Hand-written Journaling versus E-Journaling


NOTE: All images in this post are from my personal journals.

I’d always intended to do this post, because this is the question that always comes up when I talk about journaling. It’s the same sort of debate as e-books versus paper books. A comment from a reader on the previous post bumped this up the schedule, and I decided to do this post straight away.

Amit said,

Hm… I actually use my computer for my journaling. My computer it a literal bio-electric extension of my body. I can type 500 times faster than I can write. Is it bad that I don’t use paper and pencil, or is personal preference the important thing?


I gave him a short answer in the comment, but now I’m going to go into detail and explain my position on this.

First, let’s begin with rules. There is only one rule in journaling. You can tell what’s coming, right?

Yup! The rule is: There are no rules.

Journaling is a personal process. It’s an extension of our personality, and our lives. It’s a tool for our growth, and so each of our journals are as unique as us. Even if you and I sat down together, followed exactly the same prompts or guidelines for a week, wrote about the same topic, and followed the same format, our journals would still be different. That’s why I never tell anyone what their journaling should be like. It has to be whatever you want it to be.

But saying that, I’m here to share my experience and knowledge, and also to give my opinions. (Hey, it’s no fun being neutral)


It’s definitely on the rise. People who avoided journaling before for various reasons – such as bad hand-writing, too slow, didn’t want to carry a journal around – started trying journaling apps, or even just keeping it in MS Word or equivalent.

Now, with mobile phones and tablets being mainstream, and majority of us having one tool or another on the go, e-journaling has become even easier.

Another key consideration is that for a lot of people, myself included, typing is a lot faster than writing by hand.  If you have bad hand-writing, e-journaling is tidier. Less chances of spelling mistakes too, especially if you are a perfectionist.

I definitely can see its advantages, and one of the biggest ones is convenience. Logically, e-journaling is a very useful way to do it in this day and age.

Logically….but if we only followed logic, we would miss out on so many things.

Hand-written journaling

All my journals are hand-written. I’ve tried e-journaling, but it doesn’t work for me. This is the method I strongly advocate, and for several reasons.

The physical journal.

For me, selecting a journal I like is an emotional experience. I know that whatever I write in it is going to be important to me. These are the things I dwell on. That’s why what I mentioned about quality in the previous post is important. These days, it’s not so much selecting, as purchasing. I have tried many journals, and I still have some brand new ones that I haven’t used because they are too pretty, and I’ve got particular milestones for them. Plain moleskine is my favourite. I also like Paperblanks, as a chance from moleskine.

The act of writing.

This is where the goldmine is. I actually believe that the process of writing by hand makes a difference. It’s slower than you can type, but that means that you are connecting more with your words. I personally find that if I write something down by hand, it makes a far stronger impression on me. Of course this could be just a personality thing, but I’ve always found things easier to remember, understand or assimilate if I wrote them down.

I feel there is something special about seeing your thoughts in your own writing. It’s another way of personalising your journals. It makes them even more uniquely yours. There is the smell and feel and texture associated with each journal. Your handwriting also shows evidence of your mood, and your state of mind. Usually, my writing is neat. But sometimes, I’m either too upset, or in such a rush to get words out that it’s a mess. Sometimes, I feel like using different coloured pens, and sometimes, an entire journal is in same black ink. Sometimes, I put stickers or drawings or little memorabilia in my journals. Sometimes, I’ve post-it index sticking out of pages.

All of these, puts a stamp of my personality on it, which I don’t think e-journaling can achieve.

I’m totally a gadget girl. I love computers, and I have more than what one normal being should want or need. I love my Blackberry. I like finding nifty apps. And if I don’t talk myself out of buying a tablet, that’s going to be the next thing. The lure of gadgets…it’s stronger than buying clothes. So when I tell you that it’s not technophobia that’s keeping me from e-journaling, you can believe it’s the truth.

It comes back to what I have said before. Journaling, for me, is not just about recording my day-to-day life, or about achieving one thing. Journaling is a part of who I am and a part of my life, and so I want my journals to reflect that.


If you haven’t tried hand-written journaling or if you haven’t tried it for a long time, give it a go. Just try it for a week. See if it achieves more result for you. You can always return to e-journaling.



