Help Me Use My Fancy New Journal For Goal-Setting
January 11, 2020 12:56 AM   Subscribe

I would like to use it to plan and encourage myself to work on my creative goals such as writing, painting and making music.

I bought a fancy new journal at the end of last year and I have yet to write in it for fear of sullying its pretty pages. I have plenty of washi tape, stickers and whatnot but I am just not the sort of person who produces instagrammable journal pages.

I already manage my household chores, grocery lists, thought dumps and appointments with various apps so I'm looking for planning that is more macro and art-oriented (I don't paint as regularly as I would like) as opposed to daily life drudgery.

I tried looking at the Bullet Journal system but it is way too complicated. Is there a simpler system for planning on a weekly basis? The pages are not dated with a combination of lined, blank and grid pages.

I have a mixed record with New Year's Resolutions but I would like this year to be different.
posted by whitelotus to Media & Arts (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I have a hunch that you're kind of expecting the journal to do the work for you, in a weird way. I'm terrified that that sounds really harsh, but couldn't think of another way to put it and so I apologize. But here's what I mean:

I also fell into this trap a lot, and bought up a lot of journals and books and this-or-that system that was promising me the One Weird Trick that would let me organize my goals and get my life sorted out. But none of them really worked, because having the thing was the only thing I was doing. I would periodically pick up that new system and flip through it, scribble one or two notes, get bored or unmotivated and put it back down. Even today I flip through web pages of people setting up their daily planner art journals and start to think about how I can do the same.

But at the end of the day - the best-designed planning system isn't going to work if you don't actually use it. And the reason all those other systems hadn't worked, I realized, is simply that there was something that didn't make me want to use them - and most of the time, that something was me just not being committed to doing the work.

Once I made that commitment, then I thought a bit about "what actually do I need" - and for me I realized it was a simple calendar and a simple to-do list, an old-school day planner like from when I was in my 20s. No app, no bullet journal, no fancy washi-taped and ornamented pages I hand-color - just a plain date book that I actually use and write things in. The most I do is put stickers on the pages where there are holidays or birthdays I need to remember (I was too scattered to remember my mother's 70th birthday, and after that I wanted to make FORDAMNSURE I never forgot another birthday.) I also call my "to do" list a "to SMITE" list (another stage manager I know used that term and I fell instantly in love because it made my tasks sound so epic). But that's ultimately all I needed.

I'd actually think a bit about what may be stopping you from actually committing to your own work; your creative goals may be slowing down right now for some reason that's inside you instead of your having not found the right planner. Maybe think about that first.

And then - once you've figured out what it is that is stopping you and how to get past it, then you may have a better sense of how you want to use the book. For example, maybe you realize that you don't do well in isolation and you need a group around you. So if you realize that, then maybe look for a Meetup for your creative practice, and then you use the book to keep track of when their meetings are, keep the addresses and contact info for other members that you think you wanna hang with outside the meetings, and make notes about the stuff you did during the meetings. Or maybe you realize that you need to have a calendar laid out in a super-specific way, so then you can make that.

You know? I think that the mistake a lot of us make is in trying to have some book or system tell us what we need to do to organize ourselves, instead of looking inward and figuring out what we need and then finding or creating a system that would support our needs best.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 4:37 AM on January 11, 2020 [8 favorites]

Best answer: Well, first you need to have some goals. For example, your goal might be to do art every day. So your first page could be to list the various things you could do to encourage you to meet that goal. Leave some space blank for additional ideas, as you may need to get back to that page. Examples are: get out your art materials and have a small stack of grab and go equipment in very visible and convenient place, buy some super nice ink pens, pick a picture to use as a subject reference and draw it in different styles, go to the library and get out art books, look up what the hell a 'gesture drawing' is, stop at a gallery once a week, etc.

Then your second page would be the commitment page: I, white lotus, am going to put pigment on paper every day, even if it is only a dot for a place holder on days when my Crohn's is flaring up too badly to actually do anything without acute misery, and every day I am going to spend five minutes looking at images on FlickR or another designated website in order to get my visual brain stimulated.

Then leave a couple more blank pages so you can go back and write down changed goals as they evolve, or add a budget for art supplies or whatever else belongs in your reference pages, before starting a page dated June 11th, where you record what you did today - "Make metafilter post requesting ideas. Did very bad miniature drawing of a butterfly in black ink," etc.

To make yourself more accountable don't just record days when you do something, record every day, so that you have the option of doing a one inch square bad drawing of a butterfly in ball point pen just to avoid having to record, nope, not meeting my goal again today.

