I officially won the 12×12 challenge for the second year running by writing 13 new picture book drafts.
2018 in Reading
I didn’t quite hit my goal to read 500 books again this year, but I’m still really happy with my total. In the past, I hit those high numbers because I read a lot of picture books, but this year I shifted my focus to more middle grade. I hit my goal of reading 75 middle grade or longer works.
My Kidlit Karma project to blog reviews of books each month went really well! I reviewed or hosted reviews nearly every month.
Looking Ahead to 2019
2019 is already starting to fill up! My 2019 is likely to be just as busy as 2018 was. I have two more work for hire picture books to finish by the end of February, I was invited to join a small writers’ group for the first few months, and I’ll be finishing up my novel and begin querying it.
It’s likely to be another roller coaster!
Right now I’m working on setting my goals for 2019. If you’re doing the same, you might want to check out these posts on setting resolutions and goals.
Today is Day 3 when we share our writing successes for the year. All of them. In public. GULP.
Although it makes me feel like a Braggy McBraggypants, I decided to bite the bullet and submit to my blog. Not because I want others to pat me on the back, but because acknowledging my successes is important for me personally.
Writing can be an emotional roller coaster, and most (all?) writers struggle to keep up their confidence and resolve in the face of constant rejection. Having the courage to openly acknowledge our accomplishments helps us see ourselves as successful and capable – things we need to keep going in this pursuit.
A lot of my successes this year happened because I pushed myself outside of my comfort zone. So **deep breath** let’s do it again and list it all out in public. In no particular order:
Blogged consistently! (Big accomplishment for me, lol.)
Had my middle grade novel beta read for the first time and got good feedback. I’m rounding up more Beta readers for after the holidays.
Was invited to be part of a writing coach’s new coaching group for women. She’s been coaching one-on-one for a while but we’re her beta session for doing it as a group, so I get to do it for free. Yay! And she reached out to me because I’m “a committed writer who is actively working on her craft”. Which was a nice compliment. 🙂
Read 275 books this year! Usually, I hit higher numbers (500 in 2017) but after many years of focusing on picture books I made a conscious effort to read more MG this year since I write that as well. I’m currently at 73 books that are MG or longer and around 200 picture books. So the overall number is down, but I’m really happy with it.
Ok, ready to rock your bullet journal? Here we go!
What is a Collection?
Just in case you skipped over the intro to bullet journaling (tsk tsk) – a collection is a place in your journal where you can gather together information around a theme — usually a page or a spread of pages dedicated to a particular topic.
I’ve gathered together collection ideas for all kinds of writer needs:
At the very front of my bullet journal, right after the Index and Calendex, is a spread dedicated to goals and the habits I want to form. That’s because I want to state up front what my intentions are for my writing life this year. I start there so that through the year, those intentions will keep me on the path to my goals.
Form Habits of Excellence: Big goals are accomplished by forming small habits. Books are not written in one day – the habit of regular writing is what gets you to THE END. The same applies to most other goals you might want to achieve. So think of what daily habits you can build to launch you to your dreams.
Let’s face it: writing is hard. You spend years writing a book, then revising, querying, and more revising before you get the joy of holding it in your hands. That’s a long time to work for proof of your progress.
Marking the small accomplishments along the way will show you the progress you’re making (especially when you feel like you aren’t getting anywhere). I always create a collection to record small (but significant!) accomplishments like:
Writing a rough draft (for a picture book)
Writing a chapter (for a novel)
Writing blog posts
Reading a craft book
Completing a writing class
Watching a free webinar
Attending a conference or workshop
Giving a talk/author visit
Submitting a manuscript to an agent or editor
Entering a contest
Even if you’re early in your writing journey, you can still find a fair number of these to add to your list. There are a wealth of free webinars and other resources online to help you develop your writing muscles. You’ll be surprised at how long your list gets by the end of the year.
I think every writer has had this experience: you’re trying to fall asleep or sitting at a red light and an amazing idea springs into your head. It’s so amazing that you’re sure you could never forget. Think again.
I’ve been known to jot ideas on scraps of paper, in my phone notes app, or even send it to my husband as a voice-to-speech text — anything to get the idea down before it leaks out of my brain. But it’s easy to lose tracks of those ideas even when they’re written down, so later (when I’m not driving or trying to sleep) I move them to this collection.
