Bullet journal, minimalism, and my to-do list.

I use the bullet journal [bujo] system of organizing, well, my life. Except if you happen to have a preconceived notion of what a bujo is and how it should be used, I probably defy those thoughts. There are as many ways to use a bujo as there are people who use it, and there really aren’t “right” ways or “wrong” ways. Just what works for someone and what doesn’t. What I learned early on in my bujo journey was that the traditional way didn’t work for me, so I had to forge my own path, which was largely determined by trial and error. I also had guidance from several YouTubers and bloggers.

Since I started this system in December, not only have I gone through a full journal [I have lots of collections], I’ve also adapted the monthly, weekly, and daily spreads numerous times. I’ve actually nailed down a weekly spread that works for me, but I’m still tweaking those dailies – and I truly do need daily spreads to keep me focused.

 

weekly bujo spread.jpg

My weekly spread template. I switch out habits as needed too.

 

I’ve been toying around with the idea of minimalism and what it means to me and my life. I know I’m not one of those people who can just walk in a room and toss out 90% of the stuff in there without having a panic attack [seriously, I get really attached to meaningless stuff] and I probably couldn’t just pack up my life and my children’s lives and live in a tiny home the size of a mouse hole [see the comment about being overly attached to stuff], but I can introduce some concepts of minimalism in my life and see where that leads me.

What I’ve been reading about is the power of doing one thing at a time, which is a form of mental minimalism. Having that intense focus on a singular task makes it more likely for that task to be completed. So I’m adopting it! There’s also the idea that we were born to do one thing, but I feel so caged in thinking I’m here only to do that one thing and nothing else. [Actually, there’s a word for people like us: multipotentialite!] I have so many things I’m juggling: being a parent, homeschool teacher/blogger, indie author, freelance editor, writing coach, spiritual advisor, co-editor of a magazine, and a co-editor of dozens of anthologies. It’s a lot to take in, especially knowing I only have twenty-four hours in a day to do things, and my kids take up most of the daylight hours. In reality, I truly only have time to do one thing a day, and if I’m intentional with that one thing I can make a lot of progress with it.

So, how exactly does this translate to my bullet journal and to-do list? 

Before, I used to just make a running list of things I needed to get done during the week, and I’d pick and choose what I’d do that day when it came to making the daily spread. I’d have tasks like “write 2,000 words” mashed between “finish that damn load of laundry” and “buy some butter FFS,” and while having clean clothes and butter helps, it doesn’t exactly get me further ahead with my goals. [Let’s be honest: I walk around home in pajamas all day, and I wear the same two outfits religiously.]

Now, I’m tweaking the daily spread to include those little tasks [like paying bills and house chores], but to separate that really important stuff [like finish editing a client’s manuscript] in what I call “focus tasks.” Each week, I can have one focus topic: writing, editing, coaching, blogging, reading, homeschooling. While I can do more than just one, I’ll be devoting most of my week’s time to the chosen one. Each day, I can have up to three focus tasks, and one of those tasks has to be contributing to the focus topic. If all three tasks relate to the focus topic, that’s even better.

For example, this coming week’s focus topic is editing. I have a few projects I’m juggling and another manuscript will hit my desk in a few weeks, so I’m trying to get a handle on what I do have right now. While I’ll be able to do other stuff besides editing, because I’m not a red pen machine [how awesome would that be?!], my main focus is on editing tasks.

For example, Monday’s focus tasks are: copy edit 40 pages of Manuscript 1, write 500 words, finish reading Grave Measures and review. 

This is a heavy day of stuff for me, but as long as I finish the edits it’s a successful day. Focus tasks don’t have to be so time-intensive and they can include anything to do with my main projects, which can be planning a novel/series, doing research for a novel, researching aspects of indie publishing, updating a blog, reading and reviewing books, Patreon work [which I haven’t launched yet], networking with authors/readers/publishers, etc. The goal is to make progress in an area of my life.

Do you use a bullet journal? How do you track your goals?

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Writing and a 21-Day Meditation Experience

This post will be a heavier topic than usual, but I think that’s okay. Life is sometimes profound and deep, and we, as authors and readers, shouldn’t shy away from those ideas.

Of course, it’s April, which means it’s Camp NaNoWriMo. I’ve written a few posts on this already. What I haven’t done, however, was keep you all updated with my progress. There are a lot of reasons [excuses] for this: editing contracts, landlord inspection, and a weekend hiking trip are the big ones. Needless to say, my progress hasn’t been what I’d have hoped. In fact, my original goal was to write 40,000 words this month. [Totally unreasonable, by the way.] I bumped it down to 25,000 words, but, after this hiking trip, I decided that 20,000 words was a reasonable goal. Right now, I’m sitting with a paltry 5,496 words. I will essentially quadruple this in the next ten days.

