Bullet Journals for Writers

Bullet journals for writers - AllFreelanceWriting.com
NOTE: This post on bullet journals for writers is a significantly updated version of my 2018 post on how I use various types of journaling to manage nearly everything in my business and my life. In this 2021 update, the focus is much more centered on bullet journals in particular. Here you'll find my updated list of bullet journal spreads and even more bullet journal page ideas for writers.

A few years ago, I was going through an especially rough time. I decided to turn to various types of journaling to help me cope emotionally, stay organized, stay focused, and stay as productive as possible.

In this post I'll go over some of my current bullet journal spreads for writers and suggest some other bullet journal pages you might find helpful. I'll also share a downloadable .pdf with bullet journal ideas for freelance writers and bloggers toward the end of this post.

My Journals (All 5 of Them)

Yes. You read that right. I currently use five different types of journals. They include:

  • a primary bullet journal;
  • a web publishing / blogging bullet journal;
  • a publishing bullet journal;
  • a standard journal;
  • a sketch journal.

When I initially started my journey into journaling, I wasn't yet using a publishing bullet journal, but I was using a dream journal. I've since cut out the latter and simply write down dreams I want to remember (such as for story inspiration) in my bullet journal or story ideas list in my publishing journal.

Now I want to focus on those three bullet journals. Let's look at what a bullet journal (or BuJo) is, and why bullet journals can be great tools for writers of any kind.

Jenn's Personal Bullet Journal, Blog Bullet Journal, and Traditional Journal
My main bullet journal (blue), blog bullet journal (red), and traditional journal

Bullet Journals: Life’s Little Instruction Manuals

I have to give Princess Jones credit for getting me into bullet journaling. I’d seen them on Pinterest and such for quite some time, and I was intrigued. As much as I love Todoist (and will continue to use it), I’ve always loved going old school with handwritten planning. Yet something seemed a little disorganized to me between my various sized index cards, notebooks, and white boards.

So back in 2018, I decided to give bullet journaling a try. I quickly fell in love. Bullet journaling is like finally having a little instruction manual someone forgot to give me years ago.

What are Bullet Journals?

A bullet journal is basically your brain committed to paper.

Really. It’s you.

  • Your thoughts
  • Your to-do lists
  • Ideas
  • Notes
  • Your creativity

No two bullet journals are going to look the same.

You start with an index. Your index lets you track what page everything is on for easy reference later.

Then number your pages. Write up whatever you want, from a daily diary entry to a monthly plan to a juvenile doodle of a client who’s being a royal PITA. Then add that page to your index so you can find it later. And then you move on.

Why I Have 3 Bullet Journals

I went into bullet journaling planning to use just one for personal and business tracking. But I realized when I was 80 pages in and hadn’t gotten to any of my blog planning and trackers yet, I was in trouble. Because I have so many sites, I decided to bump them to a separate BuJo.

Later on, I ran into a similar problem with publishing projects. I needed longer-term planning for various series and manuscripts, and I was moving through my main bullet journals too quickly, so I kept having to refer to old ones, and quickly lost track of where things were. So now I also have a publishing BuJo (all three are different colors). That's where I begin skeleton outlines, keep long-running lists of story ideas, have manuscript trackers, and other related planners and trackers.

My first bullet journal started out as a fun one. It was colorful. I doodled on my pages (even had a two-page spread for daily doodles to encourage myself to do that more). Over time, I found that trying to create a "pretty" BuJo either took too much time or left me with a lot of rushed work I didn't enjoy looking at anyway.

Now I take a much simpler, more practical approach and I leave my artwork for other outlets like the canvas or my sketch book. The majority of my bullet journaling involves basic black ink layouts, and coloring in boxes for trackers.

