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Beyond Bullet Journal – this time it’s personal!

As I’ve been blogging about for the past few weeks, I’ve taken up bullet journaling as a way to get myself more organised and productive. My little Midori Passport now goes everywhere with me, as both to-do list and writer’s notebook, and I love it – but I wasn’t so happy with the rest of my setup. For my to-do lists, BuJo (as it’s apparently known in the community) is perfect, but for personal journals it’s just too, well, impersonal. I wanted something that captured my creative life in more detail than a dry list of activities.

Because, let’s face it, we’ve all seen awesome-looking journals in movies and TV shows, whether it’s Indiana Jones’ archaeological secrets, or the Hunters’ notebooks that feature in the TV show Supernatural – and whilst most people’s lives may be far less exciting (and admittedly lacking the deadly traps and soul-sucking demons), they’re still full of moments worth recording.

Journal scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”
Journal scene from “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”

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Bullet Journal, GTD and forward planning

Whilst I love the structure and simplicity of Bullet Journal, there’s no denying that the basic system is weak on planning. Unfortunately that’s something I have to do a lot of, both in my day job and at home. For example if I’m attending a convention I need to make sure to book my train or plane tickets well in advance, when they’re cheapest – but that may not be today or even next month or the month after that.

What would we do without Filofaxes?
What would we do without Filofaxes?

The other issue is that if I put absolutely everything into one journal, each notebook is going to fill up pretty quickly, which means a lot of copying of long-term items from one to the next. Whilst I understand that the purpose of copying items is to help you decide what’s important to you and what can be discarded, this doesn’t really apply to things that are on hold because they simply can’t be done right now.

One solution would be to use a binder that allows you to switch sections in and out, such as a Filofax or a refillable notebook such as an X17 or Midori. Either way, you’re looking at hauling around a substantial-sized journal – imagine pulling out that monster in the supermarket, just to tick off an item on your shopping list! And if you lost it, all your plans would be lost too… Read more

Bullet Journal + Spiraldex

As mentioned in my earlier posts about Bullet Journal, I like to keep my personal and day-job notebooks completely separate, so that I’m not fretting about work issues when I’m at home and vice versa. However another reason is that the two areas need very different management styles.

Do Not Feed the Elephants
Do Not Feed the Elephants

My day job is funded by a number of different research grants, and each funding body wants to know how their money is being spent. I therefore need to log my activities on a pretty fine-grained level (15 minute increments is the recommendation), and each activity needs enough space to record what was done and for which grant.A summary of this information gets transferred to an electronic timesheet system at the end of each month, and my journal provides a more detailed paper trail should the auditors ever decide to pay us a visit…

For this type of log, a conventional “appointments calendar” layout is ideal. I use a Leuchtturm with dotted grid paper and write out each day’s calendar as I get to it – it only takes a few moments each morning, and allows me to intersperse my time log with pages of notes on specific topics, designs for web pages, and so on. I don’t really do much bullet-journalling in this notebook any more, since I manage my ToDos electronically using Omnifocus.

For my personal timekeeping, on the other hand, the emphasis is on improving productivity – I’m much more interested in the type of activity than the details of which task was done. How much time am I spending consuming content (TV, films, games, internet) compared to producing it (fiction, blog posts, drawing)? This is where Spiraldex comes in.

Spiraldex is a modification by Kent of Oz of Chronodex, which was created by Patrick Ng as a way of graphically recording your day’s activity using the metaphor of an analogue clock. You decide what activity categories you want to log, assign each one a colour, then fill in the diagram as appropriate. I’m using a further-modified version (left) that starts at midnight instead of 6am – perfect for night owls, shift-workers or weird people like me who wake at the crack of dawn!

Just to be thorough, I log my creative activities in three separate categories: writing, including outlining and editing; author business, which is anything writing-related but not actual work on the prose, i.e. everything from blogging to doing my accounts; and “other”. This last is a catch-all category for my non-writing hobbies (journalling, drawing, knitting, spinning) and also reading, which is a more active pursuit than merely consuming media, as well as (in the case of reading fiction) tangentially related to my writing career.

