The art of journaling

In 2012, Brooklyn product designer Ryder Carroll invented the Bullet Journal: an organizational system which utilizes “rapid logging” to combine planners, diaries, and budget books into one. Rapid logging uses symbols and arrows to denote different types of entries that only need a few words to elaborate them. Although Carroll partnered with the notebook company Leuchtturm1917 to market a specifically branded Bullet Journal, it is a system that can be transferred into any notebook at all. Carroll’s system has now garnered over 250,000 posts on Instagram and countless more on Pinterest and Tumblr—the two main sites used by Bullet Journalers.

On YouTube, Bullet Journal videos usually depict suburban millennial women with pages of intricate artwork and calligraphy. But the magic of Bullet Journals, or BuJos for short, is that they are for anyone and everyone. Because every element is handwritten or drawn, it is entirely customizable. As college students juggling creative projects along with classes, we rarely have time for art or gorgeous hand-drawn fonts. Instead, students need an outlet for keeping track of assignments, ideas, and the almost overwhelming amount of events that take place on campuses and in the fervently cultural city of Boston. Shrewd students should definitely have enough time to upkeep a BuJo—and they will be glad for it—because there is so much to be said for holding your ‘whole life’ condensed into one notebook. A few hours on the weekend to draw out templates for the upcoming month will make you feel composed and streamlined. Here are the facets of my first BuJo that worked and didn’t work for me as I tried to get a handle on my busy schedule.

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Getting started: I use a basic Leuchtturm1917 notebook in black, the most common brand used for BuJos. The faint dot grid inside provides lines for writing but also doesn’t show up behind artwork or doodles. Another common staple: Staedtler Triplus Fineliner pens.

img_0316The first few pages are blank and perfect to customize with your return information and key. You can use the symbols outlined by Ryder Carroll (dot bullets for tasks, circle bullets for events, and dash bullets for notes) or create your own. I use different colored pens for each class so that when I write something like “Textbook reading” as homework, I will automatically know which class it is for. Different colored washi tape applied to the edges of important pages make them easier to flip to.

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A year at a glance. The focus of most BuJos is a week by week view of events; so all twelve months sketched out at the front of the book will help you remember items that won’t occur for several months. I developed my own kind of color key. Pink is for events, black is for Emerson calendar dates like the end of a semester, and red X’s mean no classes.

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I made a separate spread for birthdays and holidays so that my calendars didn’t get too cluttered. Every now and then I flip here to remind myself of upcoming events. I looked at Facebook and chose the birthdays that were most important to me, so now I don’t have to rely on receiving phone notifications the same day of the event or be barraged by birthdays of acquaintances I probably won’t send well wishes to.

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Bullet Journal has “journal” in the title for a reason: Don’t be afraid to set aside pages for your favorite quotes, goals, and ramblings. BuJos are as much about fostering your creativity as they are about keeping you organized.

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Make a fun art page to mark the start of each month and incorporate themes you think encapsulate each one. I drew the Boston skyline because I moved to Boston in September. The little calendar is also a quick reference point for when I need to remember if September 20th is a Tuesday or a Saturday. On the top of this image, you can see 30 lines numbered with each day of the month. In BuJos, it’s common to lay out far-off deadlines within the month, because most people don’t lay out their weekly spreads until the week is actually upon them. For college students, there are too many assignments due next week or in two weeks to plan by the seat of your pants like this if you’re a control freak like me. I write out the bare bones of all four weekly spreads before the month begins so I don’t need a month overview page like this.

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Another page that just didn’t work for me: The commonly seen “habit tracker.” I never found time each day to update the habit tracker. I would accomplish the daily tasks at all different times of the day, and there was no way I could whip out my journal as they happened. Similarly, the September Goals was a fine page to have but they were general and I would rather journal reflectively about some of my goals that had actually been accomplished at the end of the month than use this template popularized by prolific Bullet Journalers on YouTube such as “Boho Berry.”

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The most important spread for me besides my weekly planner was my spending log. I kept receipts until I had a few minutes to spare, when I wrote in their values and other information to help me remember where my money was going and what I could improve on (for example, if way too many entries were going into the “want” category.) Although the header is want/need, I ended up adding other terms like transport (for Ubers, Lyfts, refilling my CharlieCard), charity, and grooming or health (eyebrow appointment, haircut, cough syrup). At the end of each month it’s important you reconcile your spending with your bank account to make sure nothing is amiss and the numbers add up.