Plan on rewarding yourself when you meet some metric or the other. It shouldn't matter how long it takes to meet your metric, so don't go with days-in-a-row goals, as then one missed day sets you back to the beginning and increases the chance that you will be too discourage to resume. Instead your rewards should be related to progress. Once you have done art on ten days you can have a reward which ideally should be an inexpensive art supply. The more drawings you do the nicer the art supply, so after ten days you get a nice drawing pen, after thirty you get a nice sketchbook, after sixty you get the pack of monochrome shading pens, if you're still on the art kick as long as your birthday in March you get an art book, and so on. Rewards should not be absolutely linear, at 10, 30, 60 days, but also somewhat randomized, thus getting a reward for still doing the project when some random date hits, but also when you do your first watercolour, or your first calligraphy, or start working in clay, and when you finish the exercises in certain art instruction book. Lots of rewards are good.

One of those blank pages at the beginning of the book could be a list of art related rewards that would make you delighted.

You could use the book for all three goals, writing, painting and music, but it would be harder than if you just used it for one goal because structuring three goals that are so very different will get complex. You'll need to have one pile of ready-to-hand art supplies, one pile of ready to hand music and a new section on your computer for writing projects, and you'll need one page to discuss and suggest writing goals, and another for music, which means that you may be up against clutter and confusion and uncertainty. At that point you will probably want coloured index tabs.

If this were my project I would challenge myself to do painting for three months, and then get a second journal and either add music to my daily life with its own book, goals and guidelines, and then at one year when both the art and music were habits I would add the writing. Or else I would schedule the three projects to be seasonal or periodic. An example of what I mean is that in the winter when your wind instruments are dry because of being in a warm centrally heated house you do music, in the summer when sketching outside is easy, you do the art, and the writing could be for the fall when you have to head back indoors again and while traveling if you do a lot of traveling because it's the most portable of the three.

Since the journal is key here, you may be daunted by its pristine state. If that is the case doing the right thing to destroy that state is important so you won't be intimidated or regret it. The worst thing you could do is write half a page in ink "Not sure what i want to do here. Art is so important..." and then never use the journal again. That would be starting without starting, destroying the journal's promise without actually doing any art or any development. So you might want to break in the journal by actually doing art in the journal. You mentioned painting, not art, but quite likely the journal is not a sketchbook and painting in the journal could change the aesthetic from beautiful book to damaged book, but painting does require preliminary sketches and draughting out ideas, so you could start by doing a sketch in the book, for a frontispiece which is also the preliminary sketch for a painting. Failing a frontispiece, depending on what you write, you could sit down at your computer and work on doing some poetry, or a micro fic, and when you have one you think is decent, write it out neatly as the first thing in the journal. But remember, you DON'T want to put something perfect as the first thing in the journal. A clumsy poem or a lame sketch will do very well and no need to write fifteen poems before trying to come up with one good enough to go in the book. You are going to develop your abilities, so that after two years when the book is full you will turn back to that front page and your first offering will look bad to you simply in contrast to how much you have improved. That first work you do is by way of a diagnostic, that you can look at and think about how you can do better in subsequent works.
posted by Jane the Brown at 5:28 AM on January 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

Think about what you want to accomplish this year, and then think about how your journal can best support you in doing that.

"I bought a fancy new journal at the end of last year and I have yet to write in it for fear of sullying its pretty pages. I have plenty of washi tape, stickers and whatnot but I am just not the sort of person who produces instagrammable journal pages."

There are a couple of things that might be helpful here:
* Own the fact that you are not the kind of person who does journaling for instagram. This is good: it means you are journaling for yourself and not for others.
* How do you want to use the journal - for sketches, tracking the days on which you met your goals, quick notes on ideas? If you were inspired by a magazine image would you tape it into your journal?
* Think about what you want the journal to look like at the end of the year. I'm guessing the worst outcome you could have for December 31 2020 is a blank journal, yes? What does the best outcome look like? Personally I love the idea of a journal that's a total mess - full of quick sketches, lists, ideas, etc.
* Think of yourself as a mad scientist who can run unlimited experiments on this journal. Experiment today with how you want to use your journal. If it works out ok, keep doing it. If you don't like it, try something different next day/next page.
* Wreck the first page. If your pretty, pristine journal is too intimidating, take it down a peg. Test all of your pens and markers to see if they work. Scrawl some poetry or quotations. Try out all the washi tape.

