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The Difference Between Writing & Journaling

Updated: May 31, 2022

What's the difference between writing and journaling?

This is one of the most common questions I get as a Writing Coach. It's easy to get confused between writing and journaling since the words are both used interchangeably. It's helpful to define these practices so you know what I mean when I say 'writing'.

While writing and journaling seem to be the same thing, they each have a different purpose and structure. Typically they are not done at the same time but can be done for the same reason.

First, lets touch on the similarities

Writing and Journaling both:

  • help you process and organize your thoughts and emotions

  • are imperative on a healing or self discovery journey

  • are powerful tools for bringing about change, transformation and peace in life

  • are tools for self reflection

  • give an inside look into what is going on within you



The purpose of writing is to connect with the innermost parts of yourself, to create intimacy with your inner relationship, spend time in your inner world, process thought and emotions, overcome limiting beliefs and bring shadows to light. We can use writing to heal ourselves, overcome traumas, make positive changes, reprogram our subconscious mind, and improve our mental and emotional well-being on a deep level.


The purpose of journaling can be to motivate yourself, get organized, plan, set goals, do self reflection and get crafty and creative. You can use your journal to give yourself a sense of direction, i.e. what to do next, and to keep track of important lists and things you need to remember.

While both can be distressing and ways to communicate with our inner world, each is done in a different way. Think of writing as a more in depth version of journaling. Most of the time journaling is more artsy but doesn't have to be.


Journaling is very versatile. There is a lot of freedom when it comes to journaling. Since there's so many different ways to journal, with different layouts, it's easy to change things up to suit your needs. Sometimes journaling will involve graphs and charts and trackers. It can involve lots of colour and use many mediums such as markers, pencil crayons, watercolour, or just a black pen! Some people even use scrapbooking elements in their journal. You can use Washi tape, cardstock, post its, stickers, stamps, ribbon and more.

However, writing is just words on paper with minimal design. you can design the date at the top and put stickers around your writing or use some colour for dividers between thoughts/topics or highlight important things. You can use colour to categories certain thoughts as well. But primarily writing is just words on paper.

A good rule of thumb is if the design elements help you write more than use them, but if they distract from your writing keep it minimal. Whatever gets you writing.

More Differences:

Length: Writing is like one long rant, typically done for a full page, or for 3 pages, depending on the size of the notebook.

With journaling you might only be writing a few words or a sentence at a time.

Type of Paper: Writing is typically done on lined paper while journaling typically uses dot or grid paper but can also use a wide variety of paper.

Topic: Writing is putting your thoughts down on paper exactly as they come while journaling can be answering prompts, filling in worksheets, or using some sort of guide.

Depth: Journaling is typically light and fun while writing can be complex and can be harder as you go deeper (that's where I come in!)

Bottom Line

In short, both writing and journaling are great tools for creative expression, personal growth and inner healing. There are so many layers and levels to journaling, just like there are so many layers to who you are as a person! It's easy to find a way of journaling that suits your needs. There are so many ways to journal and you can even use more than 1 (or 2, or 5!) at a time if you'd like. The possibilities are endless!

At the end of the day, the whole point is to get whatever is inside you onto paper, so that it doesn't occupy precious space in your mind, in whatever way that looks like for you! Using a combination of writing and journaling tends to be the most effective path for personal growth. There really are no rules and you should continue to journal or write in a way that nourishes you on a soul level.

Have any questions?

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