54 thoughts on “Hand-written Journaling versus E-Journaling

  1. I agree, Dolly. For me, writing and being able to add embellishments, drawings, or color, is important. I am a gadget girl too and prefer to write blog posts and newsletters on the computer, but when I journal, I like to get comfortable and write by hand. Something happens kinesthetically in the process that works for me.

  2. Loran,

    I’m the same with blog posts etc, though if I really want to do a brainstorm then I usually resort to hand writing mode, because brainstorming works way better for me that way.

  3. I’m the ultimate gadget girl :o) My nickname is The Gadgeteer and so is my almost 15yr old gadget review website. I’ve kept journals online and on my iPhone with various apps. Although I find it more convenient to type my entries, I made a conscience decision to stop keeping an electronic journal and go analog (paper). It’s so nice to have something that I don’t have to charge or worry about breaking/dropping. I also love to add stickers, doodles, photos to my entries. Although you can sort of do that with electronic journals, it’s just not the same. Another advantage of keeping a paper journal is that it gives me an excuse to try different pens and markers :o)

    Julie Strietelmeier

  4. I have a two fold problem. I enjoy handwriting but I have carpel tunnel and it becomes quite painful after a while or my hand goes completely numb so I don’t tend to write down everything I am thinking. Next I used to be a pretty fast typer but I had a stroke in January that left my left hand very very slow and I can no longer type as fast. This just makes me avoid writing altogether. My only other alternative is to talk into a recorder but I don’t want to listen to myself whine. Thanks for letting me share!-MJ

  5. Absolutely loved this, Dolly! I have tried both handwritten and e-journaling and have this to report: I enjoyed both, but I still have the handwritten journals whereas my e-journals have hit the bit-bucket and are lost forever. For that reason alone I prefer the handwritten ones. Also, I’m another Moleskine fan!

  6. My handwriting has gotten sloppier since the advent of word processing and I do find it a lot easier to write on the computer. But I definitely agree that the whole experience is different when you hold a book in your hand and form the words with a pen. And the lovely feeling of different colored pens, and including collage and art. I mostly write in my journals because I’m not much of an artist. But when I take a big trip I always buy a beautiful journal and paste in tickets, postcards and other memorabilia along with the writing. Nothing electronic could be anything like that! I enjoyed this comparison of the 2 mediums. I think they both have their place.

  7. Julie,

    It’s surprising for how many people stationery love and gadget love go hand-in-hand. I used to experiments with pens (well, I still have tons), but now I know which ones are best for which journals, so I generally tend to stick with my favourite ones.

  8. MJ,

    Thank you for sharing. I always appreciate it when people take the time to leave comments.

    You certainly have it tough. Have you tried speech-to-text methods? As I understand they have some pretty good ones these days.

  9. Linda,

    Thank you. I find moleskine have the classy/sophisticated/functional going for them. The only thing that makes them from being absolutely perfect is that they are not suitable for fountain pens. But I have yet to find that perfect one which ticks all the boxes.

  10. Sarah,

    I think handwriting thing is definitely to do with practice. People say they’ve gotten sloppier or slower, but it’s simply because they do spend more time typing, and not enough time writing. My hand-writing is pretty much the same as it’s always been, and my speed as well. But that is because I do write A LOT by hand.

    Of course I type a lot too. But I always had this special fondness for hand-written things.

    I do travel journals as well, and absolutely love them. They have completely eliminated by desire to by junk souvenirs, which is a good thing.

  11. Definitely hand written for me and i’m a gadget geek too! There’s just something special about a gorgeous journal and my favourite fountain pen!

    Like you I sometimes add colour, stickers, post-it’s and sometimes it’s just my fountain pen!!

  12. If I were to keep a journal, I would definitely have a physical one.
    One with slightly thicker white pages for sketching.
    And writing… that is the key, isn’t it. It’s not about the words getting out somewhere, it’s about actually writing them with my hand. Seeing and feeling both the outside physical sensations and patterns of letters and the inner feelings – having those two interweave and connect and do it on a level that is more engaged with my being.

