Writing Wednesday: Author J.T. Ellison’s bullet journal in her Habana notebook!

Post Comment

Today we are very excited to have author J.T. Ellison show us how she bullet journals in her Quo Vadis Habana notebook! I was especially interested to see how she incorporates iCal into her bullet journal. Many thanks to J.T. for sharing with us!

I’ve always been a notebook junkie. From my school days when I took notes in the Cornell method—two-columned, with one side for notes and the other for highlights and conclusions—to present day, my daily notebooks are a huge part of my life. They help me learn, they help me organize, and of course, they help me keep a record of my life at any particular moment.

But I also have OCD, and have always had a hard time starting a notebook, simply because if I make a mistake, I have to rip that page out and start over. I’ve never been a fan of scratching out, it makes me very uncomfortable. Because of this tic, for years I didn’t allow myself to buy anything other than a 5-Star notebook. Cheap. Disposable. Pages that tear out when you screw them up, with nothing left behind.

I finally graduated to a Moleskine, which every writer I knew had. I took it everywhere, and used it extensively, but it was messy. The ink bled through, the pages were a dun-colored yellow, my pencils didn’t look nice.

And then my friend and fellow scribe Jeff Abbott did an interview on the Quo Vadis blog and mentioned his love of Clairefontaine notebooks. I wrote him immediately with a flurry of questions, and on his suggestion, ordered my own. I was hooked from day one. The paper: so smooth and lovely, and bright white. They’re spiral-bound: AKA training wheels for those of us who can’t stand messy pages. And talk about sturdy: the covers fold back and hold up wonderfully under weeks of intensive use. I bought one, then many, and for the past several years, every novel I write is assigned a Clairefontaine.

I use it for note-taking, for outlining, for general thoughts and ideas. Sometimes, even, for writing, especially if I’m traveling or need a change of pace.

Quo Vadis has been incredibly kind over the years, allowing me to test drive their paper and notebooks. I wrote my first Habana review in 2009––everything of which still stands—and in the intervening time, my planners have become an even bigger part of my process. I got into the Quo Vadis Space 24 weekly planner in 2010 and used it quite happily for several years. And then I was lured to the dark side by the Hobinichi Techno. I spent about 17 months in it before I realized I was completely and utterly stressed out. The Space 24 is a weekly planner, nice and big, with weekly spread on one side and a page for notes on the other. I’d split it down the middle—work on the left, personal on the right. I was bullet journaling on those pages, without realizing that was a thing. With the Techno, I was trying to do the same thing, but the page-a-day constraint and the tiny size was driving me mad.

At this point, my process was completely broken. I had multiple notebooks going.

I’ve long used a Habana for my professional note-taking: meetings, programs I was doing, notes from classes I was taking. I used my Techno for my daily planner and thought capture, plus I kept the Space 24 in my office as a semi-permanent planner. My Clairefontaines were for individual book thoughts. Desperate, I bought a Midori traveler’s notebook, thinking to consolidate everything into a single cover, but the paper didn’t turn my crank at all, and the size was awkward. Add in that I use iCal for just about everything, and Day One for journaling, I was in full-on, too-many-systems crisis mode.

Enter Ryder Carroll, and Bullet Journaling. I was already doing my version of it, only in five different places, and without an index. Determined to find a better system, I stacked all my notebooks on my kitchen counter, grabbed a fresh Habana, numbered the pages, built an index, and started.

I’ll admit, it took a few months to get things right. I was discouraged by the fact that I couldn’t make it pretty. I bought stencils. I bought brush pens. I was horribly dissatisfied, not with the notebook itself, but with how I was messing it up. I am not an artist. Not even close.

I was cleaning my office and putting my former notebooks and calendars into a box for storage when I realized the issue wasn’t about how to make the notebook look pretty—it was to make it work for me. Simple, straightforward, minimalist. That’s what I needed.

I happened to be in Parnassus books later that week, and one of the awesome booksellers there, Stephanie Appell, was working in her bullet journal. She turned it around for me, and I swear angels began singing from on high. She’d set it up in a WEEKLY format.

