I’ve been planning to do a blog post on bullet journaling for almost a year now…and it just keeps slipping out of my grasp. Which means that my task labeled BJ post (yes, I laugh every time I see it too) has reached the point in my to-do list process where I either need to do it or dump it (more on this in a moment). So I am doing it, because I don’t want to dump it.
If you’re new to the term Bullet Journal, I suggest a quick internet search. There are tons and tons and tons of posts about what a bullet journal is, how to use and make one, and so on. Don’t look too long at the BuJo porn pictures, however, because if you’re like me, you will become intimidated and distraught at how beautiful some of these journals are and how un-beautiful yours is and you will never make one. But, as I keep telling myself, a bullet journal isn’t about making shit pretty, it’s about getting shit done. (Although if you can also make it pretty, I have nothing but envy and best wishes for you).
Okay, so go do your googling. Don’t get lost in the pictures. Come back soon, and I’ll give you the quick and dirty run-down of how I use a bullet journal for writing.
Here are my main tools. I like to keep it simple and easy, since I move around a lot and often write in coffee shops and away from my desk. This is the whole shebang: the Leuchtturm1917 A5 dotted journal; a small Checklist Notebook (Efficiency Supply); PaperMate InkJoy pen; Fucking Brilliant pencil (Calligraphuck); and a wraparound pen/pencil holder.
Here are the main sections that I have in my Bullet Journal:
1. Yearly writing calendar. The next two years, divided into months, with the projects that I’ll be working on each month and their deadlines. I write them in pencil, because they move around a lot. When something is complete, I write it in pen in that month, so I can always go back and see what I was working on when.
2. Weekly spread. I keep my weekly spread clean and simple, partly because I have no artistic skills, but also because I need lots of room to write tasks and notes.
I make a simple calendar on the left. Each day, I write the things I’d like to accomplish in pencil and then if I do them, I erase them and mark them off on the main checklist to the right. At the end of the day, I might write in some stuff I did, or things I want to remember. The pink boxes are my 6 things to do each day. They vary from week to week. This week, they’re mostly about taking care of myself and not working too much, because I’ve had a hell of an autumn so far.
On the right, is the general to-do list of things that I want to tackle this week. I add things to the bottom of the list all week long as they come up. There is no general order other than WORK and NOT-WORK and YES and MAYBE. YES are things that must be done this week. MAYBEs are things that I’d like to do. If I move a MAYBE task more than a few times, it gets moved to YES or it gets dropped entirely (see my earlier note about writing this blog post!). If a task comes up that’s for next week, I just add it to the next spread, getting a jump start on next week’s to-do list.
If a task is tied to a project (see Projects, below), I put the main page number of the project after it for easy reference.
3. Projects. I typically work on a LOT of projects at once. This is the way that I like to work, but oh my god, keeping track of the details of each one used to be a disaster. I’d have a separate notebook for each project, but then I’d forget to bring that notebook and I’d write notes in the wrong notebook and then I could never find anything. Then, I tried keeping every project in the same notebook by sections. But it was impossible to tell when you started a project how much room it would need, and some projects flowed over into other sections, while other projects had too much empty space, and I still couldn’t find anything.
This, for me, is where the bullet journal shines. I have a sticky tab that says PROJECTS. Behind that tab lives every single project I’m currently working on, completely organized and discoverable, while also being incredibly flexible. Here’s how:
First, every major project gets a main spread. Left side gets the giant to-do list for that project — everything that I think I will need to do in order to complete it. On the right-hand side, I make notes about deadlines, word count, publisher, contracts, anything and everything that I might need to refer to about the project.
This spread then gets a tiny fold-over dot along the edge in a unique color. In the image below, for example, you can see a pink dot near the front. That’s the main planning page for the No Thank You, Evil! Kickstarter that we just launched. This is also the page that the to-do list items refer to as well (which I mentioned earlier).
I made a few pages of NTYE Kickstarter notes, and then I needed to work on a different project, Predation. So, on the next empty page, I started writing about Predation. I tagged that page with a green dot. And so on. Every non-sequential page for each project gets a folded dot in that project’s color. This means that no matter where the notes on a project fall in your notebook, you can find them all easily. You’ll notice that I have three main projects here, and they all overlap. (That first page you see with three dots is the index–the names of the projects are written next to the dots there, so I can easily see which one is which).
Sometimes, smaller projects and general notes get interspersed between the larger projects. A lot of times these are what I call my thinking notes — places where writing helps me figure something out, but where I don’t need to go back and re-read that information. Once I’m done making ‘thinking notes,’ their work is done, and it’s okay for them to get lost in between the bigger projects.
