How I Use My Bullet Journal


notebook-1174776My closest friends know my deepest secret: I use a bullet journal. I rave about it. I’m a little obsessed with it. I’ve been talking about it so much, I suspect they are planning a bullet journal intervention.

However, if they saw how a bullet journal could change their lives, they would turn the intervention on themselves and say, “Yeah, using a bullet journal organizes my life with minimal effort.”

I think everyone should use a bullet journal, but, of course, not everyone gets it or sees how great it is. It’s a special club. Anyone can join, but few understand why they should. If you are still reading this, it’s probably because you already use the bullet journal system for organizing your life and want to see how I do mine.

That’s what I’d be doing.

You see, I’m always looking for tips on bullet journaling. It’s organic. It’s customized. It’s what you want it to be. Everyone does it their own way.

So instead of going over what a bullet journal is (just click on the link in the first paragraph of this blog post to get the basics), I’m going to tell you what works best for me.

My Best Practices for My Bullet Journal:

  • Start the INDEX from the back and work forward. When your entries meet the INDEX page, then it’s time to get a new notebook. Most people leave some blank pages at the beginning of the journal. By starting on the last page, there’s no guessing how many pages to reserve.
  • Use ONLY ONE NOTEBOOK. This is a standard best practice, but I didn’t realize how important it was until I consolidated all my to-read booklists into one notebook. I had lists on my computer, in folders, on my phone, etc. Now they’re all in one place.
  • Use a HABIT TRACKER. Each month, make a chart that lists daily habits you want to incorporate into your life. By keeping track, you can see where you need to improve. The tracker also motivates you to keep up with habits. It’s like a game: see if you can check off every habit for today. Also, on my DAILY LOG, I list habit tracker and that covers all my daily habits so I don’t have to write them out everyday. Saves space in the notebook as well. See my HABIT TRACKER below.
  • On the first page, list your CONTACT INFORMATION. In case your bullet journal gets misplaced, someone can get it back to you.
  • Include a page of Bullet Journal GUIDELINES and TERMS. At the beginning of the notebook, I include a page of guidelines I will be using. On the next page, I list and define all the common terms used with bullet journaling, like collections or tasks. This can be a great refresher when you start a new notebook as well as an excellent reference.
  • Use THREADING to keep track of a collection. If I start a collection that takes up more than one page, I write the all the pages numbers the collection is on at the bottom of each page.
  • Use GATEWAY PAGES to index related collections and other listings. For example, I had several book lists (each a different collection) in different places of my journal. I used one page to list them all and the page numbers where they could be found. I called the gateway page Book Reading Plan.
  • Take notes for a class, etc., on separate paper then TRANSCRIBE them into your bullet journal. Not only will going back over your notes help you retain what you heard, but you can write them more neatly. I do this for webinars, videos, sermons, meetings or any situation in which I take notes.
  • Join the Bullet Journal community on Google+. This is a great way to see how other people use their bullet journal. You can incorporate their best practices into your notebook and get ideas on what kind of listings you find helpful in your everyday living.

So watch out. If you are thinking of starting a bullet journal, be careful: you might become obsessed. Remember, do it the way that works for you. Some people decorate their journal with all kinds of doodles and colors. That is great for them, but I prefer to keep my bullet journal Spartan.

Here are some links to get you started:

Find my latest book on Amazon: Christ Simply, A Chronological Self-Guided Study through the Life of Christ.



My reading plan for this year: read more “widely”

stack-of-books-1531138The biggest pet peeve I have with myself is how I don’t read widely enough. What I mean is, I don’t read across genres. I stick to the same kinds of books. At the end of each year, I look at the list of books I’ve read and I realize it’s two-thirds speculative fiction: science fiction, fantasy, horror and so on.

Now, if I could, I would read speculative fiction exclusively. It’s like eating nothing but dessert all the time. That’s not healthy. So, in an attempt to be more well-rounded, to be better educated, to read more widely, I used an Excel spreadsheet to get my 2016 reading plan started.

Here’s what I did:

Across the top of the spreadsheet, I listed different genres of books I want to touch upon throughout the year. Here is my list: General Literature/Best Sellers; textbooks; Science Fiction; Fantasy; Biography; Classics; Poetry; Drama; Graphic Novels; Short Story Anthology; Spiritual; History; Art; Writing Instruction; British Literature Middle Ages; British Literature Renaissance. These are the areas I want to read in this year; your list may be different.