At the end of the year, I migrate these to Evernote to make them easier to find later.
4. Business Collections
If you take your writing seriously (and you should), then you need to treat it like a business.
These are collections you will want to have somewhere. I prefer to keep them in Google Docs or Evernote (mostly because I dislike copying over lots of data), but they could easily be collections in your bujo.
business income and expenses
manuscript submissions (it can be easy to lose track of submissions!)
Collections to Organize Your Writing
5. List of Manuscripts
In early 2018, I was struggling with finding a way to keep track of all my manuscripts. I wrote 8 picture book drafts in 2016 and 12 in 2017, plus I had a novel and a middle grade nonfiction book in the works. I was drowning in my own work!
On retiring manuscripts: some manuscripts don’t work. One of my goals is to write 12 picture book manuscripts a year – not to produce 12 query-ready pieces. Only a few turn out to be gold nuggets, but ALL of my writing improves for the practice.
At the end of the year, I migrate this list to Evernote for permanent storage. So I start the year with just the manuscripts I will be working on and add new manuscripts as I complete the first draft.
If you have a blog, you can use your bujo for managing your blog. I keep a simple list of blog post ideas and use my blogging platform for everything else.
Some bloggers prefer to use their bujo more heavily in blog planning.
There is a lot of information to track when you’re writing a manuscript: characters, settings, research, mentor texts, etc.
In a later post, I will cover this topic in more detail but remember that you can always make a collection to hold all the information about your WIP. Or a collection for a particular type of information about your WIP – like a character sheet or scene list.
Collections for Events and Projects
8. Book launch and marketing
Publishing a book is a big event in the life of a writer! It’s also a lot of work. There are a ton of things to do before and after.
Even though I Pray Today didn’t come out until September of 2018, I was already working on marketing in January. I made this collection to hold onto all the information about the book release – including these notes from a meeting with my lovely editor and marketing director.
It also housed the list all the things I wanted to do before the book released: a website overhaul, setting up a blog tour, etc.
Later, the blog tour got its own collection where I kept track of dates, topics, and posts. As I cleared details with my hosts, I checked them off: when we agreed on a date, when we agreed on a topic, when the blog post was finished and sent off. A blog tour is a lot of work!
9. Conferences and Workshops
When I plan to attend a conference or workshop, I make a collection to track all the pieces of information relevant to it: date, time, location, reminders, to do lists, etc.
I’ve already got a spread for SCBWI’s Wild, Wild Midwest 2019 with the date, location, and registration date listed. (our regional conferences fill up FAST.) Later I will add more information I need to keep track of: the sessions I register for, the hotel I’m staying at, dinner dates with friends, etc.
10. Author Events
Like a conference collection, this is a place to park all the relevant information: time, date, schedule of events, contact person, payment, etc. In October of 2018, I got to be a visiting scholar at Purdue University for four days. I used this collection a lot that week!
11. Project management
I’ve been writing a work-for-hire picture book series with the folks at Purdue University since 2016. Right now I’m in the middle of writing a second batch of books for the series. This deadline cheat sheet was so helpful for writing the first book that I copied it over into my 2019 bujo to keep it handy as I finish the next two.
12. Meeting notes
When I have meetings about my books (like the marketing meeting notes for I Pray Today above) or my contract work, I keep all the notes in my bullet journal.
When the meeting is scheduled, I make it a collection so I can jot down all the relevant information (time, date, location, etc.) On meeting day, it becomes a place to jot down notes.
I’m currently in three critique groups. That’s a LOT, and I need a way to keep track of it all. I give each group its own collection. In the header, I list the names of the members and the meeting schedule.
Each month, I jot down what I submit and list each member who submits. As I do critiques, I underline or cross off the names so I can easily see which critiques I still need to do.
15. Writing Challenges
I love writing challenges! They aren’t for every writer, but for me, they give me a push to achieve my goals.
I give each writing a challenge its own collection. Here I can write any relevant information like deadlines, websites, etc. And since writing challenges often require writing, I put that here, too.
There are a ton of writing challenges out there – you could easily spend all your time on challenges and never do any writing, so be choosy. Pick the challenges that bring you joy and help you achieve your goals.
