The beautiful thing about bullet journals, more than any other planning system I’ve come across, is how easy it is to customize to your needs and lifestyle.
Whatever you want to collect or track, your bullet journal is there for you. A quick look on social media and you will see hundreds if not thousands of different bullet journal ideas, and it truly is a system that can become whatever you need it to.
And it doesn’t have to be complicated either (especially if, like me, you’re strongly resistant to bullet journal spreads that take a lot of time to set up).
Starting a bullet journal completely changed how I organized my life, and while I’ve largely migrated most of my bullet journaling into Notion, I still use many of these spreads (albiet digitally). For clarity, I keep a notebook handy as well, but my Notion Dashboard does most of the heavy lifting these days.
And that’s one of the strengths of the system – once you know how to use it, the bullet journal system will work regardless of where you do your planning.
Sometimes the basics are not enough, however, especially if you’re a writer. It’s a lot to juggle, whether you write professionally or otherwise. I am by no means an expert, only an avid bujo fan, but my hope is that this guide to bullet journaling for writers will help you design a bullet journal system that works for you.
Table of Contents
- What is a Bullet Journal?
- Bullet Journaling for Writers
- How is the Bullet Journal different from a Writing Notebook?
- Should You Use a Bullet Journal to Organize Your Writing?
- What You Need to Start a Bullet Journal
- 32 Spread Ideas for Your Bullet Journal
- List Collections
- Character Profiles
- Setting Descriptions
- Collages and Mood Boards
- Inspiring Quotes
- Outline Notes
- Brainstorming Notes
- Writing Tracker
- Research Notes
- Chapter-by-Chapter Notes
- Feedback Notes
- List of Scenes
- Writing Prompts
- Goal Tracking
- Daily Writing Logs
- Blog Post Outlines
- Editorial Calendar
- Reading Tracker
- Project Details
- Time Tracking
- Deadline Tracking
- Query Tracking
- List of Agents
- Sales Tracking
- Promotion Ideas
- Marketing Plan
- Social Media Growth Tracking
- How Do You Use Your Bullet Journal?
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What is a Bullet Journal?
A bullet journal is a simple and easy-to-use life organization tool developed by Ryder Carroll, and the name comes from the bullet points used for rapid logging your tasks, appointments, to-dos, and anything else that comes up day-to-day.
There are a few staples in the system, like your index, your monthly log and future log, where you capture upcoming notes and information, and the workhorse – your daily log – where the aforementioned bulleted lists make their home.
You can also create collections for long-term lists or projects you want to remember and look back on, and you can migrate tasks forward if you didn’t manage to complete them.
It sounds more complicated than it is, I promise. Once you understand the basics, the system is very intuitive, and can be easily adapted to suit your needs. If you’re interested in learning more I would definitely check out the Bullet Journal website.
For more insight into the creation of the bullet journal system as well as all of its component parts, I highly recommend The Bullet Journal Method, a book written by Carroll that explores each of the bullet journal elements in great detail (and with examples). Well worth a read if you’re interested in the system, and works great as a refresher on the basics.
Bullet Journaling for Writers
So how do you use a bullet journal for organizing your writing?
Well, there are a couple of ways you can go about this.
The All-in-One Approach
The first is to use a bullet journal as you normally would, and include the writing-related spreads and information as you need them, intermingled with the rest of your typical bullet journaling.
If you decide to do it this way, you’ll want to ensure that all your notes are easily found. That means making sure everything is indexed correctly, and using threading, wherein you continue collections and mark the previous page numbers at the bottom. For instance, if you were to have a collection of short story ideas on page 59, and you wanted to continue it on another page much later in the journal, you would mark down 59 next to the page number on the new page, so you can easily find all the pieces of the collection. This will help you navigate the journal more easily, especially if you plan your whole life from a single notebook.
A Writing Only Bullet Journal
The second method is to start a bullet journal specific to your writing. You can still have your daily, monthly and future logs, as you normally would, but the only thing you would be documenting would be anything related to your writing. Keep track of upcoming deadlines, and track what you need to do (or have done) each day. If you need more guidance on how specifically to structure a writing-only bullet journal, I’d definitely check out the Story Toolkit by Rachael Stephen.