I’ve created a PDF with a dozen copies of the diagram on it, so I just need to print out a sheet every couple of weeks and cut them out. Each day I pop a blank spiraldex into my Midori Passport and transfer it to my MTN when I complete my day’s journal entry.

Designing data visualisation is something I do regularly in my day-job, so I appreciate the elegance of this method – it gives you an instant visual summary of your day, which means there’s no getting away from the fact that you spent three hours watching Doctor Who when you should have been writing! I’ve only been using been using it a few weeks, and already it’s making me more productive.

Franken-plotting, or The Indecisive Gardener

George R R Martin calls them architects and gardeners; most other writers call them plotters and pantsers. Either way, there’s general agreement that all writers fall somewhere on a spectrum between detailed up-front planning and complete seat-of-the-pants improvisation. I fall towards the latter end of the spectrum. I wish I could plot a novel before I start writing—it seems much more efficient—but that doesn’t seem to work for me. Instead, I’ve gravitated towards what I call Franken-plotting. Read more

Bullet Journal and the analogue revolution

The good thing about getting away from the social media circus for a while is that you don’t get so easily distracted by trivialities; the bad thing is that you miss out on a lot of the cool stuff that everyone’s talking about. Like Bullet Journal, which I only heard about the other day when I was catching up on summer 2014 episodes of my favourite knitting podcast, The Knitmore Girls.

X-17 leather refillable journal and Parker fountain pen
X-17 leather refillable journal and Parker fountain pen

The concept is simple: a single physical notebook in which you jot down all your To-Do lists, appointments, random thoughts, etc. Forget apps – this is Slow Food for the mind. Or Slow Organisation, if you will.

Hang on, you’re saying, you have to give up electronics? Entirely? No, thank goodness! There’s still a place for Google Calendar, Reminders and other apps that help you to collaborate with others or just get prompted automatically to put the bins out on a Tuesday morning. But the idea is that writing things down helps you to remember them, as well as detaching you for a short while from the digital umbilicus that can sometimes feel like it’s sucking your brain out through your fingertips. Read more

CONvergence schedule

This year I’m an Invited Participant at CONvergence in Bloomington, Minnesota, and they’re certainly making me work for my free membership :)

My panels are:

Thursday, 2nd July

2:00pm : Can You Ever Leave a Universe Behind?

5:00pm : Avengers: Age of Ultron

Friday, July 3

2:00pm : Grimm Fan Panel

Sunday, July 5

9:30am : Reinventing Shakespeare

11:00am : Whedon and Dystopias

I’m possibly also doing a reading with some fellow Angry Robot authors – more details of that if and when it’s confirmed!

Coming out of hibernation

With spring finally sprung and that pesky eclipse passed, it’s time to poke my nose out of my writing cave and venture out into the world again. So, let the blogging recommence!


X-17 leather refillable journal and Parker fountain pen
X-17 leather refillable journal and Parker fountain pen

The most urgent business this spring is prepping for another attack on my work-so-not-in-progress. To get myself in the mood I’ve been clearing out my home office, buying some yummy stationery, charging up my iPad and of course catching up on back episodes of Writing Excuses, the best darned writers’ podcast on the planet.

That set me up for the main task, which is to go through my old notes, cherry-pick the ideas I still love and work those up into the basis of the new series. I like the world I’m working on too much to start from scratch, but I think a shift of emphasis in the world-building may be all I need to bring the project into focus.

I have a few more days to finish off these preparations, then it’s down to business – I have a week-and-a-bit off work, and I aim to dedicate a good chunk of time each day to plotting and outlining, so that I can start a fresh draft and get back to regular writing. One thing I know for sure – this novel ain’t gonna write itself!


Since I don’t have a new book out this year, I’m cutting back a little on convention attendance and focusing on the ones I enjoy the most. This year I’ll definitely be going to:

3rd-6th July: CONvergence in Bloomington, Minnesota

7th-9th August: Nine Worlds in London

23rd-25th October: FantasyCon in Nottingham

and probably BristolCon (in September) too. This means I’ll be missing EasterCon, and therefore won’t see most of my UK peeps until summer – boo! On the plus side, it gives me more time to get some writing under my belt before I have to go out in public, which is definitely A Good Thing!