What My Main Bullet Journal Includes

To give you an idea of how I split things between my three bullet journals, here are some of the things my main bullet journal tracks:

  • general events and schedules;
  • freelance writing deadlines;
  • my blog schedules on a monthly basis;
  • month-to-month blog and social media stats tracking;
  • yearly and quarterly reviews and goals;
  • learning goals (language learning, research topics, etc.);
  • my TBR list and reading challenges;
  • personal & business 90-day and 30-day challenges;
  • health-related trackers (weight, miles walked, monthly fitness challenges, wellness trackers, etc.);
  • trip planning;
  • a to-watch list;
  • my bucket list;
  • reference lists (such as 15-minute personal and business tasks I can do any time);
  • routine monthly trackers.

What My Blogging Bullet Journal Includes

While I do keep a year-long blog tracker in my standard bullet journal (which I'll show you further along in this post), I do most long-term blog planning and note-taking in my blogging bullet journal. For example, that BuJo includes things like:

  • a general blogging brain dump (post ideas without a home, post ideas to pitch elsewhere, new blog ideas, etc.);
  • new blog design / development / branding plans;
  • content audit notes;
  • year-long blog and social media stats trackers;
  • long-term blog income trackers;
  • yearly blog goals;
  • instructions for routine tasks I'll need to repeat (like my initial blog setup checklist);
  • short-form competitive analyses for key sites;
  • monetization plans for key sites;
  • post idea lists (though I mostly manage these in Todoist);
  • limited SEO tracking for key sites and primary keyword targets;
  • master task lists for each site (also something I manage more in Todoist these days);
  • affiliate promotion strategies and trackers.

What My Publishing Bullet Journal Includes

Finally, there's my publishing bullet journal. This is where I track book and e-book manuscripts, short fiction, and poetry. This BuJo features spreads such as:

  • my 5-year publishing plan;
  • yearly and quarterly goals;
  • my master project list keeping track of where I am in the writing / revision / editing / pitching process;
  • another brain dump where I jot down any ideas that might inspire future projects;
  • a story idea list;
  • a list of poetry forms I want to work on or experiment with;
  • my pen names and which projects are assigned to each;
  • a to-read list (publishing guides, editing guides, marketing guides, etc.);
  • poetry and fiction pitch lists and pitch trackers;
  • a master word count tracker page with all key projects;
  • general guides and reminders (the snowflake method, list of "weak words," novel prep checklist, etc.)
  • character and setting worksheets I can copy and re-use for each project;
  • a NaNoWriMo tracker guide I can use any year I attempt it;
  • project-specific spreads such as early snowflake method steps, nonfiction book outlines, the book's revision checklist, etc.);
  • 6-word stories (something I saw years back on Twitter; it's a way to focus on stories even when you can't manage more, plus it can inspire longer works later).

One of the things I like best about breaking off these publishing and blogging bullet journals is they don't have to be swapped out often. So these become longer-term references while my day-to-day bullet journaling can keep moving from one book to the next.

You can do anything you want with your bullet journal(s). You might use several for daily use vs longer-term planning like I do. Or you might prefer a single BuJo. Do whatever works best for you.

Sound intriguing, but you’re not sure where to start?

Setting Up Your Writing Bullet Journal

If you want to give bullet journaling a try for your writing, here’s what you’ll need:

  • An unused journal
  • Something to write with

Yep. That’s it.

Choosing Your Bullet Journal

For your journal, I highly recommend a dot matrix journal.

You could also use a grid. Or if you have a lined journal lying around already you could try that first to see if bullet journaling even appeals to you.

You can get the official bullet journal. Or you can use any one you’d like. I got mine through AC Moore, an arts and crafts store that's now closed. When I found out they were closing and I'd no longer be able to get my favorite journals (they were exclusive to that store), I stocked up so I'd be set for at least a couple of years.

Here's another inexpensive option on Amazon -- a simple black dot matrix bullet journal with multiple ribbons and a pocket. When my husband decided to give bullet journaling a try to track workouts and pre-move chores around the house, this is the one he went with. It's about half as thick at mine are, but it's a good size if you only need a few tracking pages per month or just want to start with something lighter.

