Journaling: Blank Pages versus Ruled Pages

Most journal keepers have their little idiosynchrocies. Little things that must be just so. As an avid journal keeper, I have many of those.

I may have issues with cleaning my house, but when it comes to writing, I like it neat and tidy. If a journal is ruled, then I want to stick to the lines, because if I draw something, or paste something on ruled pages, it just looks wrong. Whereas if a page is blank, then I can do whatever I want, and still feel like it’s a tidy, organised page.

Of course people might say that it doesn’t matter. Journaling is about expressing yourself, and your creativity.

Yes it is. But let me repeat my message once again: Your journal is an extension of YOU.

My journal is an extension of me, so if my personality is to be organised and neat, then it makes perfect sense that I want my journals to look like that too. I don’t want messy journals. That is not who I am.

That doesn’t mean that I never use ruled journals. Sometimes I come across journals and notebooks which I really like, but don’t have plain pages, so I use them. But even when I do use these journals, I usually end up missing my blank pages. There is freedom in having an absolute blank page, as if you could do just about anything, and somehow transform your words. And for someone like me, who doesn’t care for painting outside the lines because it’s messy, eliminating the lines altogether is a more preferred option.


Think about your preference for your journal pages. Have you ever considered the reasons behind your preference? Perhaps, now is the time to journal about them.


40 thoughts on “Journaling: Blank Pages versus Ruled Pages

  1. I understand exactly what you are saying – lines provide a solid structure for writing but I don’t like sketching over them. For me the solution is dot grid paper: enough structure to keep my writing tidy and close enough to blank for days I want to sketch or doodle.

  2. Hahaha. Well, yes. Actually, I have the opposite problem. Without any structure, my journal becomes a mess because my mind is such chaos. I need that external structure to help me organize my thoughts. XD And if I need to ignore the lines for something… Well, I ignore them. :)

  3. I have many friends who journal and each does it a little differently as far as teh line/no line question goes. When I started journaling I felt I needed the lines, and filled spiral notebook after spiral notebook with my words. As I began to incorporate images and past in photos and news headlines of the day, the lines gave way to blank pages. Doing away with the lines was what expanded my journaling, made way for me to appear on the page, and it is amazing to me how quickly that one little change caught fire.

  4. For me, I want both lined and unlined pages. The unlined pages would be for doodling, art journaling, and pasting, while the lined pages would be strickly for writing. I would like to try writing in a circle or in uneven lines.

  5. Dolly, I love your post, and I was surprised when you said that you write on a blank page, b/c your written lines are so straight! I assumed that you were writing on a journal that was blank on the left page and ruled on the right page. So do tell, are you naturally neat or do you have a secret to those straight lines? :-)

  6. My journals have lines because otherwise all my writing goes squiggly. But, I don’t necessarily stay within the lines. Most often if I don’t follow the exact lines it is because I’m using a two line space to write.

    My handwriting is large.

    Another good question, Dolly.

  7. I have always used lined paper, and tended to stick to the lines in the early days. I also used A5 notebooks for a long time. I am definitely an orderly person so I have found it liberating to begin ignoring the lines completely (some of the the time). I will happily turn the page through 90 degrees and write across the lines.

    Moving to A4 also opened up more possibilities. I am not a great artist but do use scribbles or thought bubbles or diagrams to express my thoughts so perhaps I am uncovering a more creative side.

    And I will happily paste something over the top of the lines – often at an angle.

    I still like the lines as a starting point though – especially when I am doing descriptive writing so I don’t think I will be experimenting with blank pages.

  8. FS,

    Grid paper makes sense. I see the appeal of them, but haven’t really tried it since school days. One of these days, I might try a grid moleskine :-)

  9. Misty,

    Whatever works, that’s the key! As long as you know what works your personality, your mind, and controlling chaos in your own way, journaling becomes all the more effective. And hey, if you can ignore the lines, hurray to you! It just bugs the hell out of me :-)

  10. Lynn,

    Many friends who journal – lucky you :-)) I generally end up pushing my friends to journal, and managed to convert a few.

    I started of using lined journals too. It was never intentional, but it just seemed regular thing to do. I am not even sure how I got started off on blank journals. Probably one I ended up buying. But love them.

  11. Teresa,

    That makes sense. I actually keep a separate art journal, but I rarely use that. I save that for times when I feel truly inspired, as art journaling is not really my medium.

    I’ve written in weird patterns before, and have enjoyed it. But I usually only do it for specific things. Give it a try!

  12. Meredyth,

    Thank you. No, no secret lines here :-) This particular picture is from a plain moleskine, completely blank pages. I do naturally write in straight line, because to me it makes no difference whether the actual line is there or not. I can see whether my words are straight or not, and that’s enough.

