The Art of Journaling


I should preface this article by saying that I am not a planner. I remember a lot of my classmates in college who had neat Lily Pulitzer planners that they kept on their desks at all times. I remember others who would even have stickers and flowery penmanship. While I admired their artistry and organization, I was not one of those people. With a decently good memory, I never really saw a need to have a planner. If I could just remember it, why write it down? I recall initially rolling my eyes at bullet journaling. While I found it aesthetically pleasing, I was baffled as to why anyone would spend so much time on their planner.

Last year, I was doing a year of service in a small town in Ireland. My job involved teaching at a primary school, helping direct a local choir, contributing to a radio show, and helping out at a church. With so many responsibilities and tasks being assigned each week, I realized I needed some system to keep track of everything asked for me. I bought a new notebook and began making a to-do list. And then, in an effort to procrastinate the long list of tasks, I decided I should decorate said to-do list. By the time I was done with my first list, I realized it was starting to resemble the bullet journals that I was so resistant to.

The more I dove into bullet journaling, the more I came to really love it. I started adding trackers to my weekly pages which helped me form healthy habits. I spent spare bits of time learning new doodles and handwriting fonts which have helped me as a teacher. It’s also become not just a place to keep track of my week, but a place to practice gratitude, as I’ll write down not just my “to-dos” but happy things that happen during the week. I even keep track of my current reads and favorite songs of the moment. As a naturally creative person, I find that the process of bullet journaling keeps me motivated and inspired, as I’m always thinking of new ideas, themes, and techniques to try.

After almost two years of bullet journaling, I’ve put together a few helpful tips for starting a journal of your own.

  1. Make it Personal. The best thing about bullet journaling, I think, is how flexible it is to you. While planners are set up already, you can craft your “bujo” to reflect what you need in your life. Want to track your workouts? Make a little chart to track them. Need to plan a trip or party? Add a packing list or menu to your spread. Want to remember some of your favorite cappuccinos you had that week? Doodle them alongside your daily to-dos. What I include in my spreads varies by what is going on in my life that week.
  2. Nothing is Required. In the last few months, bullet journaling has become increasingly popular. This means there are tons of products on the market for aspiring bullet journalers. From brush pens, to stickers, to decorative tapes- there tons of supplies you can buy. There isn’t anything you must have to start. My first bullet journal was just made from supplies in my office. I cut up old greeting cards and junk mail for decoration. 
  3. Find Your Favorite Products. After a few months of journaling, I invested in a few products I really love. I am obsessed with my Zebra Mildliners which highlight things in warm and cool tones to give the journal a very aesthetically pleasing look. I also love writing with Pilot-G2 pens because they glide so well over the page and leave a bold, black line. I own an absorbent amount of washi tape, but it’s one of my favorite ways to add a splash of color to a page. When I first started, they were hard to find, but they are now for sale at most stationary, craft, and office stores. I find that a lot of the prettiest tapes come from abroad, so I often order them online.
  4. Theme Your Spreads. One of my favorite parts of bujo-ing is coming up with themes for my weekly spreads. Often, I’ll theme them around colors or patterns, using washi tapes and Mildliners to create color schemes. Other times, I’ll make my themes based on movies, TV shows, books, cities, or seasons. I always integrate quotes into my spreads, usually coordinating with the theme. Some of my favorite themes this year have been based on Scotland, Moana, hygge, and The Crown. Themes are a great way to be thoughtful about what’s inspiring me lately and to put that into spread for the week.
  5. Embrace Your Mistakes. Never let yourself feel upset or stressed out by a planner. One rule I made for myself very early on was to make sure that I wouldn’t abandon a spread, no matter how bad of a mistake I made. This has resulted in some creative washi tape placement or original font creation. I typically find that trying to figure out how to work around an accidental misspelling or a pen slip lets me challenge myself to be a creative problem solver.
  6. Start Small. If you are daunted by the idea of a bullet journal and the commitment of it, start off with a smaller journaling project. For 6 months before I started my bujo, I kept a gratitude journal. The process helped me reflect on my life, while also getting to experiment with various journaling techniques. Another idea is to create a travel journal, a place to record stories, packing lists, and recommendations related to the adventures you take. Small project journaling is a great way to get your feet wet before diving into a full bullet journal.
  7. Find a BuJo Community. I find a lot of inspiration for bullet journaling online through tumblr, Instagram, and Pinterest. However, my greatest source of inspiration is my friends who bullet journal. I’ve gotten quite a few of my friends obsessed with bullet journaling. We frequently will send each other pictures of our spreads or new ideas we are trying out. Sometimes we’ll even send washi samples and favorite products to each other to try out! Friends are a great way to get motivation and affirmation about your designs.

Like many of the writers at the Attic, I’m frequently motivated by aesthetically pleasing things. Bullet journaling has been one of my happiest discoveries because it lets me be both aesthetic pleasing and productive. 

M. A. McCuen is a secondary English literature teacher and grad student in Omaha, Nebraska. Originally from Michigan, she graduated with a BA in English and French from University of Notre Dame in 2016 where she spent a semester studying at the University of Paris Diderot and interning in Ireland. After graduation, she spent a year teaching abroad on Wexford, Ireland, before beginning her M.Ed at Creighton University.