    I’ve been putting off starting a journal for over a month now.
    Time to call myself on my bs.
    I’ll start it today :)

  13. Alison,

    Most of the time, I also just use plain writing and just black pen, or sometimes blue and black. But occasionally, I pretty it up :-)

  14. Indrek,

    Yes, I completely agree. It is about the actual act of writing, connecting with your words on a visceral level.

    And so happy to hear that you are finally starting a journal today :-) Looking forward to hearing how it goes for you.

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  16. Hm… I’m going to give it a try. Because you’re right; my e-journal isn’t very special.

    Because of health issues throughout highschool and college I used voice recognition and helpers (I couldn’t write; which is why I was serious when I said 500x faster). I think it’s time I confront my past. If I’m actually able to maintain the habit, my journal will definitely become more special to me – it will mark my triumph over years of disability.

    Thank you for this post! :)

  17. Amit,

    That’s excellent challenge to pose yourself. In your case, I would strongly recommend that you buy a journal that really appeals to you, because that will go long way towards creating a habit. If you enjoy the experience, you are more likely to look forward to it.

    I look forward to hearing all about it :-)

  18. Dolly,

    Handwritten, or in my case, often hand scribbled is still the way my journal works best for me. It is almost like a giant circle in which my brain alerts my hand to write and my writing alerts my brain about the things which are important.

    I can’t remember which blog I wrote yesterday but I can remember tons of things from recent and “ancient” hand written journals.

    Because I’m aware that future generations will more than likely see my journals I’m also happy that part of my personality will shine through in the way my handwriting changes with my mood, with my age and with my deliberate decision to speed up or slow down the writing process.

  19. Yvonne,

    Hand scribbled is definitely a part of hand-written :-) I like how you’ve described giant circle through your brain. I can definitely relate to that. I love looking at old journals. Don’t really get much opportunities in person, but internet is wonderful for that.

  20. Sorry it took me so long to respond….I love a handwritten (and sometimes illustrated) journal. There is nothing quite like the kick to the side of the head that actually scratching the lines on the page.
    My empathy to MJ…I too, have numerous arm, neck, had problems and sometimes have actually used my Dragon software to dictate my journal entry, then paste it into a journal (that at least made me feel like I was still getting to do my favorite thing, journaling)…my PT suggested it, and it really helped…otherwise I felt seperated from myself.

  21. Dolly,
    This post resonated with me; I haven’t done any e-journaling outside of my blog. I have always kept a journal by hand and what you shared here totally resonated with me. I especially liked the point about slowing down the thoughts as well as noticing the hand writing reflecting your mood. I love my written journal; it’s a part of me as well. I totally understand the importance of your journaling being personalized and picking out the journal that’s right for you. I think your approach in presenting the difference between e-journaling and hand written journaling is very personalized. I like it!

    I have chosen your post, Hand-Written Journaling Versus E-Journaling, for the #JournalChat Pick of the Day on 6/13/12 for all things journaling on Twitter; I will post a link on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, my blog and website Refresh with Dawn Herring, and in Refresh Journal, my weekly e-journal:http://tinyurl.com/7929r7h.

    This week’s #JournalChat Live is on Thursday, 6/14/12, 5 EST/2 PST; our topic is Your Work Journal: What You Did and Didn’t Do!

    Thanks for your personal take on E-Journaling versus Hand written Journaling.

    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring
    JournalWriter Freelance
    Host of #JournalChat Live and Links Edition on Twitter

  22. I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on this Dolly. Even though I make journals, I wanted to give the E-journaling a try. While it was much faster, I have to admit it felt a little “hollow” to me. I found I much prefer writing on paper in a real journal.

    My journal sits next to my desk and is ready for whatever I need it for during the day. Some days all I write is a to do list, and others get a long, juicy entry. (those are my favorites!)

    Thanks again for your thoughts!

  23. Lynn,

    You can leave comments whenever you like :-) I always look at them and reply, even if they are not the latest entries.

    I admire your dedication that even when you have difficulties, you try to make your journal personal by pasting your entries, instead of simply leaving them on PC.

  24. Dawn,

    Thank you for including this in Journal Chat. It’s always a pleasure.

