A beginner’s guide to bullet journaling

Bullet journals can be a great way to stay on top of assignment due dates. Photo by Catherine Charlebois.

You may have noticed a lot of pictures of artsy planners floating around the internet lately. I’m here to tell you that this isn’t just your imagination, because the Bullet Journal trend has exploded recently. Bullet journaling, though unique for everyone, combines elements of a journal, sketchpad, and a planner with a bit of graphic design all rolled into one notebook. They are wholly creative, practical, and negate lugging around a bunch of notepads for different things. If you’re like me and thrive on organization, or just want to try your hand at journaling, this is for you. Some tips:

1. Having the nicest stationary doesn’t matter

When you’re starting out, it might feel necessary to go out and get top-of-the-line supplies for your journal. I’m here to tell you that buying dollar store pens and paper can create the same Instagram-worthy results as the highest quality stationary. Besides, you’ll want to try out different types of pens, colours, and stickers, so why spend all that money until you know what you like? Not having the pressure of needing to use the expensive things you bought will prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and discouraged if you end up not liking some of them. Journals can be lined or plain, but I prefer the classic “bullet” pattern, since it gives you a grid without distracting the eye from your design.

2. Inspo, inspo, inspo

When I first started bullet journaling, I had no idea what I was doing. I’d seen a bunch of videos on YouTube showing different variations of weekly and monthly spreads, but it was hard to know what worked for me right off the bat. I surfed Pinterest, and found I was interested in trying out a monthly layout that doubled as a planner, but also left room for me to doodle. Bullet journaling is best learnt by doing since there isn’t really any set criteria—you make it just the way you like it. Before jumping in, make sure you look up some of that inspo—it’ll start the creative juices flowing and get you excited to get going.

I recommend AmandaRachLee’s or Lauren Liz’s Youtube channels to get started or simply typing “plan with me” in the YouTube search bar.

3. Plan

Now that you have your two most important tools, it’s time to put pen to paper. Measure out your pages and see what type of spread you want to design. Will you have a monthly planning page or a weekly agenda? Do you want half the page to be left blank for doodles throughout the week, or do you want to set up a habit tracker? Do you like minimalist designs, or prefer colourful ones? The options are limitless, but I highly recommend laying out your design in pencil to visualise and adjust before putting it in pen. Remember, it doesn’t have to be fancy, or perfect—finding out what you like in a spread (or lack thereof) is part of the experience.

4. Try new things

My first monthly spread was purely utilitarian. I picked a green colour and doodled here and there, but by the end of the the month, I was unhappy with what I’d come up with. I spent a few hours looking at YouTube videos, and was inspired by the variety of designs and ideas. The next month, I’d incorporated new things into my spread. As I kept going, I was inspired by others and my own creativity. Some ideas didn’t work out and were left behind, but cultivating an open mind of trying new things helps keep you inspired and creative. Bullet journals are a means to express yourself, and exploring different possibilities keeps things fresh. Now, every month, I experiment with fonts, test new designs in my layouts, and have monthly themes.

5. There’s no pressure

Seeing other people’s “perfect” calligraphy and straight lined layouts can be intimidating, but remember, there is no such thing as perfect. Just like notebooks vary in shape and every pen has a different nib size, so do personalities and tastes differ. Try a new design, play around with shapes—nothing has to be plain grid patterns. Don’t despair over crooked lines or bad doodles—the more you practice, the better you’ll get. Mistakes are just a part of the process.

Bullet journals can be an extension of yourself and your personality splattered over its pages. So if you’re looking for a creative outlet this Christmas or just trying to get organized in the new year, consider bullet journaling. It’s the perfect gift to give to friends and it just might be something to add to your Christmas wishlist this season.