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Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Journal or Diary: What’s the Difference?

I have a very different feeling about a journal than I do a diary. My attitude toward a diary is resistant, whereas my attitude toward a journal is an open-arm welcome and an all-inclusive embrace. So what’s the difference? Many people use these two words as if they are synonyms, so I decided to first check out the dictionary. According to the American Heritage College Dictionary, a journal is “a personal record of occurrences, experiences, and reflections kept on a regular basis; a diary.” Hmmm, OK. According to the same dictionary, a diary is “a daily record, especially a personal record of events, experiences, and observations.”

Well, I take this to mean that the dictionary has now given me the freedom to create my own definitions that distinguish the two. J I realize that I have my own emotional connection to semantics… well, don’t we all? So yeah, the following distinction is purely emotional, and it begins with the fact that I have a personal connection to a journal and a personal disconnection to a diary.

I believe that a diary is a chronological record of events and experiences. These records may also include personal reactions to those events and experiences. A diary is also a rite of passage for a young girl as she teeters at the threshold between girlhood and womanhood. Finally, a diary covets privacy, thus the popularity of brightly bound diaries with locks and keys marketed at teenage girls.

My disconnect with a diary is due to many failed attempts when I was a young girl. I knew I was writing stupid, insignificant, and incoherent thoughts in my diary and I was horrified at the thought of someone finding it someday and actually reading it. I wrote instead in a spiral notebook at school between the pages of school notes and assignments. Those musings were equally immature, but they were spontaneous, authentic, and creative.

This leads me to my definition of a journal. A journal, on the other hand, is all that a diary is, and more. The term more is the key. A journal is not just an adolescent rite of passage, but a bridge across every change we make at any age (rather, at all ages). A journal can certainly hold the record of our life’s events and experiences and our reactions to those moments in our lives, but I believe that a journal draws us even closer and deeper into our reactions. My spiral notebooks were full of the “why” questions and exploratory search for possible answers. My diary, however, had too many “Dear Diary…” starts that went nowhere. A journal draws us into reflective responses to all that we see and think and do.

While deeper reflections mean that the content in a journal is perhaps our most private expressions of our lives, a journal does not conjure up the image of secrecy that a diary does. The fact that my notebooks had no pre-fab lock and key on the front made me vulnerable to potential discovery. I got past it; I learned that the risk of being found out was worth the rewards of finding myself.

All these years later, I still turn up my nose at a diary, but am compelled to keep a journal at all costs (you know, scribbling during meetings, at stop lights, during the sermon at church, while standing in line somewhere…)

So what is the difference between a diary and a journal? Technically, I guess there is no difference at all, but personally, the difference is huge: diary writing is a chore; journaling is the key to my sanity and my life’s journey.


  1. I recently came across your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I don’t know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog. I will keep visiting this blog very often.


  2. I do know what you mean about the difference between a journal and a diary. Journaling carries more weight to me, with more introspection and resulting clarity.

    I would like to personally invite you to #JournalChat on 5/13 at 2 EST for all things journaling on Twitter.
    Here's a link for more info:
    Be refreshed,
    Dawn Herring