Sometimes, the notes are things that I will need to find again in the future. Maybe an idea for a short story, or some title ideas, or whatever. Each of these pages gets a short title and page number written in the index in the front of the notebook. (That’s on the same page as the “dot index” I mentioned). Then, I can just scroll that list and find whatever I’m looking for.
4. Lists. The very back of the journal has a section that is just lists. Things I love. Things I want. Things I accomplished. Gifts I’ve given. Books I want to read. They’re not comprehensive or complete, and I don’t need them to be. Instead, it gives me a place to write something down that isn’t a scrap of paper stuffed in a drawer somewhere.
I believe I’m on my fourth bullet journal for this year (and probably my last ~ this one might carry me as far as February or March of 2017). The first three are labeled (Leuchtturm1917 provides nice labels with each notebook) and tucked onto my shelf. Will I ever look at them again? I don’t know. But this year, they helped me lead a company, run two Kickstarters, write four books, and accomplish myriad other tasks, so I’d say they’ve earned their retirement.
And now, finally, I can go check that task ~ BJ blog ~ off my to-do list.
Kiss kiss bang bang, s.
The draft of The Poison Eater is complete, and is currently in the hands of my editor and publisher, who will come back to me and tell me all the things that I need to do to make it great. In the meantime, I’m working on a Numenera adventure for Gen Con called The Skein of the Blackbone Bride (no spoilers) and a short story to accompany our underwater Numenera book, Into the Deep.
I started this story this afternoon. Here’s an excerpt from the draft, which I’m currently calling Wrecked (that feels a little too on-the-nose, so it will likely change). Beware: here there be typos, I’m sure. And ghost crabs.
*art by Cathy Wilkins
This is where she died.
“Almost died,” Garil would say. Except that Garil did die here, and so he doesn’t say anything anymore, does he?
You left me here, she thinks as she shimmies down the seaweed-covered tether toward the wreck. The thought is followed by expletives, but not tears. You can’t cry this deep down in the ocean, she’s discovered. Well, you can. But you shouldn’t. There are some things they don’t tell you in training, because no one who is still left knows to say them. Don’t cry. Don’t trust. Don’t move.
Her weighted boots hit the side of the structure with a dull thud that reverberates up through her body. As soon as she lands, her right foot floats loose, sending her sideways through the water. She’s still got hold of the tether, by some lucky stupid instinct, and she tightens her grip on it, pulls her foot up to look. The back of her boot has automatically ejected the weight somehow; there’s just a blank space in the heel. The weight wasn’t magnetized—they’re not Therasti; they don’t have that kind of money—so she’s sure it’s rolled all the way to the bottom of the wreck by now, and is ruining some poor crustacean’s day right about now.
Hope you’ve got one hell of a shell, she thinks.
Normally, she hates tying herself to the wreck. It’s heavy and cumbersome and—and you almost died because of it last time. That too. But the boot thing is a problem—her hand is already aching from gripping the tether, trying to keep herself from spinning around it. So she brushes long strands of seaweed back until she finds one of the reality spikes that someone else has driven into the side of the wreck and uses the cable from her belt to hook herself in.
Ethne’s six-eyed jybril circles and circles, clacking its sharkmouth, swishing its giant tail. The chittering sound of its rows and rows of teeth comes through the water, through her waterbreather, through the voicepieces she wears in both ears—one for the base, one for Ethne.
She clicks her jaw to the right. The movement turns on the voicepiece on that side. “Get your brehm-brained predator off of my back,” she says. “Before I kill it.”
“Good luck with that!” Crackle. Fade. Return. She bets Ethne’s voice is always full of static, even when they’re not a thousand feet under the surface. “She can swim—”
She clicks him off again. Why she bothers, she doesn’t know. Ethne’s a child. A child who thinks he’s able to control a ten-foot long insatiable predator just because it hasn’t eaten anyone on the team yet. It’s only been two weeks. Give it time.
Once, Ethne told her that he was surprised the jybril—he has a name for the creature, but she can’t remember it—hadn’t bumped her for a test bite yet, because it was attracted to the color red and her dive suit was red. She’d wanted to bump him for a test bite, but had merely turned her suit on dark mode, shining every light that it had right into the lenses of his fisheye goggles. She didn’t quite understand how light worked down here, but she didn’t deny the tiny pulse of happiness she felt when he’d pushed his hands over his eyes and ended the conversation. He wasn’t a bad kid. But he was definitely a kid.
They sent me down here with a child, Garil. And then the string of swear words that always seem to come after his name now. Spitting them out like bad seeds. She worries that she’s developed a syndrome. She hadn’t been topside in six weeks. She has forgotten the color of air. The smell of the sun. Can no longer remember what her own voice sounds like, beyond the burble and hiss of breath and breather.
