A big part of what I have been doing lately is refining my journaling practice. In my early teens I received Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way” from my father as a gift. On and off again for years (but especially for the last seven or so) I have been journaling regularly. More recently (since around the beginning of the year) I have been dabbling in bullet journaling. It is a flexible system created by Ryder Carroll that helped me to streamline my journaling practice, calendar keeping and miscellaneous tracking into a single journal at a time.
Over the years I’ve discovered that although it is possible to write inside any cheap notebook, it is so much easier to tear out pages from a cheap spiral bound notebook. In the years when I was doing the Artist’s Way exercises I used cheap notebooks and scraps of paper. The whole idea of the exercises is to let all the messy thoughts spill out so that you get in the habit of writing and once you do you’ll discover that some of the material is worth keeping and even fuels better creative practice. And while this is entirely true there’s also so much desire to trash all of the pages that are embarrassing, boring, uninspired and any number of other conditions. At various points in my life I trashed loose journal pages within a few years of writing them because their naked truth was frightening. I wasn’t a brilliant writer, my insights were often tedious and I cringed at the banality of the thoughts contained therein.
Then I left writing and creating for awhile to finish my degree in Anthropology. With time and added perspective I found that my old, inane, journal pages had something to offer which wasn’t brilliant or creative but rather a real snapshot into my own thought process that was undeniably authentic. And I realized I wanted to keep journals because it is so easy after a decade or so to allow yourself to rewrite your own history and forget valuable perspectives which don’t easily fit into the new directions of your life. So I started journaling again. The big difference was that I bought hardbound notebooks that I couldn’t bear to rip up in order to conceal from myself the exceptionally dull day to day thoughts.
The more I journaled, the more I discovered that it was indeed a great way to free the mind of clutter. Thought it seemed a shame to fill beautiful journals with uninspired words there were always little insights that often took a lot of time to arrive at. Inspired by my journaling practice I had begun to track other information in separate day planners and notebooks but it created a lot of chaos which made it easy to abandon the excess recording. It wasn’t until I’d stumbled on Bullet Journaling that I started really enjoying tracking again.
Starting in June I refined my basic layout which I’d developed after months of lurking on Instagram and seeing what other people do with their bullet journals (BuJo). I had played around with a variety of ways to track and plan but ultimately I found that although I liked the splash of color in my journal I preferred sticking to a basic system of Tombow N25, N65 and N75 for all decorative details. For myself I found that I liked having a habit tracker, a Goal page, boxes for each day of the month to doodle in and a place to put schedule details.
However, I left my journal pages plain because I was still very focused on using them as primarily a brain dump. I wasn’t happy with a single habit tracker covering the whole page and found that I liked having each habit with it’s own rectangle to fill in for the month. I also started playing around with a weekly tracker but I didn’t love it.
I had a bit of a breakthrough in July and I’ve been refining the style of it since. I do add color in at times but I don’t find it enjoyable to have more than the greyscale for the main calendar or habit tracking as it becomes cumbersome and takes away from journaling, writing, editing or art time.
What I have finally arrived at is the above which is to include (ahead of time) several boxes for writing prompts, to-do lists and other casual activities that motivate me to journal on a daily basis.
One of the big challenges with journaling or planning is that it can become such a phenomenal tool for procrastination because it is very creative and can become a real time sink. It’s also a great way to get a routine going because it can be a place where there’s no pressure for it to be anything more than what it is–a place to practice.
My tips from what I have discovered so far from my practice is:
1. Browse other people’s work
2. Think about what types of tracking and writing you want to do
3. Begin with layouts that reflect what you want to keep track of and prompt habits on a regular basis (for me this was 30-31 empty boxes to doodle in every day in order to force myself to practice drawing new things)
4. Limit yourself to only a few colors (less than 5) so that setup becomes very straight forward
5. If at the end of the month you hate tracking x and y but still want to track y, try new layouts. Reflect on why you aren’t consistently tracking something and try something new.