Journaling for a New Year

I have boarded the dot/bullet journaling train. Let me explain.

First, there is some argument about whether or not it is called dot journaling or bullet journaling and about whether or not those are the same thing. From what I can tell, they can be used interchangeably to refer to journaling in a blank book with—instead of lines or grid—little dots delineating the page. But it’s not that simple. When dot- or bullet-journalers refer to dot- or bullet-journaling, they are not just talking about a simple, physical thing (and in fact it can be done in a journal with grids, nothing, or—gasp!—lines). And this is what actually sold me on the idea: dot journaling is the concept of using a wide-open format to bring all your organization, creative, and other needs into one place. Since you are the one creating the format, you can do anything in the space and therefore you can have everything together. Again, this is what sold me. I usually have a notebook in my purse, a planner in my purse, a grocery list in the drawer, a journal by my bedside, a to-do list on a clipboard in the kitchen, etc. Dot journaling promised me that I could bring all that scatter into one place and—considering that my mind has been extra-scattered lately (is it the Pandemic? Age? Untreated ADHD?)—be more successful at organization and, well, functionality.

This is how it happened: last summer I found myself planning an art class for middle school and high school students. I wanted to do two extra-class projects. I was forced back down to one. I limited the class to 2D, paper arts and I had three project ideas: an altered book, a book nook, and a bullet journal. My daughter had some experience with bullet journaling, and it looked very pretty and creative. I am passionate about journaling. Even though I threw out two of the three project ideas, I found myself approaching the end of the year, looking for my next year’s planner (as usual), curious about this project I had almost hoisted upon my students. So I Ebayed it, bought a few books about bullet/dot journaling. Yes, I am that in to books. I thought I would maybe leave these books around on the tables during art class. (Nevermind that we have been remote since Christmas no thanks to Omicron.) In November, I received Dot Journaling: The Set in the mail and—again, so nerdy it’s actually nerdy—I couldn’t put it down. Way more than just a creative or pretty or show-off-y way to plan your year, I was drawn to promises of creative license, simpler organization, and absolutely no need to impress anyone or make it super beautiful. Indeed, it can’t be perfect and—unless I’m going to write yet another book about it—no one need ever see it. (In fact, I have been pleasantly surprised just how uninterested people are in it when I pull it out to write down a date or cross things off my grocery list.)

I encourage you to consider that dot/bullet journaling need not be intimidating or competitive. It could just be the flexible system that you could use to bring it all in. I’m twenty-two days in and, actually, it’s pretty great.

Here are the three books I have read about the subject:

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DOT JOURNALING: THE SET, by Rachel Wilkerson Miller

This is the first thing that arrived in the mail. If it hadn’t been, I might not be as excited about this new world as I am now. At first, I was like “ehn,” because the “set” comes in a box with a book about dot journaling (Dot Journaling) and a bullet journal. The journal is kinda slim with paper that is a little on the thin side (considering the book is going to tell you to use Milldliners, etc.). Nice, minty color, though the binding is a little boring. (Of course you could always use some washi tape to change that in about five minutes.) (Note: I am actually using this journal, now, because I’m not going to buy a new journal when I have a “free” one sitting right there. I will likely have to start a second one mid-year. Who knows? Maybe not.) Then, with a smirk on my face at myself, I started actually reading Dot Journaling. And I was hooked. I was hooked by the idea, I was hooked by the funny, engaging voice of the author, and I was hooked by the casualness and accessibility of this particular presentation. True to what she says, the illustrations in the book are of journal pages that are actually do-able, like for almost anyone. While I am an artist and am incurably creative, I found it really liberating that I wasn’t aiming for museum-worthy spreads.

Seriously, if I was going to sell this whole system to anyone, I would recommend this book. You can buy it without the “set” and it probably won’t even set you back $10. Do you need this book to begin dot journaling? I would say yes. The concept is spelled out in there with many tips on both spreads, practices, and supplies. I used the book to lay out my first calendars, to-do lists, and other lists and plans, like straight from her examples. It was just easier that way—I can come up with my own flair later, as I go. It takes some time to set up your system, so simpler is better to begin. I also used this book to choose some things to purchase and throw in an ArtBin. The ArtBin floats around the house, now, and when I sit down to either organize my day in the morning or assess at night I grab my container of, let’s see, washi tape, drafting tape, glues, eraser, ruler, post-it notes, correction tape, pencils, sharpener, colored pencils (mine are watercolor), Mildliners, Zebra pens, drawing (Micron) pens, colorful gel pens, clear watercolor pen, and fancy paper clips. I’m thinking about adding a flat compass and I am learning calligraphy on the side. This, of course, is overboard and you don’t need it. The most bang for your buck is in some drawing pens, a few Mildliners, and a few rolls of washi tape. As for a journal, there are a few much thicker ones available (though a little rare), and I’ll be aiming for 300 pages next year. It’s always a little nice to actually hold a planner in your hand before choosing one, even if it’s blank.

So if you are considering dot journaling, this is the book to get. The non-set version, perhaps. Wilkerson Miller is a fun, funny companion, eminently down-to-earth, and her book is concise and practical.

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BEYOND BULLETS, by Megan Rutell

By the time I received the first book, I already had two others on order. One of them was Beyond Bullets by Megan Rutell. Hmm… The problem is that I had already read Dot Journaling when I read this one. The full truth is that Rutell’s book is not as well written. Maybe it’s bigger and perhaps even a little prettier, but it’s not as engaging (in fact it’s pretty boring—not at all funny) and I just didn’t need it after reading Dot Journaling. It is okay, though, and if someone gives it to you I suppose you could begin your dot journaling adventures this way. Beyond Bullets does have sample spreads, and it does introduce you to dot journaling by selling the system (almost as compellingly). And it also emphasizes that this should be about you and what works for you, again, just not as compellingly as the other. I am going to use some of the sample spreads from Beyond Bullets as I continue because, let’s face it, no one book is going to have every possible page option.

It’s pretty good. It works. I just happen to like the other better and, I believe, with good reason.

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BULLET IT!, by Nicole Lara

And then there’s this book. I thought that it was more of the same, but it’s not. Bullet It! is actually a journal. A bullet journal. A pretty small bullet journal. With occasional prompts and illustrations. To be honest, I don’t know what to do with it. Not only is it small (maybe some people like the idea of small), but it hasn’t decided if it’s guiding us through the journaling process or if it’s just providing a cutesy space for us to do it ourselves. It kinda tells us how to go about dot journaling in the first two pages and then the rest of it is random. A blank page, a drawing, an inspiring quote, three more blank pages, and a sample font… I actually really like all the font, banner, and doodle ideas, but I’m not sure what to do with all the blank pages in between. The only thing I can think to do would be to make this a practice book—in other words, a dot journaling sketch book—but that would be insane, right? (heh, heh heh). I mean, the point of dot journaling is basically to make all your own spreads so that they fit your world. But I wouldn’t mind learning some lettering and flags. I just wish, then, that that was all it was. Kinda like the calligraphy book I just got: just ideas and practice space. I suppose that it would make an okay dot journal for someone who is afraid of the blank page. But then you have to occasionally break stride to answer some life question or draw a hot air balloon. I’m not convinced.

Another okay book, but not what I was—or will be—looking for. I might use it to rip off the fonts and banners but I hate leaving unused books around.

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