Choosing Your Pens

You can have fun with these. I picked up a set of 52 gel pens to add color to my main BuJo initially. Normal ones, metallic ones. Glitter ones. They got a bit messy though, so I switched to colored Pilot G2 gel pens.

You could simply use your favorite pen. Or a cheap ballpoint pen. Or a mix of pens. Whatever you want.

As for your basic pens though, I have two recommendations

The Faber-Castell pens are great if you want to do some black ink doodling or you simply want more control for fancy lettering. You'll get a variety of pen styles from extra fine tips to brush heads. The ink is permanent, holds up well, and doesn't bleed through pages. I love these and always have a wide variety on-hand for my watercolor-ink projects, but I no longer use them for bullet journals as I felt like I went through the ink much too fast. These are also available in a variety of color sets if you want to take a more artistic approach to things.

These days I use a black ink EnerGel pen for all bullet journal setups, then the G2 colored gel pens anywhere I want color.

My preference is the silver barrel version linked above, but they also have lighter plastic ones and different colors if you prefer. This goes with me just about everywhere, and I always have refills around plus a backup plastic version for when I misplace my main pen.

The EnerGels write super-smoothly, and again I've not had any issues with ink bleeding through. These take slightly longer to try than the Faber-Castells, so you do want to be careful about smudging. These also come with different ink colors, though I haven't tried swapping the G2s for them yet as I'm happy with my current color selection.

Get as creative as you want here. You can use traditional ballpoint pens here, gel pens, watercolors, colored pencils, brush pens, markers -- anything that won't bleed through the pages of your bullet journal.

Basic Bullet Journal Setup

Once you have your bullet journal and something to write with, setting things up is easy (though admittedly, it can be time consuming if you get creative and want to track a lot).

Start by creating your index page at the front of the journal. Here's what a basic index might look like:

Bullet Journal Index Page - AllFreelanceWriting.com

I’d suggest making this two columns so each page lasts longer. I’d also suggest leaving 1-2 additional pages blank to continue your index. If you want your index all in one place, leave enough lines to match the number of pages in your journal.

If not, that’s OK. You’ll just continue your index mid-journal and note that page number in your main index so you know where to find it later.

Then you just create whatever pages you’d like. Once it sinks in that you can do anything you want with your bullet journal, it's quite freeing.

Bullet Journal Page Ideas for Writers

If you aren't sure what to track in your bullet journal, here are lists of general bullet journal spreads and bullet journal page ideas for writers of different kinds.

General Bullet Journal Page Ideas

Let's start with the basics. These are just general lists, plans, and life trackers. If your bullet journal is solely for writing, you won't need all of these. But keeping your life organized and improving your health is also good for your writing.

  • Index
  • Future planning (a calendar covering at least a quarter and up to a year; for important dates you'll want to reference later)
  • Birthdays & holidays
  • A year in review of the previous year
  • Yearly goals
  • Your ideal day (what would an ideal schedule look like for you?)
  • Daily affirmations
  • High-energy tasks (things to do when you’re feeling ambitious, productive, and / or full of energy)
  • Low-energy tasks (things you can do quickly and easily to accomplish something even on days when you're unwell or you just don’t give a damn)
  • Brain dump
  • An "ought to do" list (things you don't want to do but know you should, like cleaning up your email subscriptions)
  • Boredom-beaters (I don’t handle boredom well, so when I get angsty because of it I can pull something off this list instead of wondering what to do with myself)
  • Your bucket list
  • Your TBR list (or at least what you want to focus on first)
  • A gratitude list
  • A mood tracker
  • Self-care ideas
  • Health trackers (workouts, meal plans, symptom trackers, etc.)
  • An un-do list (things to stop doing -- like checking social media as soon as you start your day)
  • Monthly logs, schedules, goals, and task lists
  • Weekly logs, schedules, goals, and task lists (I personally find weekly logs too time-consuming for the rewards I get out of them, so I focus on monthly, then use Todoist to manage the daily and weekly schedules.)

Example Monthly Log and Habit Tracker Bullet Journal Spread

Here's a simple bullet journal spread you can use as a monthly log and habit tracker.