    You are right. This post is absolutely personalised. I believe that I can’t advocate something that I don’t personally believe in. So while I can see benefits of e-journaling, and I can see why it would appeal to a lot of people, because it does not resonate with me, and because it does not provide me things that I am looking for through journaling, I can’t be neutral about it. And as I said, being neutral is no fun :-)

  25. Julie,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. I think it’s a good idea for people to give e-journaling a try, because the “hollowness” as you said, makes us appreciate our paper journals all the more.

  26. Hi MJ,
    I felt moved to write a response to your comment. I can certainly understand you wanting to avoid writing altogether. Do you think you might be able to persevere. Just the act of trying to make things work after a stroke can build new pathways in the brain & can really improve things.
    All the very best with it

  27. Hello Dolly!I agree also. Somehow not having the coconut scented sun lotion spots and grains of Atlantic shore sand just wouldn’t work for me.I like to have a journal at the ready always.It might not always be what we recognise as a book journal at the time,although whatever I write on in a hurry,even my hand,”I’m sorry Mom!” will end up re-written in bookform.I have been addicted to paper and pens and pencils as far back as I can remember.The Blessings in my life are many.The first was having a Mom who made us kids write thank you notes to Aunts and Uncles,cousins,friends,neighbors for gifts at Holidays and for special kindnesses.It meant printing at first.My handprinting had to be done over and over until as near to perfectly acceptable as possible.It did not make me despise writing,rather encouraged me to do better.To do better I had to engage the Brain and think about what I was saying,practice penmanship or Cursive Handwriting.No Television in our home.We grew up never being bored.Always paper,books,catalogs,Newspapers and pens and pencils watercolors and crayons.If chores were completed,biking to the Library was a great happening.Being allowed seven books at a time was superb.Reading about characters who wrote in a diary made me want to do it also.I love stores where I can feel and smell the paper,try out new pens,then buy something that will become personal to my heart and walk with a song on my lips and memories to write down for myself and the Daughter who wants them all,My Journals,when I have passed on.Treasure.

  28. Mary,

    That’s amazing, and I’m sure that your journals will become a treasure for your daughter, and for generations of your family. Well done, and keep going.

  29. I handwrite my diary. Yes, I can type faster than I can write however writing gives me time to think. If my thoughts are racing at a million miles an hour neither writng nor typing can keep up and writing slows them down to a speed I can actually make sense of them.

    Additionally the style of writing I use, the pen, the colour of ink can all add layers of expression to my writing. I could change the font or colour of the text on my computer screen, but that doesn’t express anything to me. There are no flourishes, ink blobs and no crossing/scribbling out. Making mistakes, having an eye-dropper pen splurt ink on the page all make my writing feel more me, more comfortable, more real.

    I can see the convenience of an electronic diary and I understand why some people may prefer it over pen and paper – but it is not for me.

  30. Wow. What a post and comments. I love the picture of your journal w/the snake lines down. I also love the mention in both article and comments about the impact that handwritten journals have. I believe that thoroughly especially having studied neurotransmitters, neuro-network paths, and their further associations when writing. But I have lupus sle,and rheumatoid arthritis w/back issues (rebuilt by metal) so it’s a sometimes not doing it at all over doing ejournaling. I don’t reflect as well when talking so voice to note wouldn’t co it for me. But I like the idea of the person who suggested typing and pasting into a journal. When it comes down to it, we call all understand, say, a movie where a husband rubs his fingers over his lost wife’s handwriting but the same scene slobbering over a laptop would just be weird!

  31. Hi Dolly, I have just come across this page and find it very interesting. I have handwritten journals spanning the past ten years. I keep making an attempt at electronic journalling but somehow it doesn’t feel the same. However, what advice do you give on privacy? I feel that a computer journal will be more private and less likely to be read by others. I do worry about my journals being read, either now or after I am gone and I am seriously considering scanning my old journals to save on the computer and destroying the oriignals and then keeping future journals on the computer. I have gone digital with most things now – music, reading (I love my Kindle) and I now even use my phone calendar rather than a paper appointment diary, I find it much more convenient – but journalling, I don’t know if I could go totally electronic with that. It just seems that it would be more private and also free up more space (storage of journals can also become an issue when you live in a flat). I would be interested to know your views on this.