Next, I take all the books I have on “TO READ” lists — and I have several different ones, both digital and hard copy — and consolidate them on the spreadsheet. Each book goes into one of the categories. A particular book might fit into more than one column, but you decide which genre you want to put it under.

Next, I select a book, read it, then go to the next column and pick a book in a different genre and read it, and so on, and so on. I read about 30-40 books a year, so this will ensure I go through the cycle about two times. The idea is to not read two books in the same column until you have read one from all the other columns.

As a result, by the end of the year, I am a more well-rounded reader.

Pros, Cons and Tips for this method:

  • Tip: I add books throughout the year as I hear about them.
  • Tip: Of course, I’m not going to be able to read every book on the list in one year. I can just use this as a running list so I also have suggestions for something to read.
  • Tip: I don’t necessarily read the book at the top of the column. I just pick a book in a column that strikes my fancy at that moment.
  • Tip: No need to be legalistic about using this spreadsheet. I will probably cheat and read an extra science fiction or fantasy novel here and there.
  • Pro: I end up reading a better balance of fiction and non-fiction books.
  • Pro: My mind is expanded by reading book I keep putting off to read.
  • Pro: By reading more widely, I become a better writer.
  • Con: If you like to just read for pleasure and not worry about reading across the genres, then this method would probably feel too constricting.
  • Con: You only get to read your favorite genres when they come around. But, as I mentioned earlier, I will probably cheat a little.

It’s simple. It’s effective.

Happy reading.



The answer to the question

face-questions-1567164As a fiction writer, I have always wondered how to break into the publishing companies that announce on their manuscript submission guidelines:

“We do not accept unsolicited manuscripts. We only look at manuscripts through an agent.”

Then when trying to find an agent — a legitimate agent — the agents are only looking for established writers. Published authors.

It’s a vicious cycle.

But I think I found an answer the question that has plagued me as long as I have considered becoming a published novelist; a way out of the publishing labyrinth; a solution to the book marketing problem.


It used to be looked down upon. But now thousands of people are doing it and saying things like:

“Have more control over your book.”

“Get more sales profit.”

“Why put up with the (insert profanity) of publishing companies?”

It’s true. We live in an age where it’s easier to publish our own books without going through a traditional publisher. It’s an age of social media (which helps with some of the marketing that wasn’t available outside of a traditional publisher). There’s print on demand (which means a book doesn’t have to be printed by the thousands and it doesn’t have to go out of print). And anyone can learn to make an e-book out of their manuscript.

Traditional publishing has it’s own merits, but to answer my earlier question: how can I get an agent? Well if you self-publish you don’t need an agent. And you can establish a platform, an audience, and show potential agents that you are published and already have a built-in following.

So if one can successfully self-publish, why even think of going the traditional publishing route? Publishing your own books through Amazon or SmashWords is part hard work, part luck, but the potential for success outside of traditional publishing is better than in past decades.

One argument I’ve heard against self-publishing is:

“There’s so much garbage out there thanks to self-publishing.”

Here’s what I say:

“There was already plenty of garbage being put out by traditional publishers.”

So I say go for it.

Go for it.

Exposing “exposure” for what it is: an insult

artist-palette-1172463As much as I love designing book covers, I don’t have time to do it for free.

Last year I designed book covers for a couple of different small publishers. I figured out one publisher would not be paying enough for the time I put into the projects, so I told the publisher I quit. She understood and we parted on good terms.

I had already started several cover options for one author, Jeff, who pulled his project out of this company and went with another. I told him I’d finish the cover for his book for free, which I did. The original publisher would have paid me, but I didn’t think that was going to happen,  so since I quit, I didn’t think it was fair to the author to charge him an unexpected fee.

Anyway, the point is, it was my decision to not be paid for the project.

So when I read Wil Wheaton’s post on his blog on this subject, it reminded me that if someone thinks my talent is good enough to use, it’s good enough to buy. With money.
If some company making millions and billions of bucks every year ever called me and asked to use something I’ve written or designed and tried to convince me that the exposure alone, and no compensation whatsoever, was all I’d get, I’ve decided I would them down politely. On the inside I’d be imagining myself ripping them a new one and planning how to badmouth them on social media.

