Today I excited to share the second part of my series on bullet journaling: the monthly log that is the magic to the whole system.
But before we jump in, if you aren’t familiar with Bullet Journaling read part 1. I’ll wait.
Now let me tell you how I got here.
How Success Led to Chaos
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.
Now that you know how to use my Magical Monthly spread, you can download your own copy here. In the next post on Bullet Journaling for writers, I’ll be going over collections just for writers.