  13. Nigel,

    Writing at 90 degrees angle idea is pretty cool. I have done that in my plain journals, but never in a ruled one. I will give it a try. Thanks :-)

  14. I’ve always used ruled pages as a default. Not really thinking about it. Your post makes me wonder about the possibilities by using plain pages. I’m inspired to try since I would end up drawing pictures or pasting things on top of the ruled pages anyway. You’re making me see journals in a whole new light. Up till now they were just a ‘diary’ but I see it can be much more. Thanks!

  15. Hi Dolly – I chortled when I read this. I consider myself a bit OCD w my journals – so glad to see that other people have their “way” of managing them! I like lines for work related journals – the v thin A5 moleskins are perfect to pop into my handbag.
    Then I use blank paper for my thoughts – the front of the journal for “active /what’s going on now” and the back for dreaming.

  16. Yes – I am the same. I like to keep my journal organized and pretty. I still need to work on that whole free writing thing….

  17. Interesting Dolly! I like the blank pages too. Actually I like both, but for doodling and doing little mind maps and such, blank is best.

    Some peeps like lines because they cannot write in a straight line without them. They feel lines help them stay neat. One way to use a blank page and still have straight lines is to lay a sheet of paper across the page as you write, using the paper as a “straight line” guide.

    Great post for creating conversation. THANKS!


  18. I have used both for different goals in my journaling. I do like the straight lines for the look of my handwriting (otherwise I slant) and I like the blank page to doodle and do art. I am seriously considering to begin an “Art Journal” which will have artwork painted, doodled, collaged..with the written word (maybe written in margins, in circles). When I look at my journals most of them are blank pages which gave me the freedom to both write words and illustrate emotion.

  19. I typically use lined, but there’s such freedom in the idea of a blank page… Especially since I like to doodle. Maybe I’ll try that. =)

  20. Dolly,

    I have been reading through your archives for a couple of days since finding your site. You have great journaling sense! I am incredibly impressed with your own ‘handwritten’ journals. You know, in the states when one says ‘handwritten’ people think of cursive writing. I am blown away that you can produce such a beautiful page of writing by hand ‘printing’. I can hardly read my mess after writing and I look at your journal page and am simply in awe.

  21. Lori,

    That just bugs me. I do that sometimes because I inevitably end up with lined journals when I see one that’s really good but doesn’t come with blank pages. However, if there are lines….I feel it untidy to not use them :P

  22. Marilyn,

    Some of us not just use written journals, but use them obsessively!! I love computers and technology in general, however journaling for me is absolutely a hand-written experience.

  23. You are welcome, Margo :-)

    I’ve never understood not being able to keep in straight line, because even if there is no line, you can still see where your words are!

  24. Mike,

    Thank you for taking the time to comment. It’s always wonderful to hear feedback, and of course especially positive feedback ;-)

    I must admit, whether in US or even here in UK, people do find it odd that I don’t use “joined-up” writing. I do sometimes, but on the whole, I prefer neatness of printing, so it’s just become a habit for me to write it like that.

    Again, thanks for your kind words!

  25. I know many prefer an unruled journal, but I preferred rules, preferably narrow. If I’m doing a writing entry, I need the space to be small to keep my deplorable handwriting under control. My current journal is a Peanuts Moleskine from a couple of years ago, and the lines are perfect. Focusing so ‘small’ helps me focus on what I want to be writing about at that given time. On days I’m drawing, doodling, gluing in, whatever, I don’t see the lines. I go on like they’re not there and do what I need/want to do.

  26. About a year and a half ago, I found a little journal that has the format of one lined page, one blank page throughout the book. I love this journal! The lined pages give me quick guidelines to practice my hand at different fonts or write something to go along with each sketch, like quotes or my thoughts without drifting into a sigoggled mess.

    Now that I’m down to the last few pages of this journal,I have been searching relentlessly to find another like it. I found this one at TJ Maxx; and alas, they have no more. I’ve tried the company’s website that made this particular journal, but they no longer sell them. I even tried Books A Million and searching online. I’m convinced this journal must have been a fluke because I can only find lined journals OR blank journals.

    Like you, I agree that drawing on lined paper just looks wrong somehow. The little journal I have now was nice while it lasted, but I think I will have to get used to drawing lines on my blank pages again when I want to practice hand-drawn typography because I just don’t think I can go back to lined pages after experiencing the freedom of a completely blank page.

    Very nice website you have here!

  27. Merely a smiling visitant here to share the love (:, btw outstanding design. “Better by far you should forget and smile than that you should remember and be sad.” by Christina Georgina Rossetti.

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