I love writing conferences – I always learn a ton and come home excited to work on my manuscripts. In fact, I wrote so many notes that the fountain pen in the next photo was over half empty when I got home. To put that in perspective, that’s the ink equivalent of a couple of ballpoint pens or more. That’s a lot of writing!
But it’s also just plain fun to hang out with people who love books as much as me.
This was my first writing conference outside of Illinois, so I can now say that writers everywhere are some of the kindest, loveliest humans on the planet. I’m running on fumes today because I stayed up every night chatting with my fellow conference-goers. It was definitely worth 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.
If you’re not living under a rock, you’ve probably heard about the upcoming solar eclipse. Which I like to call eclipsapocalypse. (If you do live under a rock, I don’t judge.)
I’ve gathered together some resources so the children (and inner children) in your life can have enjoy the eclipsapocalyse in style. In this first post, we’ll look at resources for learning about solar eclipses. Scroll down for videos and book recommendations.
Later posts will cover viewing the eclipse and hands-on eclipse activities.
LEARN ABOUT SOLAR ECLIPSES
A solar eclipse happens when the moon moves between the Sun and the Earth. The moon blocks the sun’s light and casts a shadow on the Earth. If you’re standing on the part of the Earth where the shadow falls, you’ll see the moon move in front of the Sun and block out the light.
It’s a big deal because full solar eclipses are rare. It’s been nearly a 100 years in In a full eclipse the moon lines up exactly with the sun to completely cover it. Around the area of the full eclipse there’s a much bigger area that will see a partial eclipse. The sun and moon don’t line up exactly, but part of the sun’s light will still be blocked.
The reaction to Goodnight Jesus has been amazing. I’m humbled by the many wonderful reviews. And they just keep coming.
But his one is my favorite because this review came from a child.
Not just any child but a sweet boy with autism and a language delay. So how can a child show appreciation for a book when they don’t have any words to tell you?
By eating it of course.
His mother explains:
“The picture prompts work great for our son with extreme language delay, and the illustrations hit the sweet spot on interesting/overstimulating balance. There’s just enough detail for him to like taking his time looking over the book on his own AND he can follow along while we read without having a sensory overload. As you already know if you follow this blog, my son eats books he really likes.”
Over at Writing Like A Mother you can read the full review where she discusses how the book was received by all her kids: the older, the younger, the wiggly, and those with special needs. Goodnight Jesus may have chunky pages and short text of a board book but it has hidden depths that can be a discussion springboard for older children, too.
The reviews of Goodnight Jesus just keep coming. Today’s comes from Elissa Bjeletich of Raising Saints.
“If you have not yet seen Angela Isaacs’ new board book for babies and toddlers, you are missing out. Frankly, I was blown away.” [Emphasis mine.]
She gushed about the illustrations:
“Nicholas Malara’s illustrations may be the sweetest things I’ve ever seen.”
And had kind things to say about the text, too:
“Angela Isaacs keeps the wording simple and pure, with a lovely rhythm that is exactly right for a bedtime book.”
But mostly she saw just how important a book like Goodnight Jesus can be be a young child:
“I can’t help but think that book like this will open a child’s heart to love — God’s love, the love of the Saints and the love of the family. Truly, it’s a wonderful book, and a really beautiful first step in a child’s religious education.”
Yesterday marked one year since the New Horizons space probe made it’s flyby of Pluto. That also means it’s been over a year that I’ve been working on writing a book about the mission. Uhm, wow.
It’s been quite a year. The New Horizons mission was historic. It was the first mission to Pluto and the first to visit anything that far away in our solar system.
Scientists made many amazing discoveries. First off, Pluto has a heart. And it has a heartbeat! (Ok, not really, but it makes a good headline.) The heart is known as Sputnik Planum and it’s made of nitrogen ice. On Earth nitrogen exists as a gas in our atmosphere, but Pluto is cold enough for it to freeze into ice. Nitrogen periodically bubbles up out of the planets crust and spreads out over the heart. The rest of the planet may be roughed up with craters and mountains, but the heart is nice and smooth. These “heartbeats” are like spreading a layer of frosting over a cake – it gives it a nice smooth finish. A frigid, icy heart would be a bad thing for a person, but for a planet it’s just plain cool.
The holidays really snuck up on me. I was lured into a false sense of security by the bizarrely warm weather. Now the soul-suckingly cold weather has returned and I just realized Christmas is less than a week away.
Board book for expectant parents and little babies
Babies love books. They get cuddles and attention from their favorite adults. The get to learn about the world around them. They’re also great for teething….. I recommend board books with stiff, durable pages and short texts for baby bookworms.
They’ve just learned how to use their bodies so they want to use those newfound skills. A lot. Don’t fear, in a few short months they’ll want to cuddle again. Until then offer books that appeal to their desire to move and do. Durability is still important while they learn the fine art of turning (not tearing) pages.
Most kids will enjoy some longer, more complex stories when they are in preschool or kindergarten. At least some of the time. These chapter books are shorter with some pictures to help along the listener. They’ve also been chosen to have mild, non-scary content.
Read aloud chapter books for preschool and kindergarten
When your child is ready for something a little meatier, try these books. These classics are much loved in our house. They’re also free of scary or mature content* that wouldn’t be appropriate for young listeners.
* I adore Anna Hibiscus. Adore. The characters and stories are hilarious and beautiful. I also adore that the author tackles big issues like poverty, inequity, and race in a way that isn’t scary for young kids. Even my very sensitive 4 year old was able to handle the content in this book. Use your judgement.
Books for brand new readers
Reading is a skill. It takes a lot of practice to master. These shorter books are light on content but high on entertainment. That makes them the perfect place for a new reader to flex those reading muscles. The first chapter books for reading aloud are also great for kid’s just starting to read.
Most teachers (and authors!) believe that kids that don’t like to read just haven’t met the right book yet. Some kids also get stuck because the books at their reading level just don’t appeal to them. Do you know what almost all kids love? Comics. Know what’s easy to read? Comics. Know what builds reading skills? Reading comics. These books may not be high fiction but they’re a lot of fun. And comics have been the gateway to reading for many kids.