When I went home, I looked back at my Space 24s, seven years’ worth, and realized that trying to Bullet Journal my daily To-Dos was the heart of the problem. I have run on a weekly system for my whole life. Why was I trying to force someone else’s bullet journal method on myself?

I put every notebook away except my Habana and my current book’s Clairefontaine.

In my Habana, I swallowed down those ugly pages (by putting a paperclip on them so I wouldn’t accidentally open to them). I built my 6 month goals page, my monthly goals page, and then my WEEKLY to do list.

And everything clicked.

I’m several months in now, and planning has become a joy again.

Here’s how I do it.

On the first of every month, I print a month view of my iCal calendar and tape it into place.

That way, I can see all my appointments and planning for the month.

Then I do the monthly spread with the big events on the left side, and my goals for the month on the right.

My #1 priority is word counts, so that gets starred with my goal for the month, then I list out the rest of my goals.

Then I flip the page and start my week. Easy. Simple. Not gorgeous and clever, but functional, and not stress inducing.

I’m trying new things now that I’m more comfortable. A daily tracker, to ensure I do my walking and yoga.

Lists of books I want to read, writing estimates. Annual numbers. A word cloud for 2017.

I do all my business out of the Habana, too. Combining my professional life with my monthly/annual planning with my To-Dos ends up being soothing instead of stressful. I know a lot of people who have separate notebooks for their work and for their home life, but I’ve found that taking my old system from the Space 24, having them both on the same page works just fine.

Oh, and I do all of this planning and tracking in pencil. I’ve always used good pens in my notebooks, from my MontBlanc ballpoint to a variety of fountain pens, but again, scratching out mistakes has always been an issue. Happily, I am also a pencil fan, especially Blackwing’s Palomino Pearl. The Pearl looks stunning on the Habana’s pages, and I can erase it almost completely if I make a mistake. Pencils are the perfect size for a paste-in Leuchtturm pen loop, which I attach to the very back cover.

One last trick. I was used to having my address book in my Space 24, so I bought one of the Quo Vadis lettered address inserts and popped it in my Habana in the back. Now I truly have everything in one place, and it is awesome.

It’s been a messy process, but at last I have exactly what I need in my Habana. The size, the paper, the sleek look make it perfect for bullet journaling, the pocket at the back works for inserts, and it lasts for several months. Win-win for everyone!


New York Times bestselling author J.T. Ellison writes dark psychological thrillers starring Nashville Homicide Lt. Taylor Jackson and medical examiner Dr. Samantha Owens, and pens the Nicholas Drummond series with #1 New York Times bestselling author Catherine Coulter. Cohost of the premier literary television show, A Word on Words, Ellison lives in Nashville with her husband and twin kittens. Learn more about J.T. at jtellison.com.

If you would like to be featured here on Quo Vadis blog showing how you bullet journal in your Quo Vadis notebook or planner (in exchange for a Quo Vadis product of your choice!) please email Laurie (at) Exaclair (dot) com.

10 thoughts on “Writing Wednesday: Author J.T. Ellison’s bullet journal in her Habana notebook!

  1. Oh gosh do I WISH I was this organized with bullet journaling, planning..as you said “my professional life with my annual/planning and To-do’s, make it go smooth than stressful” GOOD GRIEF I’d be so stressed!! I do like the block outs for the weeks, especially books read or how much reading, etc. I’ve been journaling since 1972, seriously. Ya know the “Dear Diary” in 6th grade, to every full notebook journal since—give or take a few years off due to ‘writers block’
    I am those who who love the the huge 5-Star notebooks, until I started gravitating towards notebooks with beautiful covers in art designs or Art Deco. I’m an artist, but the writers block & procrastination has hit me hard for the last 6 months. I was in a major hit & run accident in 2015 & can’t physically write or paint due to the pain. I would love tips on that issue! But I truly love these articles, which I accidentally just fell into them! Thank you so much for great ideas & I need a new journal anyway ?! You’re truly an inspiration & I’m sorry I didn’t see this in 2017 also!

  2. I cannot bullet journal. I keep using calendars! Maybe I’ll try the weekly way instead. I was getting stressed before I even started. You know I share your addiction to paper and pencils.

Leave a Reply to Ferdy RV Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published.