I use this combo at the start of every month. For the log side on the left, sometimes mine look like this. And sometimes I set it up like a basic T-chart and number the days on the left side instead.

In the log, I also sometimes have all three sections on the bottom of this example. And at other times I just track goals and tasks.

For the habit tracker on the right, you simply look at it in a horizontal view, and write the habits you want to track in the left column (1000 words per day, daily marketing, or even personal habits). Then on days you complete each "habit" you're trying to build, you color in the box for the corresponding day, or mark them in any way you please.

Bullet Journal Monthly Log and Habit Tracker - AllFreelanceWriting.com

Example Quarterly Planner / Quarterly Review Bullet Journal Spreads

Below is a basic quarterly review and quarterly planner spread for bullet journals. I've combined the two here, but I actually set up two of these in a two-page spread. On the left-hand page I have my quarterly review with bullet point notes from the previous quarter. On the right-hand page I have the quarterly planner with checkbox lists.

My quarterly planners are broken into four sections -- the three areas of my business, plus a personal section. You could set it up with half the page for business and half for personal, or you can break it up into however many sections you need.

Bullet Journal Quarterly Spread - AllFreelanceWriting.com

Example Bullet Journal 90-Day Challenge Tracker

I'm a big fan of 90-day planning. Sometimes that's quarterly planning. But I also love running 90-day challenges. Doing this in my bullet journal, I started out using spreads like these from SublimeReflection.com.

If you only have a few 90-day goals to track, that's a great setup. But I track a lot in one place between personal and business goals. So I use a shorter-form method to track all my 90-day challenges in one place. It looks something like the example below.

I put a few hypothetical writing-related challenges here to show you how you might use this. It uses the super-simple "fill in the box" style of tracking I've settled into to maintain balance between motivation and speed. Your boxes can represent anything. They can be any size you need. And you can add multiple rows of boxes if necessary.

In this example, the first challenge uses one box to represent a blog post. The second challenge has one box equal 1000 words. And the third challenge uses larger blocks to represent different project phases. It's an adaptable system.

Bullet Journal 90-Day Trackers

Bullet Page Spreads for Writers

Once you've settled on your general pages, you'll want to consider writing-related pages to help you plan, organize, and track your work. First you'll find some bullet journal page ideas that might apply to any type of writer. Then I'll share some bullet journal spread ideas for freelance writers, bloggers, and authors in particular.

General Bullet Journal Spreads for Writers

These BuJo pages could help with any kind of writing work:

  • Submission trackers (articles, guest posts, books, poetry, short fiction, etc.)
  • Revision reminders (the problems you most often find in your own work)
  • Editing checklists
  • Style guideline notes
  • Master project trackers / post trackers / word count trackers
  • A WIP list
  • A writing habit tracker / writing time tracker
  • Yearly or monthly income goals
  • Yearly or monthly expense tracking
  • Pitch lists
  • Writing sprint schedules or trackers
  • Research notes, schedules, or source lists
  • Writing inspiration / motivational quotes
  • Important contacts (clients, agents, publishers, etc.)
  • Marketing checklists (such as after you publish each blog post or new book)
  • Marketing campaign plans, schedules, and trackers
Example Writing Trackers for Bullet Journals

This is a page I created as a reference for a fellow writer previously. It's not meant to be a particular spread on it's own. Rather it shows several smaller types of tracking you might use as a writer.

For example, the upper left writing tracker is a simple box tracker where every box equals 1000 words in a manuscript draft. You fill in the boxes as you reach each thousand words toward your goal. Next to that in the upper right you see a similar tracker for bloggers. But in this one, you might have one box equal one blog post. You'll also see some bar chart writing tracker options.

Below those, you'll see another multi-colored example, this time each box representing one day of the month (or 30 days for a 30 day challenge). You can then see the color key to the right, where different colors represent different word count ranges. This lets you visualize where your most and least productive writing days were during the month.

