Savvy novelists love using a bullet journal while they’re writing. I’m a keen journal-writer, and started using the bullet journal format for my novels several years ago.
Basically, your novel’s bullet journal is: a book journal, a calendar, and a tracker, combined.
Here’s Ryder Carroll’s quick summary of getting started with a bullet journal.
Your bullet journal is your novel’s Bible
When you’re writing a novel, there’s a lot to keep in your mind. Plot, characters, timeline — when you start tinkering with these elements, while you’re writing, the temptation is to go back, and write new scenes, and eliminate scenes. The impulse to fix it NOW is almost irresistible, yet resist it you must.
If you’re keen to try a bullet journal to manage your novel, here are some tips.
1. Use a dedicated journal, paper or digital
I like to use a paper journal for each of my novels, but I’ve also used Evernote. If you’re using Evernote, create a dedicated notebook for each novel. Whatever you use, your aim is to have your journal with you at all times.
2. Create a page for each of your main characters
With a bullet journal, you use one page after another. If you’re using a paper journal, number the pages if they’re not numbered already. Keep the first five pages of your journal to use as an index.
Create a dedicated page for each of your main characters, and for the plot — plus anything else you need to remember.
Enter all your dedicated pages into the index. For example, you might have a page for a character called “Fred”. Later in your journal, you’ll have Fred 2, Fred 3, Fred 4 etc — add those numbers to the index.
One of my main reasons for liking the bullet journal format is that if you choose a journal with blank pages or a dot grid format, you can create mind maps right in the journal.
3. Journal before you begin each writing session
I like to spend five minutes journalling before I start each day’s writing session. This helps me to clear my mind.
When you journal before writing, you can journal about anything you like. You don’t need to journal only about your novel, your goal is to get distracting thoughts out of your head and onto the page.
4. Maintain your index: enter each topic page into your index
Whenever you create a fresh page for a collection of notes on a topic, enter that page into your index.
For example, you might come across some useful information about changes on Amazon’s KDP, or an idea for a new novel. Create a page immediately and enter the page’s title and page number into your index.
5. Enter questions into your bullet journal after each day’s writing
I use paper journals, in the A5 dot grid format. I carry my journals with me, so that I can enter ideas and questions whenever I happen to think of them.
The biggest benefit of using a bullet journal for a novel is that it’s free-form. You can add anything you like at any time. When you get into the habit of creating a bullet journal for each of your novels, you’ll spend less time procrastinating.
The “sagging middle” of a novel is always a challenge. On a recent novel, I got to the 40% point, and panicked. I was sure that I didn’t have enough material to get to the midpoint, and the 80% point; which are the next major plot points.
To steady myself, I created a mind map right in the bullet journal, and soon plotted character changes which would carry me through.
Later, when I was revising the novel, I remembered my panic. Without the bullet journal, I might have floundered for a few days, but the bullet journal enabled me to keep writing without a break.
6. Use your bullet journal to manage your moods if you’re a procrastinator
Do you procrastinate? Here’s what I found useful. Each day, when I enter the date into my novel’s bullet journal, I add a note about my mood. Cheerful, depressed, confident – whatever.
My students have told me that tracking their moods helps them to see how their moods affect their writing; their tracking helps them to avoid procrastination.
7. Capture each important page on your cell phone (for paper journals)
I photograph any important bullet journal page into Evernote.
Think of this as a backup for your journal.
One day I left my bullet journal at a client’s office, and panicked. I picked the journal up next day, but what if I’d lost the journal somewhere else? That’s when I started capturing important pages into Evernote; I commend the process to you.
8. Use your bullet journal as a time log to count words and increase your productivity
One of my 2018 goals was to increase my productivity. I tend to be quite productive. But I waste time, usually on “research.”
I’ve started entering each day’s word count onto a dedicated page in my bullet journal. I can easily check whether I’m on track to meet deadlines.
9. Distracted? Do a brain dump
I write fiction in the early morning. When I’m on deadline for a client project, I write fiction later in the day.
This upsets my routine, so when I get back to working on my novel I’m distracted. Words flow like molasses.
A brain dump, written into my bullet journal, helps.
Try it; it may help you too.
10. Keep your bullet journal: file your journals by year
Your bullet journal contains lots of useful information. So when you’ve completed your novel, file the bullet journal. You never know, you may decide to turn the novel into a series.
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