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It all comes down to the weekly spread: at the top of each day I write my classes, and use the space to write assignments I will be completing that night as well as events. The two best resources for events in my life are the Next Week @ Emerson email from Emerson College (which students are automatically subscribed to) and Facebook events. I find Facebook events aren’t comprehensive because often you won’t see something is going on unless a friend has already shared the event page. I write everything and anything that interests me and then I am not afraid to place an X next to things I just can’t make it to. I cross out things I did accomplish or attend. Things I can postpone until later get a right pointing arrow, meaning I’ll copy it over onto the next week.

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The weekends get more space because I generally save a lot of homework for these two days. I highly recommend a daily gratitude log, which I will fill in with a minimum of two things I was grateful for during my day (or often after the day has passed and I find the time to go back.) In a way it has been serving as a scrapbook of memories because my gratitudes are in narrative form. For example, on September 12th I wrote “I’m thankful for bravery and reciting poetry…” because I read at a poetry slam, and “for honest conversations about fears and desires” because I had a good talk with my boyfriend. Being grateful will make you happier, guaranteed.

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My favorite part of my journal is my monthly memory page. I made doodle representations of my very favorite moments as a visual time capsule I can cherish throughout the year. These pages may seem like a lot of work to some people, but the first rule of BuJos is that they can be whatever you want them to be. If this stresses you out, keep it simple and quick. If you want to focus on making time for your artistic skills, this is a great way to do so. Find your own inspiration and be forgiving: if you miss a day of something, there is no law that says you can’t go backwards and fill things in. You can change your set ups every month if something doesn’t work or you want to try something new. However you BuJo, I hope it makes you a happier, more productive, and more creative person or, at the very least, you might find yourself a snazzy new notebook to write your homework in. YM

Stuck in love

He watched my favorite movie.

He hated it.

How could I blame him, a film student, for hating a rom-com called Stuck In Love for God’s sake?

But what I feel right now is not blame.

I feel small.

I feel like the little girl who sat in her bedroom at night

on her pink and white comforter with the flowers

With a notebook in her lap and a pen in her hand

Who wrote fairytales.

I am that little girl

Who got called out of class

To talk to Child Protective Services in the main office

And answered questions like “what does your dad feed you?”

Who was looked at like she was stupid

By plastered-on concerned adult faces

Who just wanted to do their jobs

And bring in the bad guy.

But the bad guy was never just my dad.

He lived in my brain and slept in my skin since before I was born

He pressed his thick heel on my lungs and never let me forget

The heavy hand of conflict that never ever ceased.

Divorce, for me, wasn’t a word it was a life and my earliest memory

It was my backbone and my breastbone and every single fucking bone in me.

So when I sat on my comforter

And wrote about romance

Or that bright shining willow wisp I imagined it would be

I latched onto the boys like Lou from Stuck In Love. 

I escaped into stories of people finding each other

And I don’t care if it’s not real life

Because it never had to be.

Stuck In Love is a movie about writers,

About family

About a love that I thought was sacred in my room with my pen at 15.

They have the same favorite book.

They kiss in a car in the rain to the sound of an indie song about kissing in cars in the rain.

When Lou’s mother dies of cancer, they cry

And I always cry

Because this cheesy amalgam is real to me.

It is a version of life that I could only hope for myself

It is penned by a little girl on a pink and white comforter

And she is damned proud of it.

And she should be.

I have a thing for rain

There’s something cool about the rain

And the way it makes you covered

One part feeling, one part human, one part

Sky that’s birthed from thunder.

There’s something cool about the fact

That something comes from nothing

That you can touch space and sing in space

And come out of space just dancing.

There’s something that I like

About the way the world cries with us

The way it spits in condemnation,

The way it baptizes and gifts us.

There’s something far too strong

About the way our palms all open

How our fingers spread, our scars lie waiting

For lines smoothed by erosion.

There’s some magic that surpasses

Every parlor trick and hatter

In the way rain touches writers

And makes prose a weather pattern.

My band is madder than yours

I wish I was a songwriter

‘Cause I could put these thoughts to sound

I’d have drums beating, feet stomping,

Screaming far too loud.

If I were a composer

You’d hear it ricochet off walls

You’d hear your head spinning,

Fists clenching

You’d hear the bass and the rock and the pound.

You could sing along with pulse points

Reverberations near your heart

One strong wall of anger, one of madness,

Same feeling finish back to start.

If I had a drum kit

I’d kick ‘em where it counts

I’d be a solo smasher, guitar shredder

Like thunder from the clouds.

And if I was a songwriter,

You can bet on one sure thing

You won’t escape my goddam blame-game

For as long and as loud as I could sing.