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Making an Idea Notebook: My #1 Tip for Bullet Journals & Pretty Note Taking

Toward the end of my first year in graduate school, the year I discovered I had a knack for making pretty notes and elaborate bullet journal pages, I found myself often repeating the same few layouts, techniques, and lettering styles in my notes.

As I noticed this tendency to repeat, I suspected the habit was forming around my own growing expectation for my notes to turn out great consistently. In setting this expectation for myself, I’d come to rely more and more on using fonts, layouts, and styles I knew worked instead of trying new styles.

Bullet journal notebooks make it easy t keep ideas, templates, and icons handy.

My remedy was two parts:

1. to relax and remind myself to bless goofed-up notes as part of the learning process, and

2. To keep a notebook of experimentation, and to keep that notebook handy as a kind of lettering recipe-book. My little experiment book reminds me of letters and doodles I’ve practiced but might not recall on the fly.

bullet journal supplies.

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Supplies you’ll need to make a small bullet journal idea book:

  1. Tiny Notebook. I use a tiny notebook I scrounged up from free grad-school swag. This notebook, however, is an exact match to the dimensions of the Moleskin Volant. I like this size a lot because it slips into the back of my pen case easily.

It’s been helpful just to have a sort of glossary of my own skills handy. When I’m taking notes in class my focus is on recording information quickly- not being creative!

When I’m taking pretty notes, I don’t try new things or get extra creative. I use my notebook for ideas I know will work, and that I can put into a nice, organized format. I don’t have to worry about making a mess or wasting time on something that might not work out. This way, I can focus on the task at hand and get it done quickly and efficiently.

Having practiced a style once or twice previously gives me more confidence to approach different layouts when taking “live” notes.

A small notebook helps catalog your hand lettering and doodle skills

I use this notebook as a space to practice form without function. Free from needing to illustrate an idea or concept, it’s just free space to practice on small, portable pages all the lettering, shading, doodling, and headlining methods in my repertoire.

How to Get Started on Your Own Idea Notebook:

Get a Notebook

Grab a Moleskin Volant and a pen.

Create Sections:

  • 🖊️ lettering styles
  • 🖊️ icons
  • 🖊️ page layouts
  • 🖊️ color combinations you like
  • 🖊️ etc.

Draw all your “standard” bullet journal icons and accent (or copy mine), then fill a page or pages with the hand lettering styles you know you do well.

💡 Try illustrating filler words, like “header” or “title.” Alternately, letter words from a quote that’s meaningful for you

Use the next pages in your notebook to challenge yourself to expand your lettering and doodle skills. For me, this is a fun way to de-stress- 10-20 minutes after dinner here and there, getting to try new techniques without worrying about it permanently being in my journal.

For inspiration/help learning new doodles and fonts, you can view my bullet journal tutorials, or check out studypetals on Tumblr, whose pages of hand-lettered font samples and doodles have been really helpful for me.

PS: The back page of your Idea Notebook is a great place to catalog your favorite Copic Color Combos:

In your bullet journal idea notebook, keep track of color combinations that you like using together, this photograph shows a small grid and Copic color numbers.
a few of my favorite combinations of Copic marker colors

There is no denying that practicing drawing and cataloging things you can draw well is the best way to learn and to create great notes and layouts. This is because when you practice drawing and lettering, you are constantly improving your skills and techniques.

As your skills improve with practice, your icons, hand-lettered fonts, and layouts will become second nature.