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Creating a Project Journal to Win at NaNoWriMo

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Creating a Project Journal for any part of your life.

Sitting at a vintage manual typewriter and using a project journal.
Photo by MILKOVÍ on Unsplash

One of the ways I use a journal for my writing is to use Project Journals. What are Project Journals you may ask? Well, they are single journals that you use for a specific purpose such as writing a novel, blog planning, work projects, etc.

As November draws nearer, I am busy working on my Project Journal for my novel, Anger Road. I don’t write in it every day but it is one that I can use to keep all of my thoughts and information about this novel. And that means that when November 1st arrives, I can just write and not worry about looking for the information.

Trust me, this is a good thing.

How did I create my Anger Road project journal?

Good question. First I’m using the bullet journal method to keep track of information. And that is only so I can have an index of where things are to make them easy to find.

Basically, using #bujo terms, I have a series of collections with some daily logs interspersed.

What do I include in my journal? Here is a list of the collection titles I’m using for Anger Road. This list isn’t inclusive. The great thing about using this method is that you can put in whatever works for you. And, your story may not need all of these things.

Also, the order may be different. When I first created my list, I just wrote out what I thought I would need so that is what this is.

The List of Collections:

Synopsis – If you are writing with the intention to publish, you will need to have some kind of synopsis. I wouldn’t recommend writing a full one, but perhaps just an “elevator” pitch of a sentence or two.

Synopsis and Inspiration pages from my Project Journal

Character List – One of the most important collections in your journal is the list of the characters that will be in your story. I would also leave space (1-2) pages for this list, so you can have room to add those surprise characters your story develops.

Character Development – This isn’t so much of a collection as it is a section and in my journal, I put it directly after my character list. Mostly, I did this because it will take so much space. As a general rule, 2 or more pages for primary characters, and at least one page for secondary characters. Don’t forget your antagonist will need her or his own spread.

Plot – This year, I am using something called a Plot Embryo. In past years, I’ve used other plot devices to have a general idea of where my story is going. Actually, up until this year, I’ve used the Seven-Point-Story Structure by Dan Wells. It worked well for me and was flexible as I was learning how to write novels. If you are a pantser and don’t like to but your plan down, this is the one thing that will probably help you the most.

Chronology Map – I learned about Chronology Maps from Rachel Stephen on Youtube. This is not something that I’ve used before but thought it may come in handy for this year. I’m working on the third draft of Anger Road and need to make sure I understand the timeline of my story. I may not use this, unless I understand the timeline, for a story I am just beginning to work on.

Genogram of Family(s) – Depending on your story, creating a family tree or genogram, is a helpful way to keep track of the people in your story. Anger Road is the story of family and goes back generations so having this will keep things straight as the story continues.

Examples of Family Tree/Genogram pages from my project journal
Family Tree/Geneogram

Maps – Maps are simply to make sure you understand the landscape of your story. And it will help you make sure you know who lives where and where did that murder happens relative to where the MC spends most of their time. Not that there is a murder in Anger Road. But you get the picture.

Scene Lists/Notes – Since I am working on my third draft, there are important scenes that must be in my story. This list is for those scenes and any ideas that come to mind as you are prepping. I sat down and created a few scenes for each point in my Plot Embryo. I may add to or take away from this list as the month goes on but it gives me a place if I get stuck.

Inspiration Page – Oh, this is a page that I discovered last year through Ninja Writer. It is basically a list of all of those things that inspire you as you think about your story. This can include other writers, stories, movies, music. I have even included books that would be considered reference books as I sometimes pull inspiration from the things I read. Ninja Writer recommended this be one of the beginning pages but you can put it anywhere you’d like.

Background – This page is for all the things that happen before your story actually begins. It is necessary for my story and I suspect many of your stories. Mine is 2 pages but this could be 2-4 or more, depending on what you are writing about.

Ideas/Notes/Brain Dump – I have only 2 pages set aside for this particular topic however, I suspect that as I begin writing daily notes, this will expand.

Magical System and World Building – These are two different sections in my journal because they are necessary for my story but yours may combine these or leave them out altogether. Just make sure you give yourself some space but both of these subjects tend to be quite large.

Other Thoughts

In a previous post, I talked about keeping track of some writing stuff in my everyday bullet journal. I’d not done that before but it made sense to me this year. The following are two different pages that I will be adding into my November pages:

November Goals – Of course, my goal is to win at NaNoWriMo. But the idea of this page is to break down this goal into manageable chunks. I’m not sure what mine is going to look like or if it will be a big page. I’m not quite ready to plan for that just yet but I want to be able to celebrate the small wins. I believe it will make a big difference.

Progress Tracker – The progress tracker is a bit different than the goal sheet in that I will be writing down my daily word count. Again, I haven’t created it yet but it will probably look something like my October word count tracker.

If you’ve been thinking about trying NaNoWriMo, I hope you use some of the thoughts I’ve posted to help you create a Project Journal. Keeping organized is a good way to succeed in November. Writing a novel this way is exciting, frustrating, exhausting but can be fulfilling. I hope you can join us.

Until next time,

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