Using a Bullet Journal for Revisions

(Originally posted in the RWA-NYC Keynotes April newsletter. Reposting here by popular demand.)

IMG_7175In mid-December, I decided to enter the Golden Heart® contest. The deadline was January 11th. On December 14th, I had a 100,000-word first draft and the holidays were approaching. If I was going to do this, I needed a plan.

One friend had recently shown me her bullet journal, and I knew of another author, C.L. Polk (author of Witchmark, coming 2018 from Tor.com), who uses journaling to develop new story ideas. My background is in art, so there’s always something appealing to me about working on paper. I wanted to try using a bullet journal to help me revise and edit my novel in four weeks. Inspired, I grabbed one of my many spare notebooks, a 24-pack of Paper Mate Flair felt-tip pens, and a ruler, and got to work.

paper mate flair pens

I use the revision method Rachel Aaron lays out in her book, 2k to 10k: Writing Faster, Writing Better, and Writing More of What You Love. She advises having a plan for writing and a plan for revising. In a nutshell, the revision plan includes:

  • Scene map: a scene-by-scene guide to your novel as it is written (which can of course differ from the outline you originally started with)
  • Timeline: to keep track of the timing in your novel
  • To-do list: a list of every revision item, large or small

I also added a few other sections to the journal:

  • Calendar: a one-month spread and four weekly spreads
  • Publishing: a space for any notes about seeking agent representation
  • Notes: extra pages at the end (I ended up using this area for beta reader feedback, brainstorming, and journaling about the process)

bullet journal revising a book table of contentsThe first step was to make a table of contents and number all the pages in the notebook. I used a spiral-bound journal ($1.50 at Michael’s) with only 80 sheets of paper. Even with so few pages, this step was tedious and I wondered if I was wasting my time or procrastinating. But I kept going, divvying up the book into sections, labeling the index at the front, and creating my calendar pages.

bullet journal book revision calendarFor the calendar, I broke the revision process down into steps and determined what I needed to complete every week to meet my goal. I wrote these targets in the “notes” space included in the weekly spreads.

My next step was to make the scene map. For each scene, I noted:

  • Chapter and scene number
  • POV character
  • Plot point/story beat
  • Scene type (Anticipation/Event/Reaction)
  • Goal (Character wants…)
  • Motivation (Because…)
  • Conflict (But…)
  • Disaster (And…)

IMG_5781

I also jotted quick revision notes as I went through the manuscript, then compiled them into a to-do list. Normally, I’d suggest doing a closer read of the draft and creating a more comprehensive list of all your revision items, but I was pressed for time. I categorized the items using color-coded sticky tabs, organized the categories by order of difficulty. Rachel Aaron recommends tackling the more difficult tasks first, so I went through the list, jumping around the manuscript and crossing off items as I went.

IMG_5782Since I didn’t make a complete list of revision items at the beginning, I did the to-do list step four times. I also skipped the timeline, both because of the deadline and because my outline contained a clear week-by-week breakdown of the story. Then I did one more editing pass, beginning to end. And when I was too tired or distracted to revise, I researched agents and worked on my query letter and synopsis, steps that were also included in my calendar.

Using a bullet journal for revising was more fun and more helpful than I anticipated. Having a dedicated place to brainstorm and jot revision items by hand kept my notes organized, and being able to view and label a calendar specifically dedicated to this project helped me plan accordingly. I was delirious by the end of the four weeks due to the tight time frame, but by organizing my process and knowing what I had to do each day to stay on track, I was able to finish the book on time and meet my goal.

 

Have you ever used a bullet journal in your writing process? What was your experience like?

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2 thoughts on “Using a Bullet Journal for Revisions

    • I tried using a spreadsheet for revising a while back and it didn’t work, but I think the problem was more with that particular manuscript than the spreadsheet lol.

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