Worldbuilding from the Coffee Up – a guest post by Jacey Bedford

I first met Jacey Bedford at Eastercon 2012, when we had the nerve-wracking pleasure of being newbie authors on a panel with none other than George R R Martin. We both write historical fantasy, but in Jacey’s case it was her space opera series that got picked up first. Since I’m currently winding up my Vorkosigan Saga marathon, it seemed like the perfect time to have Jacey drop by to tell us about her first novel!

World-building from the Coffee Up

I write both far future science fiction and fantasy, so building new worlds for my characters to play in is a task which crops up early in my writing process. I say early, but it’s not the first thing. Setting, character and plot are inseparable. One drives the other. In Empire of Dust, a space opera set five hundred years in the future, the first scene that came to me was of a lone telepath, in fear for her life. The surroundings that coalesced out of my imagination were bleak and grey, utilitarian and largely featureless except where humans had tried to imprint their personality with improvised artwork on the doors of their one-room apartments. A space station, I thought, and the rest grew from there.

The big picture is (usually) easy. Broad brush strokes quickly conjure a canvas of space ships, colony worlds, interstellar trade, transport hubs and jump gate travel. Then I have to interrogate the setting to find out how it got to be that way. I need to know more about politics, history and economics. What happened to human history from the present day to the time of the story? A third world war? Climate change? The Middle East aflame? Russia marching into Poland? Catastrophic meteor strike? Eruption of the supervolcano under Yellowstone?

In a story that contains multiple worlds I have to figure out what colour the skies are on each of them, whether there are any strange creatures such as my trikallas, weird floating beasties, lighter than air and with a taste for copper, and whether the basic topography of a place is going to drive the way my human characters interact with it. Are there earthquakes or volcanoes? What are the weather patterns? Is there potable water? How long are the days? Are there any wild seasonal swings? How many moons? How do the moons affect tides? How will the planetary ecosystem react with imported flora and fauna? What natural resources are available?  What steps might have to be taken to protect native wildlife and ecosystems from the invaders?

In Empire of Dust most of the colonies are controlled by one or another of the megacorporations which have become more powerful than any one planetary government, even that of Earth. Some colonies are well established, home to humans for three hundred years or more. Others are raw; their first generation settlers still struggling to come to terms with a new (and sometimes hostile) environment: fifty hour days; solar storms that render simple radio transmissions unreliable; incompatible botany and biology.

That’s all part of the broad canvas, but what about the detail?

My morning ritual is a small bone china cup of milky coffee laced with honey and topped with a layer of double cream, plus a warm pain au chocolat. Healthy breakfast? Hey, I’m a writer. That is a healthy breakfast. It contains two of the five major food groups, coffee and chocolate. Three if you count the bread.

So when adding the detail into Empire of Dust I wondered what my characters, Cara and Ben, would drink in the morning and what the logistics, politics and economics of providing their preferred beverage might be.

If there’s a trade in coffee the Megacorporations will want their cut. They have grown powerful following on from what’s historically known as ‘The Great Colony Grab.’ (Earthlings take note: that’s what you get for not investing in national space programmes; the commercial boys take over and do it bigger and better.) Since pioneer Abelard Henning made the first successful foldspace jump between Earth and Mars using a pair of prototype jump gates in 2190, humans have spread across the galaxy. But there’s a technical problem that no one has yet been able to overcome.

Platinum is required as a catalyst for jump gates. Unfortunately with each jump a small but significant amount is lost. Platinum is found everywhere, of course, but only in small quantities. It takes eight to ten tons of raw ore (and six months) to produce just one pure ounce of platinum. Even now in our pre-jump gate society, platinum is used in commercial applications in about 20% of all consumer goods, yet platinum-flow is tight. In fact, if platinum mining ceased today, we would have above-ground reserves of less than one year. All the platinum ever mined throughout history would fill a room of less than 25 cubic feet. Add jump gates and interstellar trade into that equation and the ceaseless quest for platinum is going to be brutal.

