Journal Thrive

After Five Years, I’m Getting a Desk

After five years, I’m getting a desk. When my wife Katie and I arrived in Finland in 2014, we were fortunate to have a furnished apartment waiting for us. It was a dorm-style setup, with two bedrooms, a kitchen, and a bathroom. No living room. Each of the bedrooms had a bed, a desk, and a bookcase. We rearranged things so both beds were in one room, pushed together. The other room was our joint office/work space.

Less than a year later, we moved into our current apartment. Same size, but more open and a much better use of space. We have one bedroom and a living room. It’s nice to have a living room, but we lost the dedicated work space. We bought furniture, including a desk for Katie that’s set up in the living room. As I don’t require a lot of space, I decided I’d just work from the kitchen table.

In 2016 I started Dancing Lights Press. While I’m making a modest living as a writer, we’re still in the same small apartment. And I’m still working from the kitchen table.

Now, as a temporary solution it’s been fine. The problem is that it’s an Ikea NORDEN gateleg table (not sponsored). As a kitchen table it’s great, and can be easily reconfigured when guests come over. As a desk, it makes me swear a lot. There’s not a lot of leg room when you’re sitting at it 10 to 12 hours  day. I’m constantly slamming my knee into the drawers, which are perfectly shaped for holding napkins and silverware but horribly impractical as desk drawers.

After Five Years, I’m Getting a Desk

Katie finally got tired of hearing me cuss and asked me what I needed from a desk. It’s not much. Room for my laptop, my bullet journal, a pencil cup, and a lamp. I am a minimalist, which is how I’ve managed to survive at the kitchen table at all. After some quick measurements I determined how much space I need. I don’t even need drawers, because I have a bookshelf next to me with the few sundry items I need occasionally that don’t have to live on the desk.

On Saturday we went to the local Ikea and ordered a basic white LINNMON/ADILS table. We don’t have a full-sized Ikea here in town. It’s a smallish storefront that has some small items, but it’s more likea catalog and fulfillment center. They’ll get one transferred in from a larger store about two hours away. It’s supposed to be here today, so as soon as we get the text message that it’s arrived we’ll go pick it up.

I realize that this isn’t a particularly exciting post, but this is huge for me. When you do something seven days a week, for a significant number of hours per day, having some basic comfort and workflow is an act of self-care. Given how inexpensive the new desk was, I have no idea why I never just ordered one before. Well, I do know. I have a nasty habit of never doing things for myself. This is why I’m grateful that Katie stepped in.

Journal Thrive

New Year, New Bullet Journal

For the first time ever, I’m beginning a journal on 1 January. I’ve always started a new book when the old one was filled up, no matter what the date was. I could probably cram another month into my current journal, but it’s close enough that I don’t feel guilty about wasting blank pages. So it’s new year, new bullet journal.

This seemed like an opportunity to review and refresh some of my practices, too. I went through all of my old journals, both those using the bullet journal method and pre-bujo, to see what works for me and what doesn’t. I spent some time reading posts by bujo bloggers, watching YouTube videos, and even going back to Ryder Carroll’s original descriptions of the method.

My biggest epiphany is that I haven’t been getting full value out of rapid logging. For those not in the know, it’s basically a note-taking methodology where you summarize ideas in a line and assign a symbol or key to it. Then you can review your notes later and sort things out. Years ago I did the Franklin Covey method, which had a similar key, but it didn’t really work for me. I think old associations kept me from embracing the potential of rapid logging.

Rapid Logging Fail

What I had been doing was keeping separate collections (reference pages) for different topics. Rather than writing things on a daily log and sorting it later, I’d flip to the page where I was keeping notes on that topic. It felt like less work, but it wasn’t. It got confusing.

For example, I have a page in my planner for today’s log. I realize that I need to create a graphic for an upcoming project. What I used to do would be to flip to the page I had set up for that project, and write it down there. Then when I worked on that project, I’d see the note and remember to do it. That process took my out of the flow of whatever I was doing in that moment. Rather than “write it down, deal with it later” my mind shifted to “what page is this project on?” and getting sidetracked.

