Category Archives: Notetaking

Dissertation Check-In #3: Organizing, Scheduling and Tools of the Trade

It’s been a while since I did a post on my writing process– from organizing my writing, to scheduling time to write/setting goals and my favorite tools of the trade. So here’s what I’ve been doing and using to get to Ph.Done:


Because I do a lot of different types of writing and because my brain needs to separate each style, I have a different journal for each type that I do. I have a dotted neapolitan bullet journal for my calendars and personal journaling; a lined leather journal with a quote from Toni Morrison on the cover for my long form fiction notes; a lined cahier for short pieces including my freelance and blog posts; and a classic large black hardback dotted journal with my initials on it for my dissertation thoughts. (I have linked to all below.)

The dissertation journal

I can not recommend having a dissertation journal enough. I use mine to take notes on readings, free write and do idea work before going into my Scrivener project to add pages, keep track of suggested edits from my advisor and draft periodic writing timelines as well as weekly and monthly writing goals. (I also sometimes use mine as a sketchbook….) Sometimes having a place to work through your thoughts before committing them to your dissertation file is super helpful.

The actual writing

My writing process is aided in large part by the software that I use for my dissertation. You don’t need fancy software at all– a word document or google doc will do– but I got Scrivener last year because I often write large projects, nonfiction, research, and fiction, and felt I could benefit from some specialized software. What Scrivener is most useful for in my opinion is the ability to jump from section to section with ease and move those sections around. You can write in chunks, which are then moveable on the left hand side of the screen. You can also outline as index cards on a cork board, which then expand out into a page that you can write in. You can set yourself daily word count goals and whole project goals, which the software keeps track of for you.

Scrivener is a one time cost of $38 and I have written three fiction manuscripts, a journal article and half a dissertation in it since I got it so I can say with confidence that it transformed my writing experience. I use it for almost anything longer than about 10 pages. If you’re a visual person, all of the functions of the software may help you to your writing goal(s). (I have linked to Scrivener below.)



I constantly and consistently adjust my writing goals, which then impacts my writing schedule for the week and/or month. The most important tidbit I can pass on for dissertation writing is to be firm about your goals but flexible about how you get there. Adjust, and do it often.

When I first sat down to break apart my dissertation into manageable chunks, I gave myself an ambitious deadline for a first draft and a realistic deadline for a first draft. From there, I calculated how many words/pages I would need to produce per month to reach that goal. Then each month I broke down how many words/pages I would need to produce per week to get to the monthly goal. I then broke it down to a daily average, which for me worked out to about 250 words per week day, or about an hour of writing per week day. I wrote down all of those goals and numbers in my dissertation journal to keep myself accountable.

Now, do I consistently write 250 words in my dissertation Scrivener project a day? Absolutely not. Some days, often several in a row, I write nothing at all, preferring to read and take notes over synthesizing into dissertation pages. But I might write 1,000 one day during the week, and 250 another day, getting me to my weekly goal. Some weeks I do write 250 words every day, but those weeks are few and far between. I try to schedule and goal set so that I can be flexible about how I’m getting my work done without being rigid. It helps me strike a nice balance between allowing myself to write when the mood strikes and holding myself accountable to write a set amount per day or week.

On a day to day, given the fact that we are living through unprecedented times in which every morning seems to bring a new disaster, I can’t count on being focused or disciplined enough to write every morning of the work week from 9 AM to 10 AM. Under other circumstances, I might block out an hour every morning to write, but in the spirit of waking up every morning and paying attention to myself so that I may tend to what I need to be okay in this moment, I prefer to take stock of myself and see what I feel is reasonable, every single day.

Bonus: Extend Yourself Grace

And because I do this stock taking exercise every day, there are some weeks where I can’t work at all, which necessitates review and adjusting my schedule so that I can stay on track but give myself grace for the next week. Extending myself lots of grace is the only thing that I can do to pull myself through.


Tools of the Trade

Here are links to some of the tools that I have mentioned above and some others that I have found particularly useful in my dissertation writing adventure.



