whatever else you wish with bullets, which you can vary to mean different things. You can decorate your journal with stickers, doodles, or any other visuals that help you generate ideas or stay motivated. Each bullet journal can be as unique as the individual who uses it.

And that’s what I’m loving it.

I’ve tried day planners, apps, to-do lists, wall calendars, and all manner of This Will Get You Organized suggestions. The only thing that has consistently worked for me is lined post-it notes where I write down my to-dos for the day. But that never helped me see the overall picture. Now I can keep track of my calendar obligations, my weekly goals (separated into home and work tracks), and have a place to take notes on ideas and research. And I still use my post-it notes; I just tack them into the journal.

One of the best additions is a Serendipity page for each week, where I jot down anything I learned that week about my focus, my work process, or future goals. This wonderful idea came from author Jaye Wells, who talked about how she uses a bullet journal:

The beauty of a bullet journal is:

  • You can use any size or style notebook you want — as cheap or fancy as you desire.
  • You create your own calendars, using whatever format, time periods, or scheduling blocks mesh with the way you work.
  • You can keep track of your calendar, to-dos, and notes all in one place.
  • You can easily see what you’ve done (and celebrate that) and see what you have left to do.
  • You don’t feel penalized for not having accomplished something, because you just move it to the next day’s or week’s list. (Because good intentions gone awry are often not personal failure, but simply Life.)

I’m still exploring how to use my bullet journal, but it’s the first organizational plan that seems to be working for me. It’s taken a bit of time to adapt to this new approach, but I really do think I’m getting more done.

If you want to know more, here’s a video from the designer of bullet journaling:

 

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Remember That Time I Went to France?

Before April 2017, I could never say something like, “Remember that time I went to France?”

I know plenty of people who’ve been to Europe, including all the people I know who live in Europe, but I hadn’t made it there myself until a recent trip with Cruising Writers. I attended a week-long writers workshop/retreat at a château in the French countryside. If that sounds fabulous, you’re right—it was fabulous. Here’s where we were:

View of the Chateau
Chateau Les Carrasses

Yes, a view like that is inspirational. It was a peaceful setting where I could devote attention to story ideas and to my writing.

We also had workshops with fabulous writing coach Margie Lawson, whose deep editing techniques are well-worth studying.

Julie & Margie
Margie Lawson & Me, in the vineyards

I met other amazing writers, who stoked my excitement, filled my well with wisdom, and wrote alongside me in settings like this one:

View from Our Window
Outside Terrace & Heated Pool, as seen from our room

We took brainstorming walks along the back roads flanked with vineyards and flowers in bloom. One of those walks even launched a new idea for a series I’m super-excited to start writing.

Curvy Road and Flowers
French Back Roads where the Muse Visited

This trip solidified my growing belief that new experiences make you a better writer. That could be visiting a museum in your city or it could involve an intercontinental flight and staying a countryside château in France. I’m definitely partial to travel—because you also experience a different setting and culture—but stepping outside your comfort zone matters most.

Now if you’re going to write about some place you haven’t been, I do suggest scheduling a visit. Because my pictures show only a snippet of my experience in France, which included the language, the food, the smells, the textures, the people, and much more. There’s no perfect substitute for being there.

But regardless, get out and experience new things. Hang out with other writers in various parts of their journey. Learn about writing craft and the publishing business from experts, like Margie and the others—which at this retreat included an agent, an editor, a literary translator, and a Kobo representative.

If you’re looking for an opportunity to see more, do more, learn more, check out the next trip planned by Cruising Writers. I’ll be on this September cruise headed to Grand Cayman, Jamaica, and Cozumel, along with writing experts Lisa Cron (author of Wired for Story and Story Genius) and Angela Ackerman (author of The Emotion Thesaurus, The Setting Thesaurus, and much more).

In the meantime, let me leave you with one more photo from France. It’s quite an experience to watch the sunrise over the vineyards. This picture doesn’t fully capture the awesome view, but here you go:

Sunrise (Again) Over the Vineyard
The Sun Also Rises…in France

Au revoir!