A Project-Specific Bullet Journal
The third and final way to use a bullet journal for organizing your writing is start one for each project. Much like the writing-specific bullet journal, the standard bujo spreads will be filled with project-specific writing goals, deadlines and other pertinent information. This method might be particularly helpful if you write novels and other large, time-consuming projects or you tend to stick to one project at a time, mostly because it means you have more room to store information as well as a single place to collect it all.
How is the Bullet Journal different from a Writing Notebook?
It may come as no surprise that a writing-oriented bullet journal won’t be very different from a writing notebook, and if you already have a planning system that works for you, starting a bullet journal might not be something you’re willing to try. And I wouldn’t suggest that you do – if your current system isn’t broken, don’t try to fix it. Many of these spreads will work perfectly fine in a regular notebook, it just won’t have the bullet journal system to anchor it.
Of course, if you don’t have a planning system that is working for you or you’re struggling and you want something to introduce some structure into your writing life, I would strongly recommend starting a bullet journal. I have some suggestions for newbies to the system, which you might want to check out before you jump in, if only to make sure it’s a system that will work for you.
Should You Use a Bullet Journal to Organize Your Writing?
If you’ve found your way to this page, I’m going to assume that you are looking for ways your bullet journal can do more for you, or you’re trying to figure out how to better organize your writing. But I’ll be honest, the bullet journal system isn’t going to work for everyone.
It’s not supposed to be difficult to set up, but if you have a bunch of spreads you want to use each month, it can become a daunting time-killer. You might also find that monthly logs, future logs and daily logs simply aren’t enough to organize your particular life situation.
I would always recommend trying it out before committing, but there’s no one way to organize your life. Bullet journaling is something that has worked exceptionally well for me (among others), so it’s the method I talk about at length. It’s up to you to decide if a bullet journal is something that will serve you well, or just leave you with more to do.
As I mentioned before, many of these spreads will work just as well in a dedicated writing notebook. Whether or not using a bullet journal will serve you well in achieving your writing goals is something that can only be discovered by giving the system a try yourself.
What You Need to Start a Bullet Journal
There are two ways you can keep and carry a bullet journal.
The first is physically, with a notebook and a pen, and if you prefer this method then that is really all you need. If you are new to the bullet journal method, I highly suggest you begin by using whatever you have lying around the house.
If you don’t have a notebook, then start by keeping a few sheets of paper stapled together and try the system for a week or so before you decide to drop $15-20 on a notebook. Or you can head to the dollar store and pick up something inexpensive in your preferred size. Whichever you decide to do, once you have selected your notebook, make sure you number all of the pages.
Alternatively, you can start a digital bullet journal. If you struggle to keep a notebook with you, using an app on your phone, or even your phone’s native notes app will work as a starting point. There are many apps that can work excellently as a bullet journal, as long as you have an easy way of organizing and finding those spreads again. You more than likely have a phone, and many of the worthwhile apps are free (or have decent free plans), so you don’t need to spend anything to get started.
One word of warning where digital bullet journals are concerned – because it is digital, the space at your disposal is essentially infinite, and that’s not always a good thing. Having limited space forces you to be succinct and choose what matters. In a digital bullet journal, you could have an essentially endless to-do list, one that would only continue to grow, and would be difficult to prioritize effectively. Notes and other pertinent information could be lost in what would become an endless scroll.
That’s why migrating is vital to the analog system, and something that should be considered even when you decide to go digital. While starting digitally might be cheaper, learning the fundamentals of the analog system will be helpful in learning how to use a digital one more effectively.
If you’re in the market for a new notebook, I strongly recommend the dot grid journal from Peter Pauper Press, which you can get on Amazon. It has 192 thick 120gsm pages with a hard cover and an affordable price. The paper is smooth and takes fountain pens well, and would make an excellent bullet journal for a newbie or an experienced bujo fan.
If you’re not interested in spending money just yet, or you prefer to keep things paperless, I highly recommend Notion. It’s a free tool that is available for your phone as well as you PC so you can access your bullet journal everywhere.