I devised this spread last year to track my monthly progress in the 12×12 writing challenge. I write down the working title of each manuscript I write or revise as I complete them. When I watch a webinar and use one of the special submission opportunities, I check the box. It’s immensely satisfying to get to the end of the year and see this page all filled out.
In 2018 I started reviewing books every month. As I was reading through the year, when I came across a book I loved I would add it to the list. I never had trouble coming up with topics!
18. Pen Test Page
It’s super annoying to write one page only to realize it bled through the page and now the backside is unreadable. Grr. You can prevent this by testing each new pen or marker before using it in your bullet journal. Bonus: if you fall in love with a pen or ink, you have all the information to buy it again.
Here’s the pen test page in one of my bullet journals.
When you flip it over, you can see how much bleed through and ghosting you get from your pen.
Note: Learn from my mistake. Don’t use the very last page, because when you flip it over, it’s against the dark cover, so it’s harder to tell how much ghosting you will get when it’s against a page. This year I’m using the second to last page.
In late 2016 after a few years of working to build my writing career, I was finally getting somewhere. In September 2016 my first book, Goodnight Jesus, was published. That fall I also got to write my first Work for Hire picture books, the Little Elephants’ Big Adventures. Hurrah!
But that also meant I had a lot to keep track of: marketing a new book, managing contract work, writing my own manuscripts, querying, seeking additional contract work, and on and on and on.
I had also increased my writing output, but I was struggling to balance multiple projects.
Which projects is still out to query? Which should I send to my critique group this month? And I had a great idea for a new manuscript – where did I put that?
I couldn’t focus, and I wasn’t getting anything done.
In short: I was swamped.
I grabbed my bullet journal and made a monthly spread. I divided up all my tasks into different categories like marketing, submission, and writing.
I also listed out every manuscript I was working on. All of them. And I categorized them based on where they were in the writing process.
Suddenly, I could clearly see all the different moving part. I could zero in on the most important tasks and make plans for the future. And that paralyzing anxiety of too-much-to-do went away.
Over time, I’ve refined this system, but the basics are the same. I divide tasks into categories and have a framework for managing multiple writing projects.
At the top of the left-hand page, I list out my schedule and deadlines for the month. I love the Calendex, but I like having this right there, so I don’t forget things. Copying it over first, also means that I have a good handle on the month before I start making decisions on what to tackle.
The rest of the left page is broken into sections based on the major categories of writing tasks I want to accomplish each month:
Business and Marketing: Writing is a business, and there are tasks associated with that: seeking new Work for Hire contracts, seeking speaking engagements, website work, and blogging. When I have a new book on the horizon, this section beefs up with all the marketing work involved.
Submissions: Every month I submit to agents, editors, awards, etc. Here is where I can list what I plan to do for the month.
Craft: I’m a big believer in continually learning and improving my writing. I aim to do some craft development each month. That could be something big like going to a conference or completing an online class. Or it could be small – reading a craft-focused book or watching a free webinar.
MAKING THE TASK CATEGORY LISTS:
Most months, I tackle items in each category. That means I’m continually moving forward on many fronts. Over time that adds up to a lot of progress.
As I create this spread, I’m making many small decisions that help me set and achieve goals.
For instance, in Business and Marketing this month I have blog posts to write (like this one!), I need to gather up the last of my tax documents, and (time permitting) put together a page on my website about Author Visits.
I also want to submit to Work For Hire publishing houses to drum up more contract work for the future. However, it’s not pressing (I’m booked out through February). Also, a peek at the Schedule at the top lets me know that I don’t have time this month. I could decide this goal isn’t worth pursuing and cross it off. Instead, I decided it’s still something I want to do… just not this month. The arrow signifies that I’m bumping it down the road to the next month.
Similarly, this month I don’t have any Submissions listed. Although I try to submit each month, I know December submissions tend to languish while everyone is busy with holidays. So I decided to put my efforts towards other endeavors this month and hit the ground running after the new year.
These small decisions stack up over time. I’m setting goals and intentions every single month. By the end of the year, it amounts to a substantial amount of work all of which is aligned with my goals.