Platinum keeps the whole interconnected colony system functioning. If my guys want to drink coffee and eat chocolate on a space station, there’s a cost in platinum of getting it there, so it had better be worth it. The cheapest beverage to transport is made from dehydrated powder, vac-packed, and massively concentrated so that a pinch is enough to make a pot-full. Does it taste good? That depends on your viewpoint.

Cara Carlinni is an Earth girl even though she grew up being dragged around the galaxy by her parents, a marine biologist (Mum) and a hydro engineer (Dad). Her tastes run to real coffee when she can get it, but if she has to settle for CFB (coffee flavoured beverage) she’ll make it nice and strong. Otherwise, if it’s all that’s available, caff will have to do.

Reska (Ben) Benjamin grew up in a farming community on Chenon drinking readily available (and cheap) CFB. He likes it. Real coffee tastes bitter to him, so he’ll sweeten it with whatever’s available and soften it with cream if he has to drink it at all. Yes, he knows most people consider it a luxury import, so if they serve it up he’s going to be polite and choke it down.

Where does coffee come from? Not from Earth–not any more. The best coffee-growing regions were devastated when the geography of central Africa, the Americas and China was rearranged by multiple meteor strikes in 2375. One huge meteor was shattered on its way inbound. Most of the fragments missed our planet. The ones that didn’t miss were (eventually) survivable. However there were several years of no summer leading to global devastation that would have knocked humankind back to the stone age without help from the colonies.

The best coffee now comes from a planet called Blue Mountain, in the Tegabo system. It was settled by a breakaway bunch from Drogan’s World, so it isn’t owned by, or affiliated with any of the megacorps. That means there’s an extra tax if they want to distribute coffee via the regular trade routes. Fortunately for them there are some irregular trade routes courtesy of independent shippers. Smugglers? Who said anything about smugglers? Let’s call them entrepreneurs or free-traders.

Is all that in the book? Not really, except for Cara and Ben’s opposing taste in beverages and the pressing need for platinum. The thing is, dear reader, you don’t need to know all that to enjoy reading the book, but I need to know the background in order to write it. I need to know all of Earth’s history from the first successful moon base, engineered by the Chinese in 2041, to the Five Power Alliance which emerged as a global federal government in the reconstruction following the meteor strikes.

And what has happened to humans in five hundred years? Some have been genetically altered to be able to survive on marginal worlds, others have brain implants which enhance psionic abilities. And then there are those who haven’t had their genes tweaked, or artificial enhancements, who consider themselves pure. That in itself is a starting point for conflict.

Writing far future science fiction offers an unlimited number of possibilities and as I write the second book in the series (Crossways, due from DAW in August 2015) I’m able to explore more new worlds and new situations as my characters pursue a seemingly impossible goal.

Empire of Dust

DAW, November 2014

Is there anywhere in the galaxy that’s safe for a Telepath who knows too much?

Implanted with psi-tech technology, Cara Carlinni is on the run from Alphacorp, a megacorporation more powerful than any one planetary government. She knows her ex-boss can find her any time, mind-to-mind. Even though it’s driving her crazy she’s powered down and has been surviving on willpower and tranqs, tucked away on a backwater space station. So far, so good. It’s been almost a year, and her mind is still her own.

But her past is about to catch up with her, and her only choice is run or die. She gets out just in time thanks to Ben Benjamin, a psi-tech Navigator for Alphacorp’s biggest corporate rival, however it’s not over yet. Cara and Ben find themselves battling corruption of the highest magnitude. If they make a mistake an entire colony planet could pay the ultimate price.

Jacey Bedford

Jacey Bedford is a British author published by DAW. Her first novel, Empire of Dust, the first book in her Psi-tech Universe, launches on 4th November and her second, Crossways, a sequel, is due in 2015. She’s agented by Amy Boggs of the Donald Maass Literary Agency. She’s sold short stories on both sides of the Atlantic and you can find out more from her website at, or her blog, Tales from the Typeface She’s one of the co-organisers of the Milford SF Writers’ Conference in the UK

Writer Links

Twitter: @jaceybedford




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