What I Learned From 2 Years of Bullet Journalling

I started my first bullet journal in the leap year of 2016 on February 29. I can’t remember why I started, but I had seen a few spreads online. In the beginning of 2016, I was still in university. The bullet journal looked like a great way for me to help organise my schooling and personal life. So over the last 2 years (and a bit!), I’ve learned a lot. I’d like to share this wisdom to anyone interested in starting a bullet journal!

Bullet journal changed constantly.

My bullet journal evolved from week to week and month to month. Not every layout I used for the week was useful for the next week. Though I’ve gotten into a bit of a pattern with my monthly spreads, there are still lots of differences each week and each month.

Notebook was key.

I started out my bullet journalling in a spiral-bound ruled notebook. The brand was one I loved using for taking notes in classes, as well as notes for my writing, so I had lots of them available to me! But I quickly found that the notebook limited the way I wanted to plan. The dotted notebooks were more appealing to me, both because of how much space was available and the range of designing I could do on the page.

Planning “style” relied on lifestyle.

The beginning of 2016 was one period of my life. I was in school and had a very busy schedule due to my semester. Fast forward to the fall of 2016, and my life changed again. 2017 was another entirely different year! The summers also had different planning styles compared to when I was in school, and the past year when I left school. I couldn’t use the same planning and layouts that I did for every point in my life.

Separate bullet journals.

For 2018, I moved my daily and time-sensitive planning into a Leuchtturm and kept my collections in my 2017 bullet journal. Unlike the original system by Ryder, I much prefer having an agenda separate from my project planner.


Tips for people starting a bullet journal

I’ve been planning using a bullet journal system for over 2 years now, without much break. I think the longest time I took away from my planner was maybe a month? A few weeks? My planner is vital to my lifestyle, especially my mental health. So I have some tips for beginners, whether they’ve been planning for a few months, or who are just starting a bullet journal!

Be picky about the notebook you use.

This will be a bit of trial and error, but also check out reviews for notebooks! I’ve tried 3 types of dotted notebooks: two from Productive Luddite’s Everyday Carry line (first impressions review and a follow-up review on the quality), a Scribbles That Matter notebook, and a Leuchtturm1917. My favourite so far is Scribbles That Matter, though I’m currently in a Leuchtturm. There are a few things I would advise you look into when picking a notebook:

  • ghosting (ink showing through the page)—consider the weight of the paper in “lb” or “gsm”;
  • bleeding (how easily ink smudges)—look at reviews online;
  • page style (dot grid, lined grid, blank, ruled); and
  • binding (perfect, spiral, whether it lies flat or not).
Be picky about what you design.

The layouts, spreads, collections, and designs you make are up to you. Rather than adding or copying everything suggested online, think about what you need. This will also be a bit of trial and error, since it’s hard to know what you use regularly until you start using it. But starting a bullet journal should be simple, rather than overflowing. Your bullet journal doesn’t need all the suggestions in order to be a bujo! So be picky about where you invest your time and ink.

Don’t force a layout that you aren’t using or enjoying.

Once you start trying designs, you’ll find ones that flow well and ones that don’t. Rather than forcing the layouts that don’t flow, review what isn’t working. For example… Is there not enough space to include all your tasks? Do you find yourself overloading your modules and putting too much on your plate? The layout size may not be right. losing sight of your goals and habits? A dutch door design may help by keeping a visual from day to day.

Try new things!

I know I said to not be picky and to also not force things, but the only way you’ll grow is to try different things. You can look up inspiration online, or doodle some plans for yourself. I like to do both. I have a Pinterest board for bullet journal inspiration! But I also doodle my own layout ideas. Additionally, you should try different supplies. I’ve used a variety of pens through my bujo time, as well as loads of washi tape and markers. You don’t need fancy or expensive pens, and you only need a few embellishments. They go a long way.


For the next year, I will use the bullet journal system. It’s served me incredibly well. And since there’s a 90% chance I’ll be returning to school this fall, it’ll be great to stay on top of my studies. If you’ve hesitated starting a bullet journal, I highly encourage you try!