  32. Hi Dolly, thanks for the link which I have followed, do you mean the point about keeping a password protected computer document or of ensuring trust with others not to snoop in a paper journal?

    I do live in alone but I have a nosey boyfriend who visits, I do keep my old journals locked away but when I am writing in my current one I keep it out for ease of use rather than having to go to the locked tin every time I want to use it.

    I also fear that after I am gone whoever sorts out my stuff will come across what I have written, I have a friend who fears the same thing and has just shredded her journals as a result and now has peace of mind.

    Therefore would computer journalling be the way to go?

  33. Jill,

    I mean that if you keep a computer journal, keep it password protected.

    While I have nothing against electronic journals, personally, I never advocate them because I do believe hand-written journaling is the best. in your situation, I would either warn the nosy boyfriend (to read at his own peril) or keep it private.

    You don’t have to lock it – but just keep it somewhere he shouldn’t be snooping – like back of your wardrobe or socks drawer or something.

    I firmly believe that people should respect journal privacy, so I make it clear to people that the breach won’t be tolerated. And then if they read something they don’t like, it’s their problem. My point is to not give them temptation by just leaving your journal lying around.

    I most certainly would not worry about what happens once you are dead. You wouldn’t know what’s happening after you are dead, so again, not your problem. Not to mention that more than likely it would become a family treasure. I would absolutely love to have a journal from my family members.

    There is always a possibility that you will offend/hurt people. But everyone knows that journals are a private place, and if they don’t respect that space and privacy, then I don’t have much sympathy.

  34. Hi Dolly, thanks for this, I may now just be saved from having all my journals scanned and shredding the originals. The problem is storage however, the tin where I keep my journals is now full and I do feel better if at least the old ones are locked away. I don’t have many actual books now, or CDs, everything else has gone digital, so I don’t suppose keeping journals will really clutter the place but I would still rather keep them locked away.

    I also get writers cramp now when I write for long periods and typing is much easier but there is something different about handwriting in a journal. I always type letters, stories etc on the computer and that feels OK but somehow not for journalling.

    You are right about the privacy issue, however some people are so nosey and can’t help themselves. My friend kept her journal in her bag and her husband still went in and discovered it, this worries me when I carry my journal around to write in it but I guess I need to rise above these fears.

  35. Jill,

    I would like to share a quote with you, which I completely agree with:

    If you read somebody’s diary, you get what you deserve.
    – David Sedaris

    Less worry about what others will think, more be free to express your thoughts :-))

  36. Hand writing all the way for me too! I have 47 books of journals and over 30 years of pleasure in pen to paper experience.
    I have a collection of fountain pens with different coloured ink that I use. my favourite is violet!
    My journal is who I am in a moment in time, and I will never be ashamed of what I write.
    Yes it is personal and I expect that my privacy be respected but once I am gone they are fair game for anyone who want to read them.
    I am happy to see so many of you enjoying journal keeping! :)

  37. Hi – I’ve just discovered this post, and as a bookbinder, I specialise in creating one-of-a-kind journals because I strongly believe in the importance of putting pen to paper, and emotionally connecting with oneself in the way that typing into a computer keyboard just doesn’t quite match. Choosing a journal in which to explore one’s deepest feelings is a very personal and individual experience – some of us prefer Moleskine, some of us prefer something a little more unique, but I think it’s all part of a therapeutic (and important) process, and one that can often get lost in this age of gadgets, and the somewhat shallow worlds of Facebook, Twitter etc. I’ve written about my personal preference for journals in my blog http://glassroofbooks.blogspot.co.uk/2012_10_01_archive.html – do take a look.

  38. Lee Jenna,

    I absolutely love the way you captured the essence of the argument. You are right, slobbering over a laptop would be just weird! :-)

  39. I want to give a plug for digital journaling. Throughout my college days and a few years beyond I kept paper journals and looked forward to starting a new journal every year. But for a long while I stop journaling and only in the last two years have I started journaling again mainly because of online journal applications, and now more specifically because of Day One. I am up to about 600 entries in the latter application, and I would say that program actually inspires me to write.

    Not only is it a well-designed application, it also contains a tagging feature that enables me to filter entries by assigned tags. Tags are not only useful for searching entries, but in the latest update of Day One you can display entries for one or more tags and export those entries into a PDF. So actually, the tagging feature allows me to indirectly create multiple journals inside of one application.