I have a variety of templates you can check out, including an extensive Writing Dashboard, a clone of my own Notion workspace, and a Bullet Journal Template I designed to faithfully recreate the bujo experience digitally. The program (and the templates) are free to try out. There are also plenty of other writing and bullet journal templates out there for you to use if these don’t strike your fancy.
Notion Alternatives for Digital Bullet Journaling
While I am a huge supporter of Notion, there is no app out there that is a perfect fit for everyone, so I thought it might be helpful to list some alternatives for digital bullet journaling.
Trello is a kanban-style app that works great for lists, tracking tasks, and managing projects. You can start a board for each project, and have separate boards for future planning, monthly logs, and daily logs. How exactly you decide to organize it will be up to you, but Trello is really easy to use, free, and can be used on a tablet or mobile device. It is, however, the least “traditional” program for putting together a bullet journal.
You can check out this post for one method for setting up Trello as a bullet journal.
One Note is an excellent alternative because it allows you to handwrite as well as type, so you get the best of both worlds. The program itself is clean and easy to use – you create folders and pages within those folders, and you can assign your various spreads and logs to each page and flip back to them as necessary. Because it is attached to your Windows account, you can access it from any device as well. It’s a simple note-taking app, and works really well as a digital bullet journal.
Something to note – the individual pages in One Note are big, and that might be something you want to consider if you decide to use this program. Single pages can become very large, and while I haven’t experienced much lag in my own usage, older devices may struggle.
Obsidian is a note-taking app that uses markdown and has powerful linking capabilities that make it perfect for creating a robust bullet journal. You can install plugins to expand its functionality, but there are a few drawbacks to note.
The first is the learning curve. Much like Notion, to use its full capabilities may take a certain amount of time and experimentation. The second is that Obsidian uses a local folder on your device, so it’s not available everywhere unless you’re willing to pay for the Sync feature.
If you’re content to keep your digital bullet journal strictly on your phone or tablet however, this might be a great option for you, and once you’ve mastered the basics, you can create some truly impressive set-ups.
A Note-Taking App with PDF Editing
If you happen to own an Ipad or an android device that is compatible with a pen, like Samsung, you can use pdf files with any of these programs to recreate the experience of a notebook without worrying about it running out of room.
All of these programs allow you to make notes directly on your pdfs (which in this case, could be detailed planner pages or a dot matrix for the “purest” bullet journal experience), effectively turning any tablet into a notebook with unlimited pages.
Writing on a screen may take some getting used to, but if you keep a tablet with you day-to-day, and you like the feel of writing by hand, this might be a good option. You can also make a spread once and duplicate it for all instances afterwards, which might be a huge time-saver depending on how extensive your planning.
32 Spread Ideas for Your Bullet Journal
Below I have listed a ton of bullet journal spreads for writers, but you probably won’t need all of them. Feel free to cherry-pick what you think will be the most useful for you and your system(s). Some spreads may work better in a larger notebook, purely due to the size of the paper you’re working with.
It might be character names, place names, title ideas, story and character ideas, books you want to read, crutch words, article ideas – any writing-related list can become an easy-to-check collection in your notebook or bullet journal.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who can get caught up in drafting and lose the forest for the trees, and I find those times are the best for refreshing myself on the essentials with handy reference sheets.
It could be information on plot beats or structure, helpful tips for building characters, or notes on style. Any sort of reference you find yourself habitually needing to…well, reference, is a good candidate for any writing bujo or notebook.
Did that character have blue eyes or brown eyes? Did they grow up in the same city, or are they from out of town? The more characters you have, the harder it can be to keep track of these little details that you might not remember. So keep all of that information together in a character profile.
Much like your character profiles, having a place to write up brief descriptions and note sensory details can be really handy for revisiting those locations later in the draft, or for when you get to the editing phase.
If you take information in visually, it might be a good idea to keep a map (or several) handy when you’re writing. And it doesn’t need to be a detailed map of the entire country – it could be a rough reference for the town they are in, or the inside of the building regularly featured in your scenes.
Collages and Mood Boards
If you have a printer handy or an abundance of old books and magazines you’re willing to take some scissors to, you could put together a collage or mood board to represent a character, place, main plot device or theme.