April Bullet Journal Spreads

April Bullet Journal Spreads Weekly Monthly BuJo

In an attempt to bring spring into my life, I went hardcore with my April monthly bullet journal doodles. I haven’t gotten this artistic and drawn this much in my bullet journal before. The pops of colour in the flowers really brightened up my month for my spreads. The snow hasn’t completely melted where I live. I’m pretty desperate for florals and greenery!

Monthly bullet journal spreads

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Month Monthly Layout 01 Filled

As is my style, I have my bubble layout tracker, which I didn’t feel like photographing for this month. If you’ve seen any of my other posts with monthly bullet journal spreads, you’ve seen my tracker layout. It changes ever so slightly from month-to-month, but between my March monthly bullet journal spreads and April, they were basically identical.

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Month Monthly Layout 02 Fitness Calendar Tracker

I really wanted to focus on the flower drawings. Bullet journal doodles are outside of my normal journalling, after all. For some of the flowers, I used Planning Mindfully’s flower drawing tutorial to get started. I also used references from image searches and from a drawing book I own. Also against my normal journalling, I used pencil crayons (“colored pencils” to Americans, I think?) to colour the doodles. I typically use markers for my monthly bullet journal designs, trackers, and calendars. The pencil crayons made the monthly layout a bit softer, since I could blend colours more easily.

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Month Monthly Layout 03 Calendar Agenda

Overall, I’m very, very happy with these monthly bullet journal spreads.

Weekly bullet journal spreads

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 01 Filled

The weekly layouts for April are a bit similar to March, but because I had more small projects to work on this month, I adapted slightly. The daily modules for April are a tiny bit larger than they were in March—a very good thing. After I filled up most of the days, I barely had room to decorate.

I used the same layout each week this month, and prettied them up afterward with washi tape. I don’t like decking out my bullet journal spreads with designs before I fill them in. It’s impossible for me to know which days will be busier and fill the module.

Here are some before, during, and after shots of my weekly layouts!

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 02 Midweek

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 03 Filled

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 04 Filled Closeup

My bare-bones layout for weekly spreads is incredibly bland. My last week in April started off with pops of washi tape only because I messed up with marker in an area and wanted to cover it up!

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 05 Empty

April Bullet Journal BuJo Spread Week Weekly Layout 06 Midweek

Since I’ve gotten into the habit of doing my monthly bullet journal spreads and weekly layouts at the start of the month, I use my journal more consistently. It takes some time to get set up before I can use it (about 4 hours total, actually—more if I’m experimenting). But then I don’t have to set aside time each week to draw a layout. It’s much easier to commit to a weekly layout and use the same design for the month.

I’m excited to start designing and planning for May’s monthly bullet journal spreads!

Writing Transformation From Lit Mags

Improve Wring Craft From Lit Mags

During my reading slump at the start of this year, I picked up periodicals again. I had burned myself out of genre fiction and YA fiction. I craved a way for me to improve writing craft. So I turned to my stack of literary magazines and picked Room Magazine to marathon. They release publications four times a year and publish writing exclusively from people who are not cisgender men.

The volumes include poetry, short stories, creative nonfiction, interviews, and essays. The bulk of the content is poetry and short fiction. Eight issues of this magazine is two years’ worth of material, and each volume consists of around 90 pages of content.

I read them in the span of a few weeks. I’m a slow reader, so reading that quantity in that time frame is unheard of for me.

I read nearly 800 pages of literary fiction. I love poetry and short stories, and even though there were pieces I didn’t like in some of the volumes, I still read them. There must have been over 100 pieces total—100 complete written pieces. Imagine reading 100 books, or 100 essays, condensed down into a few pages. That many self-contained stories is magical; inspiring; awesome.

Diverse content

I can’t stress enough the importance of reading diversely—and not just sociological “diverse.” You need to read writing from disabled, queer, black, and/or indigenous people, and/o people of colour. Remember they write more than books! Read their poems and short stories and more. Read different forms—poems, short stories, song lyrics, essays—and different genres in fiction. Even if you write in one genre or form, read widely and away from the style and tropes you normally write.

