Journals vs Diaries And The Joy Of Keeping Both

When I moved house, I realised I have something of a problem. You could even call it an addiction. For those reading this who share a love of writing and stationary, you probably suffer from it, too. The signs were always there but it was only when I moved house that I realised the extent of my problem, for I had to bring it out into the open.

My problem? Journals and diaries. Loads of them! Preparing for the move, I had decluttered and minimised, held garage sales, donated to charity, handed on to friends and filled rubbish skips. But come time to pack, there in the back of my closet were the undeniable signs of my obsession. Three whole boxes of them.

I remember the day my addiction started. Two things happened, back when I was a little girl. The first was watching an episode of the 1970s TV show Welcome Back Kotter (anyone remember that?). One of the female stars came out of a room with her arms laden with diaries and dumped them on the table, making a point about how she’d kept them all her life. There were a lot of them, one for each year, and I remember thinking how I wanted to be able to do that one day. The thought of all those thoughts and words captured like that filled me with awe.

The second thing that happened, for my seventh birthday my nanna brought me a diary. It was one of those little ones with a page for each day and a lock and key. It felt like the most magical, wonderful thing in the world. I could write whatever I wanted, and no one else could read it. What a tantalising thought!

I’ve been keeping a diary ever since, initially a new one each year but in my late teens I gave up on that and just filled pages as I wanted. Some of my diaries span three or four, and I still have all of them, including that first one.

Then there’s journals. Journals for writing thoughts and inspiration, journals for quick notes, journals for notes on specific stories I’m writing, journals for self-growth, travel journals, dream journals, parenting, poetry… you get the idea. It doesn’t help that there are so many beautiful journals around, just waiting to be filled.

I think the lines between journals and diaries are easily blurred, but I separate them this way:

Diary – this is for documenting what’s happening in your life and your thoughts on it. It has a structure based on a timeline and is restricted to your own life.

Journals – this is where you let your thoughts roam free. Write with no purpose, ramble, explore. It’s where you work things out, let things out, experiment. Catch hold of snippets and half-formed ideas. There’s no timeline, no structure, no confines. They might relate to specific things, but beyond that there’s no form.

However you define them, there are no rules. You can write in circles, you can draw in them, stick in clippings, photos and mementos, you can stop and start, write upside down, choose random pages, write in pen, pencil or crayon… whatever gets your mind wandering and your creative juices flowing.

The only rule I have, though, is to not write in them when I’m angry or upset. Writing out anger or pain is cathartic, but I don’t want to retain that energy in their pages, to be relived upon re-reading. So when I have a lot of emotion to get out, I write on loose paper and once it’s all out, I burn it.


A small selection of my diaries and journals.

Having a lifetime of diaries is wonderful. During times of emotional upheaval, I’ve been able to read through them and see the patterns and experiences that have led me to where I am, and use that knowledge to move beyond it. They also help me get back in touch with certain phases of my life that correlate to characters I’m writing. And of course, they’re great for reliving happy memories.

Journals are a map of creative experiences and provide inspiration and ideas for my creative work. But having them isn’t the point, you could throw them away or never open them again. The main thing is the act of creation – that’s where the magic happens. That’s where thoughts connect and inspiration hits and ideas gel.

That said, I still can’t throw any of mine away. Next time I move, I’ll probably need another box to carry them all. So yes, I definitely have a problem, but you know what? It’s one I don’t mind having at all.

Do you keep journals or diaries? If you need some inspiration, check out this post on The Latter-Day Morning.

Originally posted on my creative writing blog at

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