Most of the right page is used for what I call a Project Status. This is my lifeline for managing multiple projects. It’s an overview of all the manuscripts I’m currently working on, sorted by their present stage in the writing process.
The process reads from bottom to top:
Simmer: I always write down story ideas when they come to me. I have long lists elsewhere in my bullet journal. The most promising get put here. I let these stew in my brain for weeks or months. That simmering time helps lets the idea-fragments coalesce into a fully-formed idea. Plus, after a bit of stewing, I can usually tell which are worth pursuing and which are… not. When ideas languish on this list for a long time, I know they aren’t worth pursuing.
Write: These are the things I am planning to write this month. I pluck them from the simmer list, contracted work, or a new idea that’s too exciting to wait. I try to push a piece all the way through to a complete first draft before I set it aside. Then it moves to the Draft list.
Resting Drafts: This is the where I place all the manuscripts that are written but not done. Resting is a vital step in the writing process. A bit of distance helps you critically evaluate your manuscripts.
Revise: Most months I choose a piece from the Draft list for revision. I try to take it through a complete revision before setting it aside. I work over the whole manuscript focusing on just one aspect of revision. Usually, it ends up right back in the Draft list to rest before another round of revision. Very rarely do pieces graduate to the Done pile.
Done: Every step up to here has resulted in manuscripts being culled. Some never make it through the idea simmering stage. Others I may revise multiple times before I realize they’re not workable – at least not right now. But those that make it through the process end up here. These are the manuscripts I consider to be as complete and polished as I am capable of making them. They’re the ones I’m currently querying (that’s the Q designation). Even still, I will occasionally decide that a manuscript is just not publishable right now. Then I drop them off the list. Once in a while I will review a retired manuscript I find a new angle for it.
MAKING A PROJECT STATUS LIST: Each month, I’m considering and critically evaluating the manuscripts on this list.
Done: I start with the previous month’s list. I copy over anything that is Done. Occasionally, I decide that a manuscript needs to be retired. Usually, this is after I’ve queried it and not gotten any bites. Since these are the pool of manuscripts I’m currently submitting I made a simple designation to show what’s been queried ( -> Q) and what has been subbed elsewhere (like to awards and grant programs).
Revise: I look at the list of Resting Drafts from the previous month and decide which is most promising to Revise this month. I try to keep this list short – one or maybe two picture books a month is about what I can handle. This month is a little longer because my novel is with a Beta reader. I’m not doing active work on it, but it’s not exactly sitting in a metaphorical drawer either, so I listed it here with a note that it’s out to a Beta reader.
Resting Drafts: I copy over the rest of the items that are in the Resting Draft stage. As I do, I consider if these are workable or if they need to be retired, too. Sometimes I will include a note about a manuscript. I have one draft that I think may be better suited as a poem than a picture book.
Write: I consider the ideas on my Simmer list from the previous month. I look at the list of story ideas and choose the most promising to write into a new draft. Again, I try to keep this list short. This month I have one picture book listed. I’ve also started listing blog posts or other non-book writing here. I don’t put my non-book writing through this full process, but it’s a reminder so I don’t bite off more than I can chew.
Simmer: Lastly, I copy over any ideas that didn’t make the cut for writing this month. I consider if each idea is worth pursuing or not. If not, I leave them off. If
This whole process takes me just a few minutes. But as I go I’m making small evaluations (Would this work better as a poem? Is this idea worth pursuing? Which draft do I want to make each month?) And those small decisions mean that I am setting goals (like what I will write) and critically evaluating my work.
This month I have a work for hire picture book due and another one to begin. With blog posts, that’s more than enough for a busy holiday-filled month.
Starting with the Done and Revise manuscripts means that I’m focusing on pushing manuscripts toward the finish line. (Instead of continually producing new drafts that don’t get anywhere.
The last thing I do is to make a quick list of the month’s top priorities. By this time, I’ve made all my decisions about what to work on. I like having a handy list where I pull those top tasks from the different parts of the monthly spread.
I’m a bullet journal and planning junkie. Working out the exact right system for maximum joy and productivity is 1000% my jam.
Over the last few years, I’ve worked out a system that helps me make the most of my writing time, keep track of multiple projects, and meet my goals.
Today I’m really excited to launch a blog series on Bullet journaling for writers. Read this blog series to learn my (not so) secret system for organizing your writing life to reduce stress and maximize joy.
