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What is Bullet Journaling (to me)?

At this point, I think the internet is saturated with Bullet Journal 101 content. All the basic steps, like setting up a key, a monthly log by numbering 1 to 30, and keeping things minimal, have been covered.

I don’t want to cover that for the millionth time, so instead I’ll link to Ryder Carroll’s perfectly informative website and move on to talk about what Bullet Journaling is for me, specifically.

I’ve talked about this at length in my videos, but I think the beautiful part of Bullet Journaling is how so many people in the community have molded and shaped it into a slightly different system. It’s flexible, and can become different things for different people. Not only that, but one person can change it over the course of their life, as their own needs change. You can see this clearly with my own journals. Years ago, in mid-2015, I didn’t even realize that decorating the inside of my journal was an option. I found the Bullet Journal website and followed it to a T.

I had lines of plain, messy black text, sometimes with highlighter to jazz it up. Yet, even here I opted for drawing in squares rather than using Ryder’s classic key, because it was more clear to me what an empty square meant than a dot. From the beginning, I was altering the method slightly to fit me.

Around 2017, after getting a little bored with my journal and taking a break, I discovered that other people were drawing in their journals. It was such a new and exciting idea that I trawled the internet for days on end, scouring it for new decoration ideas. I entered a short phase of what was basically copycat journaling, drawing out other people’s spreads and trying to use them.

It was a lot of fun.

Copying worked for a while. It let me flex those creative muscles without putting in much work. It wasn't quite what I needed, though. I started to look for more.

More ways to decorate, to organize, to color-code, to brainstorm. I tried out a dozen pens, but mostly stuck to felt-tip pens, highlighters and brush pens.

At some point I decided to add watercolor.

I’m sure I got the idea from someone else, but I couldn’t tell you who it was. I was consuming so much inspiration on Instagram and Pinterest that really, it could have been anyone. If it was you, thanks. It changed the way I create in my journal in a pretty fundamental way. After introducing watercolor to my notebook, I started experimenting with other media. Colored pencil, zentangle designs. I would spend upwards of an hour setting up a single page. That might seem like a waste of time to some people, but it was fun. It made my journal more engaging, and was an activity in itself.

In October of 2017, I started my YouTube channel, filming my journal setup and talking through my goals.

I got a lot closer to other creators this way, I think. I was participating in the pool of ideas that we all shared, giving something back for the first time. Since I was filming and sharing pretty much all of my journaling, it also changed the way I thought about my journal. I started to think more about how my ideas could be used by other people. I think this was a good shift, because it encourages introspection.

It also encouraged accountability on my part. If I’m sharing my goals with the internet every month, I have one more reason to actually make them happen. My viewership was pretty low, but I knew at least one person would see if I didn’t try my best. I didn’t want to let them down, did I? This can be a tricky thing to find balance with, and I’m sure that it can get overwhelming for Youtubers with larger or louder followings, but I like to think about it in terms of honesty.

If no one is watching, I can shirk my responsibilities for any reason, or no reason at all. If I’m sharing, and if someone is paying attention, I have to confront situations where my reason is, “I was feeling lazy and wanted to play games instead”. Sometimes relaxation is healthy and necessary, and sometimes it’s a procrastination tactic. Being held accountable means I can’t hide behind my own excuses. I have to face them.

Sometime in 2018 I got back into fountain pens as a serious hobby. Naturally, I started using them in my journals more and more. I adored playing with different inks (and still do), so I spent a lot of time doodling as decoration in my bullet journal, and including longer-form journaling.

This is another way the bullet journal method can be extended and tweaked: you can use (or not use) any sort of spread or collection you feel is right at the time.

I was doing more free-form journaling, so I made space for it in my notebook. I changed what I was tracking and logging pretty much every month. I added special pages for events like NaNoWriMo, or Inktober, and removed certain pages for months where I knew I would be too busy to fill them in properly.

2019 and onward, the bullet journal became a playground for me. A playground to try out artistic techniques, set new goals, play with color, and just write about my day. That’s what it has always been for me, though it took me a few years to get my bearings and figure out that I can do whatever I want, and I can not do whatever I don’t want.

The core of the Bullet Journal method is still there, beneath a layer of decorative play: it’s a journal with collections of ideas inside, kept neatly together. Lists of tasks, logs of habits that I did or did not complete, lists of goals, lists of memories.

For me, a bullet journal can be anything, so that's how I use it.
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