I mean, I hate that. I hate when an organization like The Huffington Post which has enough money to pay even when they say they don’t (it’s called budgeting, folks), asks a well-known celebrity like Wil Wheaton to use something he’s written but not pay for it? Jerks.

I would never ask a professional in any other field to work for free. “Hey, doctor, can you give me a free prostate exam?” or “Hey, counselor, can you psycho analyze me just for fun?”

It reminds me of a similar situation I read about last year in which a mainline cable network asked graphic designers to donate their work for a contest. What is that? It’s insulting, demeaning and patronizing, that’s what it is.

I plan to publish four mini-novels soon, and a local graphic designer/illustrator who’s done work for me before says she will illustrate the covers. She’s fantastic. Now I don’t have as much money as the Huffington Post or Showtime, but I still plan on paying her. And yeah, I hope she does get some exposure, but she’s still getting paid for it.

Saying that, I do believe there are times when it’s okay for a person to not get paid for their creativity—but only on rare occasions:

  • When that creator, not the client, decides to do work pro bono for whatever reason;
  • When an established non-profit is the client (occasionally);
  • When the creator does just want the exposure;
  • Special circumstances, whatever they may be.

Okay, I’m done pushing venom. Got it out of my system.

Writing at the cafe

110110_2321I’ve had some of my best writing sessions at a coffee shop, but I’ll be honest: sometimes I just hang out and surf the web. I’m procrastinating. I’m telling myself I’m waiting for inspiration but I confess I’ve gotten no writing done at some so-called writing sessions. Here’s an article that describes it from the viewpoint of a cafe’s employee:

On daily writing routines: or, What to switch on and what to switch off

When I Used to Go Bookcrossing

SignLogoTen years ago this month, I joined a website club called Book Crossing. The idea behind this website: release books into the wild. Here’s how it’s done.

  • Register a book on the website.
  • Write the registration number and “” on the inside cover of the book.
  • Leave it someone where someone can pick it up.
  • Someone finds it and goes to the website and adds a note that he or she found it.
  • That person reads and releases it, making a note on the website.
  • Follow where the books end up over time.

Only about 20% end up getting notes. Over the years some of the books I’ve released have ended up all over the United States. Several have ended all over the world–United Kingdom, Portugal, The Netherlands and others. Several books have been passed around several times. My copy of The Great Gatsby has been through seven people before the notes stopped a few years ago.

Since I purchased a Kindle in 2008, I stopped “releasing books into the wild” and focused on e-books. Recently, I decided to check on my Book Crossing account, and it’s fascinating to see where some of my books have been traveling over the last few years. I’ve decided to start releasing books again. I just finished a printed copy of The Book Thief and I’m going to release it at a coffee shop.

Kind of an ironic title for this project, don’t you think?

I write like . . .

1262267_47588357I don’t take I Write Like  too seriously. This website–which analyses a person’s writing style and then matches it to a famous author–hangs out with all those websites in which a person can take a test to see if he is a narcissist or whether or not his physical symptoms indicate he has leprosy or some other disease. I Write Like is just for funsies.

Here are some of the authors I’ve been matched with over the last couple of years:

  • Isaac Asimov–I have only read one of Asimov’s books, Foundation. I’ve been told my writing is sparse like Hemingway’s or Asimov’s so this doesn’t surprise me. When I write a rough draft, I usually skimp on too much description and detail and focus on actions and dialogue. Then I go back and add some details in revising.
  • Cory Doctorow–Again, I have only read one of Doctorow’s books, Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom. Doctorow is a science fiction author who offers his books to be downloaded for free from his website.
  • Dan Brown–Once again, only one book by this author have I read. During the big hype over his DaVinci’s Code, I read it out of curiosity. It was a fun read and one of those things not to be taken seriously like so many people did. One thing that bothered me about the book: the characters took pains to notice details that were clues to the mystery, yet they kept saying Eve in the book of Genesis ate an apple. The characters should have known that the fruit was never labeled an apple. Just my opinion.
  • Arthur C. Clarke–He is another famous science fiction writer, best know for his book, 2001: A Space Odyssey. (Side note: remember when the year 2001 seemed to be in the way distant future? Not any more, honey.) Well, anyway, I have only read one of his books, his second best known tome called Rendezvous with Rama. I enjoyed it, but remember thinking it would have made a better short story than short novel.

So, if you want to see what famous author you write like, have a sample of your prose ready to be copy and pasted. You may be surprised.