These can be really useful touchstones when you get lost in the nitty-gritty of the editing phase or if you need some inspiration. It can also be handy for generating new and interesting descriptions and helping you to see a story element in another way.
We all need motivation from time to time. Keeping a few personal, meaningful quotes from your favourite writers and creators can help keep the slump away. It doesn’t even have to be about writing. It could be your favourite piece of dialogue from a movie, or a description of a setting in a book. Whatever helps keep you inspired and motivated.
Having your outline notes handy can be really useful when you’re drafting so you don’t have to flip between documents. If you have a distraction-free writing tool like a Freewrite or an Alphasmart, you won’t have easy access to your outline notes otherwise. They can also be handy for writing on the go, or if you like to write (or edit) by hand in a separate notebook.
Having a dedicated place for all of your brainstorming can be especially useful if you tend to work on multiple projects at a time. You can keep them in separate books based on the project or use colour-coding to easily tell them apart. You don’t need to start a new page either – you can start brainstorming at whatever point in the process you find yourself in (and whatever page is handy!)
Knowledge is power, and knowing when you write best and how much you can get done within a certain time frame can really help you get more writing done when you’re in a time crunch. Also, it’s fun to compare where you are from week to week, project to project, and a useful reminder of everything you have already accomplished.
If you want your writing bujo to be your one-stop shop for all of your novel notes, you might find it useful to keep your research notes handy. Your mileage may vary depending on the sort of writing you are doing, of course. A historical novel, for instance, might benefit from having a dedicated project bullet journal, purely owing to the fact that you will likely need to do significant research.
When you’re re-reading your draft to prepare for edits, it’s a good idea to break down your notes based on chapter, or even scene by scene to make it a lot easier to tackle once you do start editing.
Alpha readers, beta readers, editors – you’re going to get a lot of feedback, and it’s a good idea to organize it all. You can organize it by general topic (character arc, dialogue, word choice, etc), by the person providing the feedback, or by chapter and scene. This way you can compare it to your own notes, and address any reoccurring comments and possible problems.
List of Scenes
Think of this as more of an outline-to-go, and it can be as simple as you want it to be. You can write a one-sentence description, or go a little more in-depth, and list the location, characters involved and the goal of the scene. As I mentioned with the outline notes, this can be a really handy reference for working on the go or if you like to keep your writing as free of distraction as possible.
If your inspiration is flagging, or you need something quick and easy to start your writing day, you can keep a collection of writing prompts. They can be as simple (and repeatable) as you’d like. Or you can cross them off as you use them and add new ones as you find them (or create your own).
Don’t forget to celebrate all of the writing you’re doing! One of my favourite methods for motivating myself to work is to think of specific milestones and assign rewards for when I reach them. If you add the date, you can look back to see a record of all of your hard work!
To go along with your milestones, you can also keep track of your goals for the year, quarter, month, or week. You can break them down into tasks and mark them off as you work through them, or just keep it as a handy reference page to keep you motivated!
Daily Writing Logs
A daily log will be more familiar to those who use the traditional bullet journal method, but a daily writing log is essentially the same thing, but for everything related to your writing. These might be complex hubs of information, especially if writing is your job, or they can be a couple of bullet points on the days you have time to sit down and write.
If you’re familiar with the Story Toolkit by Rachael Stephen, they can be great for logging what you want to work on and what you do manage to accomplish, so you know where to pick up the next time you sit down to write.
Or you can lump it into your standard daily log if you prefer. Marking your writing separately is entirely optional, as all things are where bullet journals are concerned.
Blog Post Outlines
Novel writing isn’t the only sort of writing you can organize in your bullet journal.
Before writing a blog post, it’s a good idea to create an outline to make the process more streamlined and to make sure the point of your post is getting across. I’ve recently started doing rough outlines in my own writing notebook, and it’s been really helpful for keeping track of all the points I want to make and the resources I want to share.
If you run a successful blog, you probably spend a lot of time on your editorial calendar, planning out what you’re writing and when you’re going to post. This can be a really useful resource and reference, and it can be good to know when you are planning your day/week/month if you have a big launch coming up, or if you have to batch the next month of articles.