In addition to Camp NaNo, I’m also participating in an annual 21-day meditation experience hosted by Oprah and Deepak Chopra. The topics change each year, and I’ve been participating in this for the past three years [at least]. Anyway, this year, the topic is all about finding hope in everyday life. Hope is something definitely lacking in my life, and it’s something I am trying to work on.

I’m a little behind on the days, and I just wrapped up days 6 and 7 tonight. I decided to do the meditation in a secluded IHOP booth at midnight. Instead of chanting the mantra, I free write during the meditation part. It allows me the space to really connect with the message. After that meditation, though, I was a weeping puddle. I was ugly-crying by the end of it, and I didn’t stop for several minutes. Let me tell you, in case you’ve never broke down at midnight in a restaurant, it was awkward, but I needed that vulnerability with myself.

Day 6’s message was: “I trust in my core self at every moment,” and it talked about how we build trust and belief in ourselves and how we translate that to others. If we have a negative view of the world, we can fix it by examining each belief one at a time, breaking them down to their core and mending them. It spoke of inner trust – and, I’ll be honest, I lack that – and about limiting beliefs. During the free write, all this trauma from when I was younger surfaced, and I felt like I was right there again. That fear, that intensity. I could feel every scar, some rawer than others. Honestly, it was a little overwhelming to experience in an IHOP in the middle of the night. I continued with the next day’s meditation, though.

Day 7’s message dovetailed nicely with the previous one, and it was: “I find a reason to hope in every situation.” It talked about the importance of gratitude as a foundation of hope, that the more gratitude we have the more hope we have. It reminded me to focus on the solution and not on the problem, and that every problem has a solution, which should bring me hope. Chopra went into what happens when we have constricted awareness – which was basically my daily experience of limits and fears and anxieties and a feeling of “lack.” Again, during the free write, all these memories resurfaced, and I just let them. I ended up writing a list of ways I can expand my awareness in my daily life, and I came up with nine practical, easy things. What’s pretty cool is that my word of the year I chose on December 31 last year was LIMITLESS. I didn’t know why I chose this word; it just popped in my head. During the meditation recording, Chopra said that word several times, and I just smiled. I learned how I can experience being limitless, if only I put in a little effort.

I bring all this up because one of my favorite authors, Stephen King, once said, “Writers remember everything…especially the hurts. Strip a writer to the buff, point to the scars, and he’ll tell you the story of each small one. From the big ones, you get novels. A little talent is a nice thing to have if you want to be a writer, but the only real requirement is the ability to remember the story of every scar. Art consists of the persistence of memory.”

All these memories, the scars left behind, helped me develop Aggie, the main character in my cozy mystery series. In it, she and her husband have a lot to deal with. She’s an optimist; there’s no denying it, but throughout the series, she and her husband will experience setbacks that will test her optimism and will threaten to break her spirit. Whether it does or not is something you’ll have to read about, but I can write about her experiences battling hopelessness and feeling limited because I can fully feel my own experiences of feeling the same way. As a writer, it’s sometimes painful to dredge up those memories of trauma and hurt, but, in the end, it not only deepens my characters but it’s a cathartic experience in my own healing process. Hopefully, a reader will read my words and find their own healing as well.

As a reader, have you experienced a sense of healing after reading about a character’s journey? What messages have stuck with you?

As a writer, do you use your personal scars to deepen your characters and give them a purpose? Do you share some scars with your characters, allowing yourself to process your experiences through the lens of writing?

Weekly camp check-in

Here we are! It’s a week into Camp NaNoWriMo, [Has it really been a week already?!] so here’s my check-in. The first three days of Camp, I resisted the urge to dive into my story, and I spent quality time creating an outline. Or, at least, some notes I can use that’ll help keep everything organized. I’m writing a murder mystery, which means I need to know everything from suspects’ alibis and motives to those tiny clues that might end up being red herrings in the end. I needed a way to track all that stuff, so I created some charts to keep handy.

I also created a map for my city! I hand drew it, so I’ll be honest and say it’s nothing to write home about, but it’s functional for now. It also allows room to grow as the series gets longer, which, hopefully, it will. How I created my fictional town was I searched for a real city about the same size as my fictional town. I pulled it up on Google Maps, and I scoped it out – how many restaurants did it have, how many stores, how many houses versus apartments, schools, parks, bus stops? Anything I could think of to research about it, I did. I then manipulated the real city, and in this case I drew a mirror image of it. I filled in what I needed for the first book – the theater that it takes place in, the police department, my main character’s home, and the school at which she works. I didn’t need all of those things, but I wanted to get a baseline so I didn’t have to do these basic things later. [Plus, I had to know how long it’d take the cops to get to the theater, and to do that I needed to calculate the distance to extrapolate the time.] And they said being a writer was easy. [Actually, nobody says that.]