I’m also a poet and short story writer, so I went into the literary magazine reading with the aims of improving my poems and short stories.

Improve writing craft

Writers learn from reading. And I learned a lot, even if I wasn’t consciously studying, analysing, or evaluating. These pieces were vastly different from the writing I was producing. My main project this year has been my older YA high fantasy novel.

The writing I put into my fantasy novel surged in quality. My words became confident. I sat down to my writing sessions and produced deliberate work. Since I write my novels by scene, I had less difficulty creating self-contained segments of conflict. I could more easily visualise and plan out a condensed piece of my story.

And I won’t get into specifics of how my style of writing changed. But poetry is like a salve on trope-laden, saturated genres like fantasy. I attribute much of my good and great writing to the fact that I started out my writing journey with poetry. If I hadn’t learned poems, I wouldn’t be as good of a writer.

Refreshed palette

In my post about how I beat a reading slump, I outlined three ways I refresh my palette and taste for reading. Literary magazines fall into new genres and other storytelling media. So not only has my wring transformed, but my reading habits have improved and rejuvenated from the change.


If you’d like to subscribe to Room Magazine, I highly encourage you to visit their website and do so. Whether it’s this magazine or another journal, adding a literary magazine to your reading regime will benefit you. And of course all the writers your subscription supports!

The best way for a writer to improve writing craft is to read. Read as much, as varied, and as often as you can. There are so many stories beyond the bestseller and new release shelves in corporate stores. With the Internet at your fingertips, seek out something different to read—and watch yourself change.

March Bullet Journal Spreads

March in my bullet journal looked like most of my months. I had fun with an illustrative splash page with some hanging plants! I drew out all of my weekly layouts in advance, and then customised them with washi tape and colours when I got to those weeks.

I’m still obsessed with my bubbles for tracking! Maybe it’s because I grew up having to take so many Scantron tests… Or maybe it still reminds me of equipping Materia like in Final Fantasy 7.

My monthly calendars got a little more artsy than they normally do. I didn’t end up looking at them pages as much as I thought I would, including doing the exercise I thought I would, but that’s okay. For April, I’ll be changing up how I do these spreads!

For my weekly spreads, I start off very blank and add in the washi and other decor once I’m about halfway through the week. Some days have longer to do lists than others, and I can’t really guess which days those are for where I can add a strip of tape.

I’ve enjoyed these layouts for my week view, but I’m changing them for April since my needs have changed.

April looks beautiful, by the way. If you want a sneak peek, there’s a post on my Instagram!

Bullet Journal Mental Health Tracking

The largest feature of my monthly spreads for September is my mental health tracking! I have two pages devoted to tracking my mental health, and with me, that’s a lot of space to devote to a single topic in my notebook.

Being on medication or going to therapy aren’t the only ways that we can take charge of our mental health and work on managing mental illness. They can help, but they aren’t the only resources. Self-awareness through my trackers has given me an edge to being on top of my management that I never had before I started doing it.

This month, I have three separate spreads: unhealthy habits and triggers; healthy habits and self-care; and symptoms and side effects. I also track my moods within these, and how they fluctuate over the day. My friends and family have commented that my moods can change very quickly in a day, so that’s something I’ve looked at and attempted to balance out. This month, I haven’t tracked my sleeping, but my sleeping has been fairly regular due to the sedative portion of my medication.

I like recording some of my “unhealthy” behaviours. They’re unhealthy in the sense that I have a suspicion they can interfere with my wellbeing that day—hence why I have caffeine and nightmares in the same section. Yesterday I had an awful dream and the rest of my day felt off because it kept intruding my thoughts, so I checked off “nightmare” for that day.

My self-care and unhealthy habits are side-by-side so I can see if I’m balancing out the two, or doing one more than the other, and how that affects my mood. I contemplated putting everything into one table, but I wanted to be able to compare my “good” and “bad” activities at a quick glance.