The jybril is too close, brushing by her with just a few feet to spare, and she waves it away. Which is a mistake. It’s not some little fish, easily scared off by an odd motion. Its teeth are nearly as big as her hand. It circles, long tail sliding by her. She compresses, doesn’t wait to see if it comes back around, and drops herself through the first hole she sees in the side of the hull.
This is my writing process. Do not try this at home kids. It sucks.
Oh, a cookie.
No, not here. Other room.
Decide it’s cold.
Oh, I haven’t looked at FB in forever.
Story about trees that sleep.
Cool idea. Bookmark for future story.
Look at stuff I’ve already written.
Decide ugh I am the worst.
Oh, cute dog.
Play with dog.
Aw, cute dog…
Find first word.
Despite that, I am closing in on the shitty first draft of this novel. It is shitty and that’s what it’s supposed to be, because shitty is done, it is complete, it is killing the editor and the panic in my head to put the words down. Plus, beneath the shitty, I can see the shine. It’s like when your dog eats glitter. Ew, but also, oooh, shiny!
Here’s some of the “ew shiny.” Possible spoilers for The Poison Eaters ahead. Kind of. Keep reading at your own risk.
The shadows that walked at night kept her up, creeping on the edge of her vision. Maeryl, with her fingers broken and bloody, sat on dunes beside her.
“I didn’t recognize you at first,” Maeryl said. “I couldn’t find you in the blackweave.”
Her voice was metal and Talia realized her mouth was too. Teeth and tongue and the black hole of her threat. Her face was covered in metal bandages that shone with red from the inside. The braids of her hair were black serpents tied off with their own pink tongues and the black of her eyes were spiders that fluttered their legs like lashes.
Her eyes bulged through the bandages, became vermillion buds that bloomed open to pink insides.
“You’re dead,” Talia said.
“You’re saying the obvious,” Maeryl said. “Say something different.”
She was petting Khee with gloved hands. Gloves that were hands. Carved from someone else’s body and sewn to her arms at the elbows. They billowed, fabric or synth or skin. Inside them, things small and black shifted and scuttled.
The thing that wasn’t Maeryl flicked a hand and ran it down Khee’s back. Except it wasn’t Khee, not really. It was Khee gone inside out, the red of his flesh a raw and ruddy skin. Sutures, puckered and pink, ran along the lines of his shoulders. The creature shifted, and something inside went the other way, broken and bulging. His eyes were unseeing, white and thick, run with mucus. His snout lifted—the entirety of it nothing more than two rows of long, skeletal fingers that came together like teeth. Sharped at the ends. He sniffed the air and blood spattered from the holes in his bones.
Or maybe it was
the creature said in something that had once been Khee’s voice but now was bitter acid in the bowl of her stomach. Talia put her hand over her mouth, trying not to retch.
“Why are you here?” she asked with a mouth that no longer worked.
“You know,” the thing that was Maeryl and not Maeryl said.
“Here’s your ocean,” the thing said. “Beware the salt.”
Finwa, Poison Eaters. May the moon meld you and may you shine.
Even those of us who write full-time sometimes have to put projects aside for long periods of time. Recently, I had to put my novel, The Poison Eater aside in order to finish up another book I was working on (The Torment: Tides of Numenera sourcebook). I’ve talked before about how I like to have multiple projects going at the same time, but one of the side-effects of that is that sometimes one of those projects moves to the forefront (due to deadlines or other needs), and you have to sink deep into it and focus on it solely for a while, pushing everything else to the side.
Now that Torment is finished and off for editing, I can move The Poison Eater back to the front burner of my brain. Of course, that is HARD to do after so much time away. I find myself saying, “Who is the character? What does that look weapon like again? What the fuck was I thinking here when I wrote those? Oh, I had an idea for this chapter, but I’ve totally forgotten it.”
This is the point where many people give up on their books. It’s HARD to go back to it. The sparkly bits have lost their shine. The path is overgrown and full of thorns. The characters you loved have started to fade into ghostly paper dolls. You can’t remember what happens next, and you are sure you screwed up whatever came before.
But here’s the truth: very few people have a life where they can work on their novel non-stop. Life intervenes. Someone gets sick. Work explodes. Summer arrives and you spend your days down in the dirt with seeds and soil. There are a thousand ways to step off the novel path — but there are also a thousand ways to step back on. It’s hard, yes, but not as hard as it looks. I promise.
I have a whole bunch of techniques for picking a novel back up and finding my way back into its dark woods. I thought I’d share a few in case you find them useful.
Beyond all of those suggestions, I come back to what I always come back to: just do that shit. Seriously. There’s a moment where you have to stop worrying and wondering. Just know that you’re going to screw it up, be okay with it, and write anyway.
Which is what I’m going to go do right now.
~Moon meld you, poison eaters.