Archer & Olive A5 Neapolitan Dotted Journal

lined Moleskine cahier

Large hard cover dotted Moleskine journal

Jenni Bick Toni Morrison Black Voices Journal


Yellow Lamy Fountain Pen

Pilot V5 Retractable Deco Collection

Cloth + Paper Penspiration Subscription Box Pens

Writing Software


Citation Manager


Creative Note-taking

If you follow me on Twitter, or on my creative instagram account (@RavynnCreates), you know that I love creating aesthetically pleasing notes. People often have questions about them, so I thought I’d create a FAQ post about my notes.

  1. Why do you make your notes like that?

Well, first, it’s super fun! I love making things. It also helps me focus, and it makes my notes easier to read and study when I have to go back to them.

2. What do you mean it helps you focus?

Making creative notes is almost like making a mind map. I think about the relationship of sections and words. For example, if we’re talking about the features of the “Classical Hollywood Narration,” it helps to make that heading large, and make the features smaller underneath, or close to the heading. Sometimes it helps to box things in so I know everything in that section goes together. It can also help to color code. If my heading is gold, I might use a different gold pen to number or bullet point everything that falls under that category. Sometimes I use a combination of all of these methods.

3. Do you make them during class? Like while the professor is lecturing?

Yep. Again, it helps me focus.

4. So you don’t just take quick notes and then rewrite them?

No. I do not.

5. What do you use to take notes? Pens? Notebooks?

My semester notebook is a burgundy Leuchtturm A4+ Master Slim with 121 dotted pages that I got from Jenni Bick in Dupont Circle in DC. Yes, it is personalized.

I use a variety of different pens. For headings and small brush lettering, I use Pentel Sign pens. For shadows and highlights, I use Mildliner Brush Pens. For detailing, I use Metallic Gelly Roll pens. For regular writing, my main text, I most often use a Lamy Safari fountain pen. If I’m not feeling the Lamy (or if I have run out of ink), I use Zebra Sarasa 0.7 ballpoint pens.

6. Wow, that’s really specific. Why do you use those brands?

Leuchtturm journals have thick pages that don’t ghost (show ink on the other side) and they are pre-numbered. Pentel pens are super reliable, and they come in really great, bold colors. Mildliners, I don’t use as much, but I still like them for background and contrast. Gelly Roll pens have really strong color, and they’re also reliable and relatively easy to find. I’m using a Lamy pen because I wanted a good fountain pen and I thought it might be cool to invest in a utensil that I would love to use. It’s beautiful and yellow and I do in fact love it! When my students from Keio offer me stationery gifts, they’re often Sarasa/Zebra pens and Japanese stationery is the best, so usually I’m just using the pens they gift me.

7. So do you just, like, travel with all those notebooks and pens?


8. How many pens and notebooks do you carry with you daily?

Between 2-3 journals. I always have my semester bullet journal with me and I often have my dissertation journal. Sometimes I’ll bring my leather bound diary if I haven’t written in a while.

I honestly don’t know how many pens I have at any given time. I have at least 3 of each type of pen in different colors (except the Lamy) in my purse. I mean…probably at least two dozen.

9. Do you let people borrow your pens?


10. Really?

Really. I keep a couple of regular Bic ballpoint pens in my purse to give to my students if they need a writing utensil in a pinch.

11. But how do you make such pretty pages?

Honestly, I don’t know. It’s the equivalent of doodling. My hands just kind of do their own thing. I don’t lay out my spreads prior to class, they just sort of happen. I more or less start on the top left of the page and just build from there.

12. Do you have any suggestions for folks that want to try creative notetaking?

I do! First, try not to take it so seriously; let it happen naturally. The more you try to make it pretty, the more pressure you put on yourself and then you likely won’t be satisfied with the way your notes look. Second, experiment with fonts and colors in relation to others on the page. If you have a keyword in gold script on the right in a square with writing around it, maybe try bold blue uppercase letters for your next piece. Third, practice! I’ve been making notes like this for years and it took me a while to get to a point where I could make these pages. Lastly, comparison is the thief of joy. Your notes will not look like mine. My notes will not look like yours. Embrace the uniqueness of this little way of expressing yourself!