As a writer, no matter what you write, you probably read more than the average person, and you might want to take notes and hoard interesting quotes that have piqued your interest. It’s always a good idea to reflect on the sorts of things you are reading, both for work and for pleasure, and there are numerous ways you can track your reading in a bullet journal.
You can keep an ongoing list of books you’ve read throughout the year, give them a rating and note down any thoughts you had while reading. You can also keep track of any reading challenges or all the books on your to-be-read pile. You could also make note of the books you read in your daily log instead, and keep a tracker to see how often you make a habit of reading.
Not all projects are writing-related. If you’re an author, you might have book launches to plan or marketing projects to break down. If you work freelance, you might want to keep all of the details for your client and that particular project handy for when you sit down to work. Your bullet journal is the perfect place for organizing all of your various projects.
This one will be especially useful for freelancers, of course, but it isn’t a bad idea for anyone. You want to make sure you are using your time wisely, and it’s a good idea to take note of how long it takes you to do a certain task – research a blog post, write a scene, edit a chapter, etc. You’ll be better able to plan your time accordingly if you use a time tracker in your bullet journal.
As you grow in skill, your rates will naturally increase. It’s a good idea to have a record of that somewhere, to see how much you are charging as your experience increases, and when you make those changes, that way you can notify your clients ahead of time.
Tracking your deadlines is just obvious, as you don’t want to forget when a project is due or when your manuscript needs to be sent to your agent, but it is useful to create self-imposed deadlines as well.
Writing can be a nebulous, never-ending task because you are always improving. This can make it daunting to actually finish a project, especially if you are a perfectionist. If you find that using a monthly log or future log isn’t enough, a place to keep note of all your deadlines (and possibly track where you are in the process), might be a good idea. Just make sure you revisit it regularly.
Sending out queries is a lot of work and requires a lot of research and patience. There are tools to make it easier, like Query Tracker, but if you like to keep all of your notes in one place so you can refer to them more easily, it’s not a bad idea to consider keeping a list of all outgoing queries and received responses in your bullet journal.
List of Agents
Along with the query tracking, it’s a good idea to keep a list of agents and agencies who you’ve sent queries too, and what the response was, especially if you wish to try querying something else with them in the future.
If you’re a successful indie author, it might not be a bad idea to seek out an agent to help you take your career to the next level, or to sell foreign rights, and you’ll need a place to research and document your findings.
Fellow authors, beta readers, arc reviews, street teams, cover designers, editors, clients – writing can feel solitary at times, but that is hardly the reality. Having a contact page with emails and social media handles can be really helpful, especially if you need to look something up in a hurry.
If you are frequently running promotions or have big marketing pushes, it’s a good idea to track that information and keep a tally of your sales. Keeping this information in an excel sheet or some other database is the norm, but keeping the numbers handy can be really useful, especially if you decide to include some of the next few ideas on your list.
Whether you’re trying to sell more books, promote your website, or find new clients, it’s a good idea to keep a running list of all the possible ways you can promote what you do.
Along with a list of promotional ideas, it is probably a good idea to create marketing plans, and maybe I’m just the type to keep all of my eggs in one basket, but it makes the most sense to keep that information along with everything else I’m working on.
You will likely have more than one of these as well, and it can be good to keep a record of what you did, how much you spent, and how effective it was, so you can plan your next marketing strategy accordingly.
Social Media Growth Tracking
I’m not just talking about tracking the number of follows, because while that can be useful information to have it is typically considered a vanity metric. These days, most social media will allow you to track your engagement, and you can see who is liking, commenting, and otherwise engaging with the posts you make.
If you track what you post and how often, you’ll know how your platforms are growing, and that can be useful for pivoting your strategy where necessary.
How Do You Use Your Bullet Journal?
This is a massive list, and I don’t expect you to use everything (in fact, I think that would be an enormous undertaking!) but it’s always interesting to see what people like to include in a physical notebook when we have so many digital tools at our disposal. There’s just something about putting a pen to paper that works like nothing else can.
I’d love to know how you use your bullet journal to organize your writing. Do you use any of the spreads I’ve listed above? Are there any that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!