Finally, on the bottom half of this page you'll find a sort of master writing tracker for a month. Each color represents a certain type of progress -- writing one poem, writing 1000 words on a particular manuscript, etc. Each time you reach one of those goals, you color in a block on the master chart with the corresponding color. This one's a minor form of gamification, where you can aim to fill all the boxes during a month, then perhaps set a reward if you do. You can add as many boxes as you want here.

Bullet Journal Writing Trackers

Example Master Writing Tracker for Bullet Journals

This example bullet journal spread is loosely based on one of my own. Mine is a two-page spread because I track a lot of things there, but one page might be fine in your case.

This is a sort of master tracker for writing projects. Again, it focuses on my very simple "fill in the box" style of tracking. This one includes several manuscripts in various states (some being drafted, some being revised, some going through later edits). But I also added box-style trackers for other writing types to show you how you might use it.

When I used these on a monthly basis to see what projects I spent time on each month, I tracked manuscripts much as you see here. Then I tracked poetry, song lyrics, essays, and various freelance project types in list form. But the setup-payoff balance wasn't there, so now I keep one longer, fully box-based tracker for the longer-term.

For drafts, I use each box to represent 1000 words. For revisions and edits, each box represents a chapter. Then for shorter-form pieces like poems, lyrics, flash fiction, or blog posts, each box equals one complete project. You can set them up in any way that works for you, or even use bar trackers for larger projects if you need to fit more on your master project tracker.

Bullet Journal for Writers - Writing Tracker Spread - AllFreelanceWriting.com

Bullet Journal Pages for Freelance Writers

These bullet journal spreads can help you manage your freelance writing career:

  • Deadline tracker
  • Prospect list / "dream clients"
  • List of potential interview sources
  • Outlines / guides for common project types
  • Outlines / plans for individual client projects
  • Client contacts
  • A SWOT analysis
  • Income goals and trackers (monthly, yearly, or both)

Bullet Journal Pages for Bloggers

This list of BuJo pages can help you manage any blogs you might run:

  • Blog post idea list
  • Series idea list
  • Editorial calendars
  • Blog development / redesign checklists
  • Blog content audit checklists or notes
  • Monetization ideas / income sources for your blogs
  • Income trackers for specific blog income streams
  • Affiliate ad tracking
  • Affiliate programs you're considering or using
  • Blog post promotion checklist
  • Traffic stats trackers
  • Social media statistics
  • Guest post pitch list
  • Partner lists if you run joint promotions
  • Plans for individual blogs
  • Blog launch marketing plans
  • Accomplishment / byline tracker
Example Monthly Blog Post Tracker or Editorial Planner

This bullet journal page can be used in two ways. First, you can use it at the start of the month to map out each post you plan to publish. Or you can add posts as they're completed to track your progress.

I use it more as a planner. I use a single planner page for each blog being tracked, but I don't track all active blogs in this way - more for things like All Freelance Writing and Freelance Writing Pros.

Apologies for the sloppy lines on this one and a few others I'm sharing here. Some of these examples were quickie templates I put together for a fellow writer's reference a couple years ago.

Bullet Journals for Bloggers - Blog Post Tracker

Example Yearly Blogging Tracker or Schedule

Next is a blogging tracker spread. This isn't my design. I fell in love with this after seeing it at AwayWithKatie.com. View the original post to see the original tracker and other blog BuJo spreads.

Again, this spread can be used to either plan your blogging schedule up front, or you can use it to track your blogging as you publish posts. I use it for long-term scheduling.

This has been especially helpful as I begin to re-launch several blogs after my long blogging break recently. In January I brought back three blogs for weekly updates (and more when I can squeeze them in). In February, three more were added to the schedule. And one more will re-launch in the second quarter in April. Smaller ones will be added later after I get these on a regular update schedule and sort out how much time I can devote to those smaller blogs. So this planner will grow over the year. I also include my general blog admin schedule in here so I remember to account for that when planning posts.

Each blog, and admin work, is assigned a different color. I place a dot on any day when those items are scheduled.