Not only that, you can get a printable version for free when you sign up for my mailing list.
Today I’m going to take you for a tour through my bullet journal.
In later posts, I will take you through my magical monthly spread and share ideas for collections for every writer’s bullet journal.
I hope this peek into my bullet journal helps you find more writing joy in your writing life.
The thing about bullet journaling is that it’s not just about the journal. The magic is in the process.
As you create the journal you’re reflecting on the tasks you want to accomplish = setting goals and make plans accordingly.
Afterward, you analyze the un-done tasks and unmet goals before making new plans = reevaluating your goals and resetting your intentions.
It’s a process with goal-setting and intentionality built in that just so happens to fit in a notebook.
Once you get the basics down, you can customize it to your heart’s desire. Your bullet journal will not be exactly like mine, because you don’t work in exactly the same way I do.
My Bullet Journal
You can start a bullet journal any time and keep going until it’s full. I prefer to set up one for each year. I’ve been doing this for a few years, so I know that one journal is just about right for a year.
For 2019, I’m using a Silver Rhodia goal book. It has good quality paper (which I need for fountain pens) and it has some pages pre-formatted in useful ways.
It’s looking great – crisp and untarnished by, you know, actual use. Great for inspiration but empty pages don’t really show you how to use a journal.
So I’m also going to share some pictures from my 2018 journal – a softcover Moleskin. This one has that lived-in look that I’ve come to cherish. Which is to say, it’s messy. No matter how good my intentions, at some point I get a bit slapdash. So don’t despair if your journal isn’t a work of art like the ones you see on Instagram – I’m right there with you.
The first thing you need is an index. You’ll be adding things to your bullet journal over time. When you do, put an entry in the index with the page number so you can easily find the entry later.
My 2019 journal already comes with pages formatted for a table of contents and all the pages numbered.
Previously I set aside a few pages for the index and numbered the pages by hand. It’s tedious, but not hard.
A collection is simply a two-page spread of information you want to keep together. Find a blank page and list all the information together.
Here’s one from my 2019 Bullet Journal. I try to blog on the first and fifteenth of each month. In my 2019 writing bullet journal, I went to the next open page (26) and made a collection to hold all the information about blog posts. I noted that in the index.
It’s looking a little empty right now, but it will fill up through the year as I jot down ideas and track what I post.
There are a ton of collections that can be useful for writers. I have another blog post with collection ideas for writers. Make sure to hop over and check that out.
The future log is a special kind of collection. It’s a place to track future events and tasks.
Last year, I didn’t really use a future log. My Rhodia has these pages preformatted with the months, so I’m going try using them as a future log this year. You can see I’ve already jotted down some deadlines and tasks for January and February.
The Rhodia comes with spreads I can use for this. Previously I drew it out by hand.
SETTING UP A CALENDEX: Each column represents a month. Each row represents a day. I drew lines across to show breaks between weeks. (I use a Monday-Sunday week for planning so the weekend isn’t split up.)
USING THE CALENDEX: Earlier I showed you the collection I made for Blogging information on page 26.
In my Calendex, I wrote in the page number (26) on the first and fifteenth of each month.
Now when I look at the calendex, I can instantly see that I’ve got a deadline that day (like a calendar) and I can easily trace it back to all the relevant information on page 26 (like an index).
You can make this even more useful with color coding. I use green to signify critique group meetings and deadlines, blue for writing deadlines (like blog posts), red for writing challenges, and purple for events. The little stars indicate holidays, birthdays, and the like.
USING THE CALENDEX FOR PLANNING: I love the Calendex because I can instantly see how busy I’m going to be. For instance, in January 2019 I can see that I’ll be working on writing new books for the Little Elephant’s series all month long. I also have a writing challenge I want to participate in. It’s looking busy already and I don’t even have any of my critique group meetings listed yet. (I’m in 3 critique groups. It’s a lot.)
This is useful for planning: I know January is not the month to start writing that new novel or to take on more contract work.
My monthly log is by far the most important piece for keeping me organized. I’m dedicating a whole blog post to this one. So make sure you check that out. I’ll give you a taste of it here.
