I have a bookshelf filled with journals I rarely use. Some I’ve never opened. They’re too precious to write in. Sound familiar?
After investing in all these beautiful journals and buying gorgeous fountain pens that make writing on paper a joy, I was determined to use these tools. I was blocked writing on my computer, but analog seemed to be breaking that block for me. Serendipity? I’d like to think so.
Then I ran across a class Rachael Stephen offered called the Story Toolkit Workshop. It was a limited time thing, so if you see it offered again, I highly suggest taking it if you want to organize the mess of brainstorming, planning, and plotting in a better way.
In the meantime, she has a great YouTube channel that I’ve been watching for a few years and lots of videos on her website. Rachel was who introduced me to Dan Harmon’s Plot Embryo system, a game changer for me, so I’ve been following her ever since.
Rachael essentially laid out a great but simple method of how to write down those messy notes in a Workbook like my red one in the photo above. In the past, I’ve had scraps of paper all over my office with gems written down and notes on my phone in multiple apps. I have info for one novel jotted in five different notebooks, so I can’t find anything when I need it and end up stuck again because I can’t remember the perfect scene I’ve already outlined…somewhere. If only I could find it.
The Workbook is where all the thinking occurs that may or may not ever make it into your story. Those notes in your phone and written on the back of envelopes goes in there. The Workbooks is not precious at all, much like those scraps of paper, and it is even intended to be tossed at some point. This was why I bought fairly inexpensive notebooks, but the paper is still great and it lays flat, so writing in them is my main focus rather than getting comfortable. In this Workbook, I write in pencil. This is where I’m working out my story, from problems to character names to the climax.
The Journal is the best part of Rachael’s method, because once you’ve worked it all out in your workbook, you only keep the good parts in the Journal, that beautiful book you likely spent a lot of money on. Anything that will eventually go into your story will be transferred to a Journal that will only be used for writing, like the light pink Bullet Journal in the photo above.
Maybe those journals sitting untouched on your bookshelf are so precious because of their cost. Perhaps the way they feel when you pick them up or the time someone took to make them. But your stories are just as precious. I’d say they are more precious because you put your heart and soul into them. So don’t be afraid to use your journals.Posy Roberts
Rachael’s method is to transfer story canon to your Journal in pen, so anything you know will make its way into your book or that you may need to refer back to at some point. While you don’t need all your backstory included in your actual novel, it’s nice to have it so you can remember what your character’s wound is and why it’s so hard for them to accept love…or whatever.
Write in pen in your Journal. Write slowly. Take your time because this is the info you’ll refer back to and use as you write. And if you ever write a sequel, this will help you remember all the key points. If writing in pen freaks you out, write in pencil first and then use a smudge-proof pen to write over it. Test them, maybe even on the back page of your journal. Invest is a good eraser (I love the Staedtler and Pentel ones that come in a clicky pen-looking thing) and then erase your pencil marks once you’re done.
In Rachael’s method, you use the index like a traditional Bullet Journal, the symbols for tasks, notes, and so on, and use the logging system. You also create Collections as you go. If you suddenly need a list of all your characters because you keep forgetting your main character’s sister’s name, find the next blank spread and write it there, then note it in your index for easy reference later. Then on the next page, start another log. So there’s no preplanning, which I love.
The thing that tripped me up with the BuJo system in the past was all the fancy layouts you see splashed all over Instagram and YouTube. That was just fodder for procrastination and I’ve done enough of that with my writing in recent years.
Instead, I’m using Ryder Carroll’s simple method that so many have built upon and turned into an art form. If you don’t know about the BuJo system, I suggest watching his video, but remember you don’t have to use every aspect of the system. I don’t use the monthly log or future log in my writing journal because it’s too much pressure.
I love not working ahead. I may not write every day, so dated calendars for writing were stressful for me, especially because I have an editing business to run that demands my time.
Now, I feel no guilt when I open my journal and write a new date and jot down the writing-focused tasks I need to accomplish that day. At the same time, it seems to keep me focused on writing in a way none of my fancier Bullet Journal layouts were able to do. Simple is always better for me because I’m a macro organizer. Get too detailed and I lose interest.
Track More Stuff
Another thing I’m tracking now is the planning process. In the past, the only thing I recorded was my word count for the day. Well, there’s a hell of a lot of planning before I even get to writing words. I use Dan Harmon’s Plot Embryo method to help me see the bird’s eye view of my story, and I may work on one character’s story circle for several days with multiple iterations until I’m finally happy with it. Same goes with figuring out backstory. Yet I never gave myself credit for those accomplishments in my old system. Now I do, and it makes all the difference.
I love having a journal completely focused on writing.
I have more than enough journals on my shelves that have monthly accounting on one page and then story notes on the next. I’ve paged through them and years too late discovered notes I tried to track down for days but never did. I’m a huge proponent of using task-specific journals now. I even have task-specific analog planners now. But I’ll get to all that in the coming weeks.
If you run across Rachael’s Story Toolkit Workshop, enroll. It’s free, and she goes into much greater detail than I did here. She has lots to tricks and hints to help you. I took so many notes. Plus, she gives you a scene-by-scene workflow printable that is fantastic. Sign up for her newsletter! The link is on her website at the bottom of the first page.
After working with this system for a few weeks, I have a feeling this BuJo of mine will house more than one story, but we’ll see. I just like having everything in one place because it saves me hunting and gathering time. I’ve wasted so much time gathering everything I need, and to be honest, it was just another procrastination method. I should have my PhD in procrastination.
So what do you think? I’d love to hear if you’ve used a method similar to this or something else that worked for you.