I started doing the “bubble” list last month to track some symptoms, and I’ve tweaked it to get more information tracked. I started doing the bubbles because they reminded me of material equipping in Final Fantasy VII. That’s really it. I wanted to have a “scale” of sorts to gage how I was feeling.

I’m not sure how much this has helped this month. My medication doubled a few days ago (thankfully), so I’m still adjusting to that. But these layouts are definitely the most eye-pleasing I’ve done. They’re both pragmatic and nice to look at.

Since I’ve only posted the blank spreads here, it’s hard to see how they look nice. However, I will have some pictures on my Instagram by the end of the month!

These spreads are some I’ll definitely repeat in the future.

April 2017 Monthly Bullet Journal Spread

Literally too lazy to fix the orientation of this photo.

Here’s my spread for the upcoming month.

It’s a simple to-do list. I’ve got room for more, in case I need more. I found myself neglecting a lot of spreads in my bullet journal, as well as spreading myself thin between too many projects every single day. So, I’ve gone for a simple month-long look at goals, projects, and tasks.

Beside the calendar is my small to-do list for different tasks and goals. I have my list for the blog posts, since I need to get them scheduled so I can use my time for packing and moving. I’ll likely add more as the month goes on!

Therapy Diary: Mindfulness

Blue and white paint splattered and dripping down a black wall.

When I was in therapy last year, my counsellor told me that the goal for our sessions would be creating mindfulness. There were a number of ways we worked through being aware of my body and my emotions. Because my PTSD is very dissociative, it means there’s a mind-emotion-body disconnect. I often feel “outside” of myself in varying ways. Sometimes I am a floating balloon being held by my body. Sometimes I am a suitcase being dragged. Dissociation is a beast in itself and I wrote a short blog post on it a few months ago. This post acts as a bit of a follow-up.

Along with the exercises we did, such as identifying where an emotion existed in the body and describing it (anger being in my throat, or despair being in my belly—that kind of thing), I use or have used these tools to become more aware and mindful of my entire existence:

  • journalling
  • yoga
  • meditation
  • tarot reading

I don’t journal as much as I used to while I was in therapy. I think this is because I’ve gotten better at being mindful/aware/in-tune/etc. Journalling was a very explicit way of creating awareness of my emotions and my body, and the relationship between the two.

These days, I lean toward yoga, meditation, and tarot reading. The yoga helps with my mind-body connection, with a focus on my body and how it connects within itself. The meditation points me toward the relationship between my mind and body while emphasising my emotions, feelings, and thoughts.

Tarot reading is a new one, though. I grasp onto symbols and metaphors, and that’s all tarot is. I don’t use a classic tarot deck, with Major Arcana and whatnot. Instead, I use regular 52-card playing cards with numbers and suits. There’s an additional layer of abstraction with these cards. The symbols and metaphors come from interpretation of the numbers and the suits. Instead of seeing a moon or a sun, I have to consider my own intuition and understanding for the numbers and suits.

When it comes to the tarot reading, I do a combination of reading cards for in-depth interpretation of a single card, or I do a self-reading with a 3- or 4-card spread. Some spreads require a question to answer, and others are assessment or guidance spreads. I don’t read the cards for prophecy or fortune-telling. I read them so there’s somewhere I can project my worries, concerns, desires, and intuitions.

On the whole, creating mindfulness has been the key to lessening my dissociative states—whether by frequency or intensity. I have been plagued by a constant disconnect between my mind and body because connecting the two was dangerous during my traumatic childhood. There’s been a lot of learning, trial and error, and patience involved. I have to constantly work in order to hinder the PTSD from dictating my life, but I’m finding ways that let me progress.

Writing Wednesday: Writing Prompts

A close-up of a notebook and fountain pen with faded writing.

I absolutely love writing prompts when I’m trying to go through a writing exercise. Often, freewriting—just starting from nothing and going at the words—leaves me blank. I like to have a jumping point for my writing.