    I also prefer digital journaling because I much rather read my typewritten text than my own handwriting. Digital journaling of course provides an opportunity to edit your writing, add web links and photos, and search entries by date, months and year.

    I realize that there is a bit of nostalgia for keeping handwritten journals, but I think that applications like Day One will be around for quite some time, and you can also export your journal to PDF and even use that to publish it in book form. I probably never would have returned to journaling if not for digital applications.

  40. Hi Dolly, since writing my previous posts I have had my old journals scanned and I destroyed the originals. For the past year I have been keeping a visual diary along with my friend and I do enjoy doing this, I note down events etc, paste in photos, ticket stubs etc, but I don’t pour out my feelings in it, it is totally non private and I don’t mind who sees it, in fact it lives on my coffee table and I have shown it to my family, partner and friends. However, I miss actual journalling as in pouring out my feelings. I have tried to do it on the computer but its not the same, I have tried to do it in spiral notebooks with the idea of destroying later but that doesn’t work because I know at the time that its not going to be permanent. For the past year I have tried to ignore those pretty journals I used to buy and love and fill up with my thoughts. But today I had a conversation at work with two colleagues and we talked about journalling and how its better to do it on paper, all three of us love our gadgets, keep appointment diaries on our smartphones and have Kindles but we have agreed paper journalling is best. I do still worry about privacy but its a constant ‘what if’ and I feel I am denying myself doing something that helps me because of fear. However, I don’t want to keep my journal in the same book as my visual diary as that is for a different purpose and is not private where my actual journal will be and I will write in it as and when I feel the need whereas the visual diary I update weekly or even daily. Do you think it is possible to keep them both separate? I really don’t want to merge the two. Thanks for your advice. I love your blog.

  41. Ah, yes, good post!

    Me? I’m flexible. :-)

    If I’m brainstorming, writing out reflections or writing goals, I’ll use a composition book and a nice gel pen (being a lefty means I smudge a lot with regular pens).

    But when it comes to taking notes, electronic all the way.
    3 or 4 books every week, and I use Evernote to store all the information I learn. It’s easily searchable and I can type LIGHTYEARS faster than I can handwrite.

  42. hey, thank you for the post!
    yes, journaling is a process, i am still trying to use both the physical and e-journaling,

    and yeah, my handwriting is not as good as yours, yet my computer typing is not that fast–and accurate. hahahhaa

    so, again, i m still using both for now. looking that i am not really good in keeping items at its place, i guess i will prefer to do e-journaling in the future.

    about the e-journaling, what software of apps or website do you use? thx

  43. Sandro,

    I don’t use e-journaling. As mentioned in the post, I prefer hand-written journals. It doesn’t matter if you handwriting isn’t good, as long as you can read it (that is if you intend to go back and read your journals. It’s more about the process of writing.

  44. swipe keyboards on android devices saved me. i have awful carpal tunnel and i can write pages and pages. i even use my tablet as a bluetooth swipe keyboard for my computer.

  45. swipe keyboards on android devices saved me. i have awful carpal tunnel and i can write pages and pages. i even use my tablet as a bluetooth swipe keyboard for my computer.

  46. I agree; keeping a journal using a computer has endless advantages, and what I really love about it, is when there’s a need to refer back to a conversation you had with yourself, or on a particular subject you’ve entered a couple of years ago. You really don’t have to spend the whole day in search for that. MS Word has tools readily available for these kind of search. But handwritten journaling has it’s unique character; it represents YOU. I’m staying with a handwritten journal, which is kept short, but on PC, it’s more expanded and descriptive. I’m hoping that one day my grandkids would be interested in what their granddad’s life was all about, the decisions he made in different circumstances, his mistakes, his moods, what made him happy, etc., and would like them to read it in their granddad’s own handwriting. I’m also keeping my diary bilingually, but mainly in my second language, which is English because of it’s universality.

  47. I haven’t see this in any of the comments: whenever I try to journal in handwriting, I always edit my comments, as I am afraid I will lose the journal. At least with e-journal, I can password protect.

    Anybody else face this challenge?

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