One notebook to rule them all

Maybe you’re like me and you keep a paper planner, a writing notebook, a nature journal, scraps of shopping lists, index cards with quotes on them, and so on. I’ve tried to go paperless using Google calendar and Evernote, but the truth of the matter is that I love paper, fancy pens, and all that. Material book culture pleases me.


You know what else pleases me? Meeting the carpool on time. Meeting my copy-editing deadlines. Removing apostrophes from plural nouns. Watching the ants circling peony buds. Enjoying a meal cooked by my teenage son. Doing all the things.

You may be able to relate to the long list of scattered tasks. Especially if you’re an entrepreneur. Chris Guillebeau writes articles that resonate, in particular this one from February: “How to Run a Business and Still Care for Your Family.”

Priorities are not just a question of time, in other words, they are also a question of focus and intention. I think it’s important for each of us to be able to say:

This is what I am living for.

This is what matters.

I will select these values and allow them to be my compass.

The way this is lived out may be different than how other people live, or it may even be totally unique.

So what are you living for? What matters? How do you translate these things into a life?


My friends, here’s an idea: Focus your scattered paper energy. Ditch the dozens of notebooks, planners, journals, scraps, and rubber-banded index cards.

Two words: Bullet Journal.

I started one in March and fell in love immediately. One notebook to rule them all. It’s indexed, so I can find my quotes, my reading list, my nature drawings, my lecture notes, my essay starts and story maps, and my daily schedule. I use a Leuchtturm1917 medium-sized book with dotted pages.


Granted, it’s not as neatly written now as when I started, but it’s highly functional, and functional is what I’m after.

naturejournalpageGo find a notebook and try a bullet journal. Like all systems, it’s tweakable. Make up collections as you go. Make it do what you need it to do. Make a mess.

Just don’t lose it!

Yes, but is it practical?

rainbowbooksWhen I started graduate school in 2011, I was concerned that spending more time in school would be a frivolous act. As it turns out, it wasn’t.

It took a year for me to gather enough academic momentum to apply, because grad school is really designed for 20-somethings, what with all the classes that run past 9pm and all. I discovered during the process that my ancient credits from Before Kids weren’t going to get me anywhere, and I had to start over. I took the GRE and a few undergraduate-level courses to get the writing samples and recommendations I needed for my application, then I applied and got in. I was disappointed that the track I wanted within the Department of English had been cut — there only remained a slight ghost of the writing and editing track, so I did what I could.

Turns out, that was a delightful turn of events. The department has what they call a Minor Field Plan, which let me take coursework across disciplines. The resulting list of coursework from my requirements and electives has boosted my knowledge base in environmental issues. Plus, I learned most of what I wanted to know about editorial work in producing The Friendly Naturalist, which has been a lush playground for learning. I’ve done everything from calls for submission and making the final selections, to design work using the Adobe Suite, to working with the printer and doing the accounting and distribution. It’s been great, and yes, it’s been practical.

Here’s a list of the courses I’ve taken and projects I’ve done:

Master of Arts, Department of English (Expected in December 2014)
Minor Field Plan: Nonfiction writing and environmental connections

Bibliography and Methods:
ENG 701 Mary Ellis Gibson
Seminar paper: Contemporary uses of commonplace books in daily writing practice

Literary Theory:
ENG 742 Risa Applegarth
Semester project: Book proposal for a manuscript advocating for contemporary use of commonplace books

ENG 630 Karen Weyler, early American literature
Seminar paper: Manuscript culture in colonial Philadelphia
Learned how to use digital archives
ENG 730 Karen Kilcup, American environmental literature
Semester project: Team edit of anthology of 19th century nature writing for children
Recovery project: 19th century children’s magazines
ENG 734 Maria Sanchez, American women authors

ENG 535 Terry Kennedy, Independent publishing / Literary entrepreneurship
Launched and produced seven quarterly issues of
The Friendly Naturalist
ENG 623 Craig Nova: Creative Nonfiction
Wrote three extended essays (have two sent out to journals, wish me luck!)
Fall 2014 ENG 746 Contemporary Rhetorical Theory Steven Yarbrough

Minor Field Plan – Environmental Connections to writing
ENG 622 Karen Kilcup, Writing and editing internship
Research assistant for monograph on 19th c. nature writing
Recovery work using the digital archives
MLS 600 Charlie Headington, Ecotheology
SOC 589 Sarah Daynes, Ethnographic research methods
Conducted field study at Lake Brandt Marina Park
HEA 608 Environmental Health (fall 2014)

2014 NCWN Spring Conference: editing workshop