pen or pencil a personal choice

Journaling with either pen or pencil is a deeply personal practice that has been instrumental in improving my mental well-being, creativity, and self-awareness.

When I started a program that required 3 ‘morning pages’ per day, I chose a pencil. It worked fine, and I didn’t think about switching to a pen at the time. At some point, I did, and that has been my go-to scratching tool since.

There are some differences between pen and traditional pencil preferences, and making a choice can be traced to certain personal traits or factors.

This comprehensive guide will explore the eight crucial factors to consider when choosing between a pen and a pencil for journaling in 2024.

pencils in a pencil box
Photo by George Becker:

Deciding to Use a Pencil or a Pen for Writing: The 8 Factors

How can certain personal preferences and traits lead to grabbing a pen or a wooden pencil as you approach a blank journal page or any surface to jot a note? Preference is personal, but there are times when considering these factors may come in handy.

Factor No. 1: Permanence

Pencil: A pencil is ideal if you make changes or edits while journaling and want the flexibility to erase mistakes. Pencils allow for correcting errors and modifying entries. If it’s been a while and you’re only used to the school days’ pink ends, things have improved to the point where leaving a trace is…”old school.”.

Pen: Pens are the way to go if you prefer a bolder and a certain permanence to the record of your journaling entries. The ink from a pen provides a lasting impression, making your entries timeless and unalterable.

pen or pencil who'll win?

Factor No. 2: Flow and Feel

Pen: Pens, especially gel and rollerball pens, offer a smooth and satisfying writing experience. The ink glides effortlessly across the paper, reducing hand strain and making writing more enjoyable, especially if you’re jotting down notes in a notebook.

Pencil: Pencils require a bit more pressure when writing, which can give a tactile satisfaction. This can be particularly appealing if you enjoy the physical engagement of writing.

Factor No. 3: Variety

Pen: Pens come in a vast array of colors, inks, and nib sizes. They come in different sizes, thin and thick, and ink dispense mechanisms. I think I have found the perfect pen for me, but… I think the real perfect pen is still waiting for me to pick up.

Pencil: Pencils also have a range of use options. Depending on whether you’re a writer, sketch artist, or student, a whole market exists for each. This allows for different shades and depths in your writing or drawings.

a pencil works well for journaling your thoughts

Factor No. 4: Maintenance

Pencil:  Pencils are low-maintenance tools and come with the added benefit of an eraser to correct mistakes easily. The main requirement is occasional sharpening, which can be done manually or with a sharpener. Pencils are straightforward and fuss-free.

Pen:  Pens, especially fountain and refillable pens, require more maintenance. This includes refilling ink cartridges, cleaning the pen, and ensuring the nib stays in good condition. If you enjoy taking care of your tools, this might be a pleasurable routine.

Factor No. 5: Cost

Pencil:  Pencils are generally inexpensive, with affordable refills available and useful for light sketch work. This makes them a cost-effective choice for those who journal frequently.

Pen:  Pens can range from very affordable to quite expensive, depending on the type and brand. While some pens might be a significant investment, they can provide a luxurious writing experience and last longer with proper care, unlike pencils which may smudge easily.

Factor No. 6: Portability

Pencil:  Pencils are highly portable and less prone to leaking. You can easily toss a pencil in your bag without worrying about ink spills or needing an eraser separately.

Pen:  Pens need a bit more care in terms of storage, especially if you’re using a rollerball pen. They should be kept upright to prevent leaks, making them slightly less convenient for on-the-go journaling.

Factor No. 7: Aesthetics

Pencil:  Pencils offer a classic, understated look and are less likely to smudge than some pens. The soft, graphite lines can give your journal a vintage or minimalist aesthetic.

Pen:  Pens can add vibrancy and personality to your journal. With various colors and styles, pens can make your journal entries visually appealing and lively.

pencils in a cup

Factor No. 8: Personal Preference

Ultimately, the choice of writing implements comes down to personal preference. And there is no ‘this is it!’ decision. You can alternate or just experiment with both tools to see which one feels great.

Whatever is best for you and best reflects your journaling style today may change over time. The important key is to enjoy your writing.

Main Differences Between Pen and Pencil

Pens and pencils differ in several key aspects: their potential to smudge and the variety of shades you can achieve when you use pencils for sketching.

1. Writing Medium: Pens use ink, while pencils are graphite sticks wrapped in wood.
2. Permanence: Ink is permanent for most pen inks, whereas pencil marks can be erased.
3. Variety: Your choice of writing tool can influence your handwriting style and the overall look of your notes. Pens offer nib size options, while pencils provide different lead hardness levels.
4. Maintenance: Pens require more care and refilling; wooden pencils need only sharpening. Mechanical pencils do need refilling.
5. Cost: On most days, Pencils are generally cheaper, while pens can vary widely.
6. Portability: Pens have nibs you can hide, ‘click, click’ and this can make them more portable. Leaking ink can be a problem. Sharpened lead points can become weapons unless you’re hoisting a mechanical pencil!
7. Aesthetics: Fountain pens have an edge on gorgeousness, but many manufacturers make sets with pens and mechanical pencils that are very similarly pretty. A wooden pencil can signify simplicity or hearty seriousness.


Famous Writers Tell All 

Sometimes just the pure luxury of long beautiful pencils charges me with energy and invention.” — Steinbeck

“I like pens. My writing is so amazing there’s never a need to erase.” – Todd Barry

Wrap Up 

Choosing between a pen and a pencil for journaling is a personal decision influenced by various factors such as permanence, flow and feel, variety, maintenance, cost, portability, aesthetics, and personal preference.

And the decision is not permanent.

Considering these aspects, you can select the tool that enhances your journaling practice for now and makes it more enjoyable and reflective.


What is better for journaling, a pen or a pencil?

 It depends on your personal preferences for a writing instrument and journaling style. A ballpoint pen might be better if you prefer permanence and a smooth writing experience. If you like the ability to erase and correct your entries, a pencil could be more suitable.

Can I use both pen and pencil for journaling? 

Absolutely! Many people use both depending on their needs. Some will follow a practice of writing in pencil for drafting and completing in pen for final entries or switch between them based on your mood and the journaling you are doing.

Are there specific types of pens or pencils recommended for journaling?

For pens gel pens and fountain pens are popular for their smooth writing experience. For pencils, mechanical pencils and those with softer lead (like 2B) are often preferred for their ease of use and darker lines.

How do I maintain my pens and pencils? 

Pens, especially fountain pens, need regular cleaning and refilling. The pencils need sharpening. For mechanical pencils, you’ll need to replace the lead as needed.

Which is more cost-effective for journaling, pen or pencil?

Pencils are generally more cost-effective, especially with affordable refills. Pens can vary in price, with some being quite inexpensive and others, like high-quality fountain pens, being more of an investment.

Do pens or pencils last longer?

It depends on usage. Pencils can be sharpened until they are too short, while pens last until the ink runs out. High-quality pens can be refilled, making them last longer with proper care.

How do pens and pencils affect the appearance of my journal? 

Pens can add vibrant colors and a polished look, while pencils offer a softer, more classic aesthetic, making the choice of writing tool a matter of personal preference. The choice depends on the visual style you prefer for your journal.

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