It's not perfect, especially as we're selling our house now and constantly have to prep and leave for showings which is impacting my work schedule. But it helps me make sure each blog gets at least one post per week. If I get to the following Monday and haven't posted something yet, I cross out the dot so I can see where my schedule went wrong.

You might opt to leave it blank and add your dots after you publish posts if you want to use it as more of a tracker than a planner.

Bullet Journal for Bloggers - Blog Post Tracker or Schedule - AllFreelanceWriting.com

Bullet Journal Spreads for Authors

Many freelance writers are also authors, either publishing nonfiction books related to their specialty or pursuing more creative projects. If you're one of those writers, these bullet journal page ideas for authors might be worth adding to your BuJo.

  • Manuscript trackers
  • Lists of agents or publishers to pitch
  • Book launch marketing checklists
  • Revision and editing checklists
  • Grammar rules and reminders
  • Lists of research questions for a project
  • Project outlines or notes
  • References (the snowflake method, three-act structure, etc.)
  • Author website development checklists
  • Character name ideas
  • Setting ideas or inspiration
  • A list of book or story ideas
  • Short fiction or poetry markets
  • Word count trackers
  • Character bios / summaries for individual projects
  • Setting descriptions for individual projects
  • Dialogue ideas / overheard dialogue that inspires you
  • Scene summaries for a story
  • Story title ideas
  • "Murder boards" for murder mysteries
  • Book / story sales trackers
  • Writing schedules (like a NaNoWriMo target word count calendar)
  • A collection of writing prompts
Example NaNoWriMo Word Count Tracker

Any time I participate in NaNoWriMo, I set up a calendar-based word count tracker in my bullet journal. This is another sloppy-lined example that I made for someone a while back, but you basically set up a calendar, add your target word count for each day, and then add your actual word count reached each day.

Personally, when I reach or exceed my target word count for a day, I write the actual word count in green ink. When I miss that goal, I write the word count in red ink. This gives me a quick view of when I struggle to meet those goals and when I'm most productive. Sometimes there are trends to be found that can help with future planning. But it also lets you know when you might need to make up for some recent rough days.

Bullet Journal NaNoWriMo Word Count Tracker - AllFreelanceWriting.com

30-Day Word Count Tracker

This is similar to the NaNoWriMo tracker, except it's not calendar-bound. This is a template I use for many types of 30-day challenges, including word count goals. It allows you to start any day you want.

Bullet Journal 30 Day Word Count Tracker - AllFreelanceWriting.com

You do not have to include all these things in your bullet journal. You could choose just a few key spreads. Or you can make it as complex as you want. You do you.

That’s the key with journaling in general. They’re for you, and only you. Your bullet journal is a place for you to say the things you’d never say in real life. They’re where you can vent. They’re where you can keep your most off-the-wall ideas and deepest thoughts. And they're where you can track the most mundane of things.

And as a writer, they might also be just what you need to stay organized, decrease stress that can negatively impact your business, and explore the fears and challenges that currently hold you back.

To help you set up your first bullet journal, or to give you some new ideas, here's a free printable with some of the most important bullet journal spreads for freelance writers and bloggers.

Bullet Journal Spreads for Writers - AllFreelanceWriting.com

What are your favorite bullet journal spreads for writers? Tell us about them in the comments. Or if you'd like me to create more examples based on the ideas here, let me know what you'd like to see, and I'll do my best to add more bullet journal page templates here to help you build your own.

Profile image for Jennifer Mattern

Jennifer Mattern is a professional blogger, freelance business writer, consultant, and indie author. She runs numerous websites & blogs including All Freelance Writing, Freelance Writing Pros, NakedPR, and Kiss My Biz.

Jenn has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor and over 20 years' experience in marketing and PR (working heavily in digital PR, online marketing, social media, SEO, new media, and thought leadership publication). She also has 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing experience (including web development) and around 18 years of experience as an indie author / publisher.

Jenn also writes fiction under multiple pen names and is an Active member of the Horror Writers Association.

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