You mentioned bullet journaling but said it's more complicated than what you're looking for. Are there elements from bullet journaling that you find useful? Maybe you could use the first spread as your index, and then have a dedicated spread/s for tracking your creative goals. That could look like a line for each month with the dates that you met your goals. You could use color coding or symbols to track multiple goals in the same spread.

Like this, but with circles and or stars or dots around/next to the dates:

Jan: 1 7 8 9 10 11 20 21

That gives you the first few pages for organizational stuff, and the rest could be for actual journalling about how your goals are working out, setting mini goals for a given day/week/month, whatever you want.

It's a million times better to have a full journal, even if you have a few - even several - pages of "I didn't draw today and here's what's going on" - than a blank one.
posted by bunderful at 6:33 AM on January 11, 2020 [3 favorites]

I have a "bullet journal" in which I record my workouts and also whether I met some other goals for the day. It is very simple. I am happy to share photos if that interests you at all.

I also do not produce insta-worthy art-journal spreads. It's not where my expertise is, but I do like filling in a little square for my daily goals (ate my veggies, took my meds, drank my water, went to the gym). I basically took what I wanted from the bullet journal community and made it my own. You'll find that is really the thing with BuJo - you do the parts of it that work for you and the rest you don't have to mess with if it's not productive.
posted by Medieval Maven at 6:40 AM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Back with another thought - I think that what may also be muddying the waters for you is that a lot of the Instagrammy journalers may be taking the focus to the point that the original meaning of a bullet journal, or a day planner, or what have you, has been obscured. The original idea of a bullet journal was simply a to-do list, pretty much - a man who had had lifelong learning disabilities was having trouble focusing using more traditional journaling or calendar record-keeping, and he came up with his own system; he found that just writing things down in short phrases, with either boxes by them to check off or a little dash if it was just a note, worked for him. So he started doing that and other people jumped on it and ran with it. And that's actually what a lot of people who use the bullet-journal system do - it's just a notebook with short phrases, some which refer to tasks they need to do and some which refer to notes about things.

The point being, though, is that it's a system that they've found works for them. And, in their way, the Instagrammy stuff also works for the people doing Instagram; if you study their posts and videos and such, you realize that a lot of the pretty stuff with Washi tape and hand-drawn and hand-lettered pictures and such is just.....decoration on a basic to-do list. Like, one video I saw recently was from someone who decided to devote a page in her journal to tracking books she'd read over the course of the year - but rather than just leaving a little empty page for her to write the title of each book down, she drew a little stack of books, leaving the spines on the books blank, and the idea was that she'd go back and write in the titles of the books she read on the spines of each book in the picture.

Now, maybe drawing little pictures of books works for this particular person. It may very well be that she's discovered that the little pictures of books serves both as a fun reminder to her to stick to this habit, or the act of drawing the books was itself a creative outlet and a way to practice drawing. But it is not the only way to track the habit of book reading, is my point - taking a single page in your book and writing "BOOKS I HAVE READ THIS YEAR" at the top in block capitals, with empty space to write the name of each book as you go, works too.

The point is to think about what you need first and then adopting something that will support that, as opposed to picking the system first and trying to mold yourself to it. That's what the guy who came up with the bullet journal system did, basically, is think first about "how does my brain work best" and then try to find the system that would sync with it. When he didn't find an existing one, he made his own.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 9:45 AM on January 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

In general, yes, I recommend ruining the first page. Don't even try out washi tape, which you might be tempted to put in some pretty pattern. Just take a pen and scribble on all over. Really ruin it. Pressure lifted.

In terms of a simple plan, have you considered the most simple method of labeling a page for each week, and then writing down your goals for that week? Making them actionable is key. "Write 500 words" or "write for 15 minutes" or "outline story" as opposed to "write". Then when you complete them, use simple method such as a check box, cross them out with a pen, or cross them out with a pretty pastel highlighter (my favorite). If it doesn't work out, when you go to make a list for next week think about why--were your goals too high, did you not plan when to do things, etc.

I am a person who sometimes does spreads that I put on Instagram, but I definitely do not have the time to do that all the time or even most times. One of things that I do like about a dated journal is that the day is going to go by no matter what, so I might as well put something on that page rather than leave it blank. If you have any interest in also drawing in your journal, might it work to date a few pages over the next week where it seems like you'll be more likely to do a little art? Promise yourself the page stays blank if you don't do it on that day. When that day comes, if it gets away from you then even putting a stick figure on there would be better than nothing, but if you happen to have more time to try a thing go for it. Whatever you put down is what it is, and you can move on to another day. Art is very much built from practice, so anything you do is worthwhile.

You can do this!
posted by past unusual at 11:30 AM on January 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

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