writing fiction and the bullet journal method

Posted on Posted in illustrated, journal, stakvossi salt wives, writing life

A couple of months ago I took up bullet journalling because I need to plot by pen and paper, so I succumbed to the one notebook to rule them all. In my first month, I (re-)discovered that plotting a novel burns through notebooks, so last week I succumbed to my lifelong desire to indulge in a notebook dedicated solely to the novel-in-progress.

But because I've now been indoctrinated, my novel notebook is, at least currently, being written out using the bullet journal methodology.

Here's what I'm trying and/or liking about it:

Tagging

The bullet journal traditionally uses an index (which, despite the name, is actually more of a table of contents), and doesn't really use tags. But the index is built upon the idea of each page being dedicated to one topic — in a bullet journal proper, that would be a given day's notes, or a master-list of tasks for the month, or notes/tasks relating to, say, a home improvement project or upcoming holiday.

While that concept works fine for some aspects of planning out a novel, such as a page dedicated to a character or location, the vast majority of my pages will be a mishmash of plot notes, scene maundering, snippets of dialogue or description or narrative voice, and whatever else falls out of my head. Mostly blather. I can't title 103 non-consecutive pages "Blatherings". (Well, I can, but it's not very helpful for finding anything again.)

On those pages, then, I've foregone the heading and in its place I'm putting in tags.

colour-coded tags at the top of each page of blather
colour-coded tags at the top of each page of blather

Since I may or may not (ahem, probably won't) have the energy to index all those tags, I'm colour-coding by tag type (character, geography, culture/society, theme, plot). This does mean writing in the tags only when I'm at home, since I don't carry colours out and about with me, so who knows how long the colour-coding will actually last. If it becomes a hindrance to getting information down and on with the story, I'll boot it. It is handy when reviewing the pages, though.

Which is another thing I'm loving and have realised I've not been doing:

Reviewing

Normally when I plot out a story, I don't review my notes as I go. I always intend to, but I delay and prioritise new words/notes/plotting until reviewing it all is simply too enormous a task, and then it doesn't get done at all. I simply rely on what I remember having dreamt up, and launch myself into writing it out. I do have a good memory, and I tend to work and re-work plot events through in my head often enough that the plot gets hammered in there pretty thoroughly, so that's not not working. It's just that every iteration of the plot gets hammered in equally thoroughly, and I can't always tell which iteration I'm remembering at any one moment. That part can get frustrating, to say the least.

The bullet journal — which encourages going through the day's notes and transforming them into tasks or moving them into a collection, as appropriate — incorporates a level of reviewing I really should have been implementing well before now. I begin to realise why the research / reference part of my Scrivener files are such colossal messes I soon stop even looking at them.

Any pages I need quick access to are tabbed with the label visible from the back, not the front. Because I'll always be turning back to that page from somewhere further ahead.
Any pages I need quick access to are tabbed with the label visible from the back, not the front. Because I'll always be turning back to that page from somewhere further ahead.

Scene Outline

empty apart from intentions
empty apart from intentions

This is where I'll consolidate all the scenes/beats that fell out of my head while plotstorming my way through those tagged pages.

This one is all neat and empty because I want the outline to be in order (or near enough) — I'm coming close to the point of starting in with drafting this manuscript, and one of my goals with this novel was to try writing to an actual outline. (I have initial scene outlines which are far more in-progress, out-of-order, scribbled and generally tentative, don't worry. But they're in the previous notebook and this is the one I took a photo of.)

The next step is to get this notebook a little more beaten up and banged around, with some scribbles in there as the ideas start flowing thick and fast. Here's to hoping, eh?