The correct way to rapid log is to turn to the journal, and open to today’s page. Then write down that I need to make the graphic. Add the symbol I’ve assigned to that project, and go back to what I was doing. When I go to work on that project, I skim my notes for the past several days looking for that symbol, and migrate the note to the project page then. Alternately, at least once week I go through the daily entries looking for “open loops” and copy items over to where they belong.

New Year, New Bullet Journal

I cannot express what a revelation this was to me when it clicked. It’s helped me to keep focus while still capturing information. Rapid logging has killed another set of distractions for me. It’s amazing to me that bullet journaling is so simple, but still manages to have so much utility and depth.

Journal Thrive

Do You Use Incremental Goals to Track Writing Progress?

Today’s question asks whether you use incremental goals to track writing progress. Are there weekly, monthly, or quarterly benchmarks that you measure your goals against? For my part I set goals appropriate to the project. With my current work-in-progress I have a dedicated bullet journal to track daily word count along with weekly and monthly benchmarks.

Based on my outline, I also have benchmarks for how far into the story I should by certain rough dates. The books breaks up into four sections of roughly equal length. Allotting myself 90 days to do this, I know that I’ve got more-or-less 3 weeks per section, and that by the 45 day mark the second section should be done. 

What’s surprised me are the number of people who responded saying they don’t track anything. They wing it. Some people seem to think that being organized in any fashion is anathema to the creative process. If that works for you, good luck and godspeed. I’m of a like mind with Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, who wrote that “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”.

Incremental Goals to Track Writing Progress

Okay reader, I want to hear from you. Do you use weekly, monthly, or quarterly objectives to track your writing progress? You don’t have to be a participant in The Merry Writer game to play along here!

The Merry Writer is a writer’s game on Twitter run by Ari Meghlen (@arimeghlen) and Rachel Poli (@RPoli3). Each day there’s a new question, and each month there’s a new theme. In these posts I expand upon the answers that I’ve posted on my Twitter.

Journal Thrive

On Being an Overly-Analytical Writer

Hi, my name’s Berin and I overthink things. Part of this comes from being a project manager. Some of it stems from living with an anxiety disorder. Another chunk comes from having executive dysfunction. It all comes down to need for well-organized information and processes in order to function and feel like I have some semblance of control. Today I’d like to acknowledge that I’m an overly-analytical writer, and talk about that a bit.

When I decided to write a novel, I didn’t start by creating an outline. I didn’t even begin with a project plan, you you might expect. The first thing I did was to develop a SMART goal (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound). My project plan and the dedicated bullet journal came after that. Be grateful that my initial posts didn’t go into great gory details on those topics; I really wanted to write a 12-part series on laying out a bullet journal for novel writing.

(I still might, later, but it’s a whole other project on top of the novel and the blog.)

On Being an Overly-Analytical Writer

It’s okay to laugh, but it’s how my brain works. Honestly, getting the “heart of an accountant” stuff out of the way means that I can try to lean into the “soul of a poet” part as I write. It establishes a quiet, distraction-free space in my mind so I’m able create.

The SMART goal can be summed up as follows:

  • Specific: I am writing a 50,000 word first draft of a Gothic-inspired literary novel.
  • Measurable: I will write 600 words per day and chart my progress.
  • Achievable: It fits with my lifestyle, my other work, and my capabilities.
  • Relevant: This goal fits with my other goals and the life I want.
  • Time-Bound: The deadline for completing the first draft in February 29, 2020.

These are not ridiculous things to have clarity around before taking on a major endeavor like writing a novel. What I’m glossing over are the days of mental chaos that I had to tame in order to get to this concise summary of my objectives. I have to be overly-analytical about everything so that I can prioritize what’s important and chuck out the things that are so much noise and clutter.

Progress Report: Day 4

  • Today is day 4 of 90 on my journey to write the first draft of a novel.
  • Yesterday I wrote 630 words, bringing the total to 3,784.
  • That puts me 1,984 words ahead of my target goal, based on writing 600 words per day.
  • I’m currently working out of chronological order, writing the introduction scenes for each of the major characters.