In a traditional Monthly log, at the beginning of the month, you would make a spread for the month. Copy over all upcoming events and tasks for the month from your future log. Then add anything else you need to get done for the month.
MY MONTHLY SPREAD: Over time, I’ve devised my own monthly spread for my writing bullet journal. It’s designed to meet my needs:
I needed a system to keep track of a variety of writing tasks: writing, craft development, business and marketing, submissions, etc.
I needed a way to manage multiple manuscripts at the same time.
The whole thing serves as a dashboard – a place to gather the most important information so I can tell, at a glance, what my priorities are and what tasks I need to accomplish to meet my goals.
Daily (ish) Logs
The daily log is your list of events and tasks for the day. Though you can get fancy, mine is essentially a to-do list. After writing it out, I sometimes number them by priority.
It’s daily-ish because I don’t write one out every day. In a few days when the list is no longer relevant, I make a new one.
My biggest 2017 goal was to get a literary agent. An agent will help me achieve my larger career goals by giving me more guidance, helping me produce the best possible work, and opening more doors.
So throughout 2017, I did all the things you’re supposed to do to get a golden ticket to the land of agented writers. I wrote a lot; I improved my writing through classes, webinars, and conferences; I read copious numbers of books; and I submitted widely but wisely.
I did all the right things. No agent.
Why? Because it’s true what agents say: sometimes the time isn’t right or the fit isn’t right or the stars just do not align in my favor. I came close, but it just wasn’t right.
I “failed” my goal despite having the most productive writing year of my life, despite getting a new book under contract, despite reading a bunch of wonderful books, and improving my writing craft.
Someone rightly pointed out that my goal was doomed from the beginning because it was a goal that was out of my control.
I can’t make an agent fall in love with my book. I can’t make the industry change to suit my writing style. I can’t demand that an agent with a full client list, make room for little ol’ me. All I can do is make myself the best possible writer and be ready when the stars do finally align in my favor.
So I flipped the perspective.
Instead of goals we can’t control:
I will get an agent
I will get a promotion at work
I will get a book deal
I’m dedicating myself to the type of goals I can control:
I will write, read, learn, and submit
I will exceed all deliverable goals at work
I will write daily
In the end, these things often amount to the same thing. Doing your best on the things you can control often leads to the outcomes you can’t control. I didn’t set a goal to have the most productive writing year of my life, but it happened because I aimed to write daily.
I didn’t get an agent this year. But I did set the groundwork to be the best writer I can be. In time, that will attract an agent. I just have to remember to keep doing the work and have faith.
When my stars align, I will be ready.
Check out this post to learn more about setting wise resolutions.
Two years ago I had only one resolution: submit a manuscript to an editor before the year was up.
I didn’t expect it to lead to anything. I just needed to get over my fear and do it. That turned into my first book contract. (To be published next year!) None of which would have happened if I hadn’t made that one small resolution.
New Year’s resolutions are one way to help yourself achieve a larger goal.
To help with that, here are my DOs and DON’Ts for setting your 2016 resolutions.
DON’T: Make large, unachievable resolutions. “Become a best-selling author” is probably not achievable. At least not in the space of one year.
DO: Make resolutions that are hard but doable. “Finish novel first draft” is realistic but challenging.
DON’T: Pick vague resolutions. “Exercise more” is a common resolution. How much is “more”? If you normally stay glued to your couch, does walking the extra 3 feet to the recliner count as “more exercise”?
DO: Pick specific resolutions. “Train for and run a 5K” is specific. You know exactly what you must do to meet this goal. Programs even exist to help you.
DON’T: Forget to set a deadline. “Pay off debt” is doable and specific but without a deadline you might not get around to it.
DO: Set doable deadlines. “Pay off debt by June” gives you a deadline. Now you can start budgeting for the next 6 months.
DON’T: Set too many resolutions at once. “Train for a 5K and finish novel first draft and volunteer at the kids’ schools every week and……” This is just another way of making your resolutions unachievable.
DO: Focus on the most important goals. For most of us, one or two hard but doable resolution will be about right.
DON’T: Make a resolution and forget about it. That’s a sure-fire way to fail your resolutions.
DO: Share your resolutions with supportive friends and family. They’ll keep you on track and support you along the way. Why not start in the comments below?