I love my Bullet Journal for what it can do for me, and one of my favorite things is how it can help with novel writing. It is, to put it simply, a great companion on the emotional roller coaster of a journey that is writing a novel. Or any other long-term project such as a setting out to write a poem every day of the year, writing a certain amount of novellas in a year, short stories etc.
I won’t try to convince anyone that this is the only way to help with writing that novel you always wished to finish. It isn’t. There are many ways to do it, as many as there are people who set out and succeed in finishing that novel.
What I hope you gain from this post comes down to four things:
- A desire to try the system.
- A thorough understanding of how using a Bullet Journal may benefit those writing a novel or some other intensive writing project. Though, I admit, I will be focusing mainly on novels for a variety of reasons; not the least of which is the sheer volume of people who attempt to write a novel each year.
- An understanding of how to choose the right methodology and size for your needs.
- Some examples of the types of pages, also known as collections from now on, that may help when it comes to completing a novel.
So, let’s get this show on the road. We have got a lot of exciting ground to cover after all, and I can’t spend the entire post just talking your ear off without a purpose.
The Benefits Of Bullet Journaling For Novels
In my opinion, there are three main benefits related to novels and Bullet Journals:
- A Bullet Journal allows the user to keep everything in one place. Those pesky Post-Its that keep getting lost will be a thing of the past.
- It easily adapts to the needs of the user in the way the user needs their Journal to adapt.
- As long as someone finds the right size and setup that works for them, a Bullet Journal is just as portable if not more so than an electronic alternative.
This is no doubt a very short list, but I like to think those are the only benefits that matter and all the other ways a Bullet Journals may be great for writers, or anyone, are awesome extras.
Methodology And Bullet Journal Size
A writer can choose just about any methodology for their Bullet Journal setup. A binder, a notebook, a Traveler’s Notebook, and even a set of digital files if that is what they want. I myself am working on switching to a Traveler’s Notebook system for my own writing ephemera.
What a writer chooses has to do with that they need out of their Bullet Journal.
Traditional bound notebooks tend to be what people think when they think Bullet Journal and are, by far, the most popular option.There are so many sizes and levels of paper quality. Enough to suit just about anyone.
What traditional notebooks lack, however, is the ability to move things around. A user may also go through them more quickly depending on how fast they’re filled up.
Binders such an A5 Filofax are great for people who need or just want the freedom to have discrete sections in their Bullet Journal, or to add to certain collections without fear of running out of space for other things. They also let you pick the type of paper you use since virtually any paper can be bought, possibly cut, and even punched to fit. That’s a major plus for those that like a certain kind of paper.
On the other hand, finding a hole punch for something like a B6 binder is a pain in the butt. It may even be impossible or require a specialty hole punch that can cost more than the binder. Someone using this method may also have to decide what to do with pages that they no longer have a use for.
A Traveler’s Notebook or TN is a leather cover that is wrapped around one or more notebooks. Almost like a combination of traditional notebook and binder. It gives the Bullet Journalist the freedom to arrange things the way they want but also keeps things contained.
Unfortunately, it’s also a system where unneeded booklets, called inserts, have to be gotten rid of or archived in some way at least for the duration of a novel.
Bullet Journal size deserves and will get its own blog post at some point, but a good rule of thumb is to determine what will work best for you as an individual. If it is portability, something like the Moleskine Classic Large (Amazon link.) can fit into many bags. And so can smaller notebooks like such as the Moleskine Classic Small (Amazon link.), though you will go through them a lot quicker.
Or is it being able to fit as much as possible on a page? In that case, I would recommend B5/ Composition sized books. They are big while also not being so large transporting them is prohibitively hard, like can happen when using the standard 8.5 inches by 11.5 inches notebook. Of the composition/B5 notebooks, which has been my preference until recently, I like your standard composition book or the Moleskine Classic Extra-Large (Amazon link.) the most. They’re not great for fountain pens, but I tend towards gel pens and they handle those very well for the most part.
There’s a number of collections a writer may or may not want to include in their novel Bullet Journal depending on the writer’s needs. I personally use all the following in some way or another. Don’t be afraid to include or not include them.
First is the three collections that I like to think of as the brains of the Novel Bullet Journal. They’re what, for me, make using the Bullet Journal for novel writing a possibility.
The Basic Information Page
As the name suggests, this page is where basic information about a story is stored for the Bullet Journal user, in this case, the writer, to reference whenever they need to. A place for little things like a very short summary and the central conflict of the novel, the genre of the novel, the main character, target word count and other things such as a working title for the novel. It makes searching for this information in a what feels like a ton of pages unnecessary.