  • Today is Katie’s birthday. As is traditional, I am making meat loaf and roasted Brussels sprouts at her request. She’s asked for pineapple upside down cake instead of a traditional birthday cake, so I will be making that from scratch.
  • To fit in with the subject of this post, I have to clean the kitchen before I cook. There can’t be so much as a coffee cup sitting in the sink. Ingredients and all necessary implements have to be staged. It just makes things easier.

Thanks for Visiting

Comments? I want to hear them! Questions? I want to answer them! Leave a message below and let’s chat about writing!

Come along on this journey with me, as I fumble around and figure out what I’m doing. Go to the bottom of the page and subscribe to the site, if you haven’t already! Never miss a new post!

Journal Thrive

Why I Identify as a Spoonie

People have seen that I identify as a spoonie, but don’t know what that means. I reference it in posts about self-care. My tweets sometimes have related hashtags. I want to clarify what that term is, how it applies to me, and why I think having it as part of the public conversation on chronic illness is important.

Spoon Theory was first described by Christine Miserandino in 2003. For a full explanation you should go read her original post, but I’ll sum things up here. When you’re living with a chronic illness, you have finite resources to get through the day. It could be energy, or a threshold of tolerance for pain, or the emotional fortitude to be around people. That resource is represented by spoons, because Miserandino was in a restaurant when she was explaining this to a friend. You only get so many spoons at a time. Nearly everything you do costs spoons. Based on your exact illness, some things cost more spoons than others. When you’re out of spoons, you’re done. You can’t do any more.

The people who live with this reality call themselves spoonies.

Why I Identify as a Spoonie

This metaphor has become important, because it’s a way to explain “invisible illness” to people who don’t understand. We hear “but you don’t look sick”, or get called out for having a job and a social life. Because we appear to be as functional as anyone else there’s an assumption that we’re faking, or seeking attention, or looking for pity. You’re seeing us when we’re spending our spoons. We’ve budgeted to use our resources on those activities. What you don’t see is that we then go home and collapse. We spend the weekend recovering so we’re able to go to work on Monday. Even getting out of bed in the morning can have a cost.

I’ve suffered from chronic pain since high school, when I was involved in an accident. It never goes away, although the intensity waxes and wanes. Over the years I’ve learned to ignore it and work around it. Most of the time it’s background noise. As I’ve aged that’s become harder to do. Along the way I’ve also picked up arthritis and a battery of anxiety disorders. More recently, I’ve added executive function disorder to the mix. Yay.

Throughout my life I have had success in a variety of jobs. I’m a productive person, an entrepreneur, and manage to get the bills paid, keep the house in order, and stay on top of things. I’m not bedridden or housebound. But things have a cost. I know how many spoons certain things take, so I need to plan. It’s another reason why I’m a bullet journal enthusiast, as well as a pragmatic minimalist.

How the Term “Spoonie” Helped Me

Having a simple metaphor I can use to explain my issues to other people is handy. People seem to get it, where other attempts to describe it have failed. They understand that it’s a zero-sum game, that it requires choices. Yes, I can do this, but if I do then I can’t do that. The more people understand, the easier life become for spoonies everywhere.

The term has helped me to better understand my own limitations. Since embracing the term I’ve become more productive because I plan my activities more realistically. I have a better awareness of how much I can reasonably get done in a day, and how far I can push myself. It’s helped me to gain awareness of how long it takes me to recover when I overdo it. That means that I have fewer ups and downs, and more continuity. There’s less guilt over things left undone because I ran out of spoons. I feel better and have more energy, because I’m not trying to be superhuman.

Probably the most impactful result of having a term to use is finding community. Knowing that other people are going through the same thing, that there are people who can relate, helps in ways I can’t begin to describe. It doesn’t matter that their illness isn’t my illness. They understand being exhausted and overwhelmed. They’ve heard the same hurtful remarks. We can share tips and tricks, coping mechanisms, and just generally offer one another moral support. I identify as a spoonie because the term makes me feel like I’m not going through this alone. I share this for the benefit of other spoonies, so you know that you’re not alone, either.