After I had those things, I started to write. [It was the next logical step.] Somewhere in there, I realized my suspects only had a one-word motive without any backstory. I stopped writing again, and I went back to develop that just a little more. I filled nearly five pages of my notebook with their backstories, even though most, if not all, of these characters are making an appearance in this story only. It kind of felt like overkill, honestly, but it’s been helping me a lot while I write.

So I basically saved my entire manuscript by managing to fill those plot holes. Great. I start writing again, and at this point in the story, the ever-inquisitive sleuth has deduced that something isn’t right with the theater actors and she needs to get backstage to investigate. In my original outline, I had her pretend to be a doctor and her convincing the security guard that an actor appeared to be having a heart attack. [Lame, I know. It was probably 3am, though.] As I was writing it, it just felt all wrong, so I stopped writing again to figure out a good reason why she needs to be the one the guard lets through the doors. [I ended up creating a character…and another suspect.] Saved it again! Now, I’m somewhere in between the sleuth gathering information and piecing together the puzzle, which is pretty exciting. [What mystery writer or reader doesn’t like a good puzzle?]

My goal for this story is to turn it into a novella of around 40,000 words. [I’d like to finish all 40,000 words this month, but I’d also like to be realistic.] I’m not sure the story will be stretched out to 40,000 words, though. It’s sounding like it’ll be a shorter story, possibly a novelette, but I’m also recognizing that this is a first draft. My first drafts tend to be shorter, and I add in the details – and subplots – in subsequent drafts when the skeleton of the story has already been written. [I’m really not sure why I write this way.]

So, for now, I have 4,242 words out of a reasonable goal of 25,000 words. I haven’t written today yet, so I’m hopeful I can catch up to par for the day. [I have a home inspection with the rental company on Wednesday and I also have to repair some damages my three-year-old created – as well as messes we’ve all created – so my free time is being eaten by housework, which, let’s be honest, is the worst.]

I did, however, literally double my word count [actually, I more-than-doubled it] in one coffee-infused night at IHOP this past week, so I know it’s possible to catch up.

Current word count: 4,242
Weekly total word count goal: 12,000 [par is 11,666]
Weekly focus goal: 7,800 [actual goal is 7,753, but I wanted to round up and not down]

 

Welcome Camp!

Welcome! Take a seat and get cozy. We’ll be here all month. By now, Camp NaNoWriMo has surely started in your time zone, and it’s off to the races. Well, word races…uh…sprints. Anyway, I wanted to take a minute to offer some inspiration and reassurance.

Whatever happens this month – whether you reach and surpass your word goal, you don’t write down a word, or you write something in between – know that you did well this month. You had the courage to try something new, and if all you did was sign up for the challenge, that took guts. You should be acknowledged for taking that leap.

Writing a book is hard work. Well, it’s work. Novels don’t just appear on the computer without mixing in equal amounts of tears, laughter, and perspiration. You signed up for this challenge because, I assume, you want to write a book. But the thing is – most people want to have written a book. It’s a slight word different, but it’s a huge distinction. Most people don’t want to have to go through to come up with an idea and follow it to “The End” then tear it apart only to stitch it back together. It’s a process, and if sometime during this month you decide that process isn’t for you, that’s okay. The big thing is that you tried. You chased after a dream. And somethings the thing about dreams is that they aren’t always how we imagined them. That’s okay. Keep dreaming, keep trying, keep doing.

Sometime in the middle of the month, you’ll look at your word processor (or notebook) and think you’re the worst writer ever to have written, and everything is shit. [Truly, I think it’s inevitable.] Don’t delete your words! When you find yourself in a mental rut like this – or a bout of writer’s block – take a minute away from the screen. Get up, move around, go for a walk, listen to music, do anything that gets you back in your happy place. Think about why you want to be a writer and why you want to write this particular story. Remind yourself of why you’re embarking on this wild journey called Camp NaNoWriMo.

There’s a great book [I’m somewhere in the middle of it as it’s one of those books I’ll take the entire year to read because I want to take my time] called Word by Word by Anne Lamott. It’s kind of a mashup of a writing tutorial and self-help book. I won’t go into the contents here, but I want to bring your attention to the title: Word by Word. That’s how this thing is done. Don’t look at your entire goal as an entity. Don’t even focus on your daily word count goal right now. Focus on that first word. When you’ve written down that word, move onto the next. Eventually, you’ll have a sentence, which will turn into a paragraph, a scene, a chapter, and, finally, a story. But it all starts with that first word, and, that, you can manage.

If you don’t know how your story will go, that’s okay too. Pantsers, plotters, or plantsers are all welcome. And if your story changes midway because your characters take the reins, enjoy the ride. First drafts are used to explore your story, your world, and your characters. Don’t be afraid of dead ends, and don’t be afraid of straying off course to try something else. This is your time to try new things.

Most of all, just have fun and enjoy the experience. If you don’t end up reaching your goal, there will always be another Camp with another goal. Chin up and continue onward.

For now, though, keep writing, keep exploring, and keep growing.