It’s especially good for projects in the Historical Fiction family such as Historical Fantasy, Horror with a historical setting, Alternate History, and others. Because when combined with the Project Breakdown and Future Log it completes what I like to call the brains of the operations, allowing the user to devote more time to things such as research. Research being very important for Historical Fiction and possibly for stories in other genres depending on the user’s knowledge base.
However, I wouldn’t recommend using it without the Project Breakdown and Future Log. It doesn’t really provide a good overview of the stages the novel will likely need to go through, and it does nothing for scheduling deadlines that will help with actually completing the novel.
The Project Breakdown
The second part of the brain metaphor for these three collections is the Project Breakdown. It’s where the Bullet Journal user or writer breaks the project down into sections such as pre-writing, drafting, editing, querying and as many levels down in each section as the writer is comfortable going.
This may sound restrictive, but all this collection really is is a checklist. When combined with the Future Log, Monthly Goals, Research Questions and Notes collections, and an Idea collection it can be the metaphorical backbone of a great Bullet Journal for those who prefer to find the story out as the go. What some people call pantsers, and what I like to refer to as the gardener method of story writing.
The Future Log
Another to-do list, this time spanning however long someone wants to spend writing a novel. Six months, a year, two years etc. It’s normally placed right after the index in a typical Bullet Journal, but I like to move the Future Log to right after the Breakdown and Information pages in a Bullet Journal meant for a novel or some other writing project.
The idea behind this is that those two collections influence how many months you’ll want your Future Log to initially cover, and putting it before means going in completely blind. Not a bad thing per se as long as it works for you, but I just prefer it a certain way in my own novel Bullet Journal.
Which brings us to the type of Future Log. You have the Traditional Future Log as shown on the inventor of the Bullet Journal, Ryder Carroll’s website; the Alastair Method, which is a number of columns on the left with the months labeled at the top and tasks/deadlines/goals on the right (See this article for a more clear explanation of the Alastair method.); and what I like to call the Column Future Log, where the months are columns instead of horizontal.
I like the Alastair Method the best out of all of them when it comes to novel writing because it gives the Bullet Journal user what is essentially a one-page view of deadlines/goals/tasks. But any method, except for possibly Eddy Hope’s Calendex, can work just as well. (Don’t get me wrong. I do like the Calendex and use it to index my dailies in my personal Bullet Journal, but I find keeping deadlines is easier if I don’t need to go hunting for the information across the Journal and have it on a single page/series of pages.)
These next collections are what I like to think of as the heart of a Bullet Journal meant for a single novel or other writing projects.
This is just the Ryder style Monthly Log.
It’s not for everyone and, as I said before, feel free to take or leave any of these or none at all. But I like tracking my wordcount in some may because it is motivating to see the progress I’ve made.
It can also be used to track how many hours of research someone has completed if they have a certain amount they want to do before anything else. Trackers are, in short, really awesome additions to a writer’s Novel Bullet Journal.
If you’ve ever heard of a Brain Dump page, that’s what this collection is. The name was changed because I prefer this name and use it, but it’s where all the ideas that come up when you don’t have time to write or during research go until the Bullet Journalist can sit and make sense of them.
Lastly, we come to what I call the body of a Bullet Journal for novel writing. These take up the bulk of the space in the Bullet Journal. They’re in no particular order:
Research Questions and Notes
I can’t really say what these should look like because everyone likes to record research questions and notes in a different way, but I can say that I like to start with a basic list of questions I’ve created for different types of stories. And that I use a gold dot just to the left of notes that are my impressions of a text and instead of quotes.
This is just where I keep the basic information about the character lives in my Journal. I normally put down the character’s name, story purpose, and information that I already know about their life. Main characters tend to get a page or more each and minor characters tend to get a quarter of a page or less.
Worldbuilding Notes and The Outline(s)
Originally I had the above as separate subsections in their own rights, but I’m honestly at a loss of how to describe them as they’re very personal. A story gardener may not do either of these things at all, a story architect, like myself, may do really extensive notes and outlines. That’s saying nothing of the methods differing from person to person who does use them.
They’re more amorphous than everything else, in my opinion. So I, regretfully, will have to table further explanation beyond saying I like being able to look up bits of information and keeping my place in the story while knowing where I’m headed.
However, I will be doing a more in-depth explanation about how I do both of those and how I research next month. So be on the lookout for any post dealing with worldbuilding notes methodology, my outline methodology, and research methodology.
And with that, our over 2,000-word marathon comes to an end. I hope you’ve found it informative readers and that the goals I had at the start of this post were accomplished. Not to mention that you had fun.
Join me next time for a post on characters and how they fit into their worlds!
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