Now, I’m a poet and a prose writer, but I remembered an event I went to where the mediating author gave us prompts based on our own experiences. So I figured I’d include some journaling prompts for any of you personal writers! You can, of course, adapt any of the prompts for any form of writing you see fit. And don’t feel confined to the guidelines. Writing prompts exist to inspire you, so take what works and leave what doesn’t.

Prose
  1. Write a short story from beyond the grave.
  2. Challenge yourself to a flash fiction under 500 words.
  3. Get three sentences from three different books, and use them to create a story with the theme of “exile.”
  4. Write a flash fiction without using one of the following letters: S, R, N, or T. Your optional theme is “distance.”

Poetry
  1. Using sonnet rhyme scheme (English or Petrarchan—your choice), write a poem about a blind date.
  2. How many synonyms can you think of for one of the following words? Use them in a poem addressing the notion of “paradox.”
    • Path
    • Write
    • Turn as a verb
    • Turn as a noun
  3. Write two connected poems: one celebrates something and the other inquires about it.
  4. Write a concrete/image poem (one that has a shape) that contradicts the content.

Journalling and Personal Creative Non-fiction
  1. Think of your earliest memory—and then add a butterfly to it.
  2. Create an onomatopoeia for something a family member or friend does. Write about that activity or action.
  3. Think of something that stands out in your memory that is red, yellow, or blue. Describe it, only naming it once.
  4. Write about the first time you saw something sublime in nature—the ocean, a mountain, a canyon, a waterfall… What was it like?

Feel free to leave any prompts, or your feedback, in the comments!

Night #1

There are fish and acid-eaten heads. I am one of the scuba divers helping this group of sea-folk retrieve their kin from a circular, many-toothed mouth, like the mechanical shark in James and the Giant Peach. There are long, scaly bodies as I rip open the shark on a large coral reef. Heads roll.

I find the body of a long-deceased pirate, the clothes still intact, sitting uneaten in the guts of this shark. A badge on the lapel says “24 DEC” and I place it in my pocket. Sometime later, the badge will be placed by the mouth of a cave where a dark, salt-crusted skull guards the entrance. This is the shrine to honour the pirate.

I swim, following my line of sight, toward a series of mountains. The water around me disappears under its own blackness and depths. I have left the sea-folk and their kin. I was the betrayer–the traitorous hero who should have protected the others from being maimed within the acidic belly of the shark. The sea-folk wanted my flesh for food, and I swam. Stupidly, I swam. They followed until I passed into the borders, the imaginary wall dividing the sea, of the next land. When I tread water, my heart pounding from exertion and anxiety, and looked back at them, they formed a sinister line and screeched at me.

While my arms ache, I gulp sea water, still barely within reach of the mountain range. The sea and the mountains are too much of a single entity, piled up until it becomes awesome.

Droplet upon droplet until the sea flows; dust upon dust until the mountain grows.

A shanty town on a rock outcropping peeks up on the horizon to my far left. I head for it. The citizens here have wings–great, feathered wings that beat the air like engines. I fear them, and when I hoist myself onto the closest pier, amidst ships unloading imports, they stop in mid-action. Half a dozen land on the dock and examine me. My lungs scream painful fury and my arms, legs, and torso feel liquid on the solid, stable surface.

I open my eyes in a strange orb made of wooden planks. Round windows let light shine through on the opposite wall, and I approach them shakily. The walk reminds my legs of their purpose.

The orb hangs high in the sky, from the edge of the rock outcropping, suspended above the shanty town with pulleys and thick beams made of some type of lush, natural thing. The flying creatures go in and out of similar orbs around me. I fall back as one lands near the window and wedges itself through the opening. Its wings fold down onto its back, its human arms press into a malleable torso, and its fuzz-engulfed face looks down at me. The moth-like being examines me with large antennae. Two more creatures squeezes through the window. They swarm me and grab me, and I know I’ve died before my consciousness breaks.

Night #1--First instalment of a dream/nightmare journal. This post dives into fantasy elements and scenery.