Jennifer Dukes Lee invites you to transform into a better writer through “beautifully ruthless self-discovery.”
It starts in the pages of your journal.
In a recent interview, she delves into the therapeutic benefits of daily gratitude journaling and its potential to rewire our brains. By writing down things we’re grateful for, our minds seek out the positive.
Jennifer recommends guided journals when we’re stymied by writer’s block. The blank page of a traditional journal can overwhelm us. What should we say? Where should we start?
Guided journals aren’t blank pages—they provide prompts and structure when you’re stuck or unsure of what to write.
She stresses that journaling serves as a valuable tool for self-discovery and creative expression. When you use journaling to explore your experiences, memories, and struggles, you can weave your discoveries into your writing. This deep dive into the human condition adds depth and authenticity to all our writing: poetry, creative nonfiction, online writing, and fiction.
Jennifer introduces questions from her guided journal: some profound, some silly. Either way, they open you up and lead to deeper self-knowledge.
Some of your journal entries will be personal and remain private, just as her recent book title suggests: Stuff I’d Only Tell God.
Other entries you could share with a family member or friend, creating deeper connections through your vulnerability.
You’ll see how journaling unleashes your creative potential and invites you to be more open, leaving a lasting impact on yourself, your closest relationships, and your readers.
Listen in on our discussion—and start journaling—to become a more authentic and impactful writer.
Meet Jennifer Dukes Lee
Jennifer Dukes Lee is a bestselling author, thinker, and question-asker from Iowa. Her friends say they’re scared to sit alone in a room with her because they end up telling her things they never intended to say. She is both proud of this fact and also a little annoyed at how nosy she can be.
She put a bunch of her favorite questions into a journal called Stuff I’d Only Tell God. It’s like your own little confession booth.
She’s also the author of Growing Slow and It’s All Under Control.
Subscribe to her newsletter Top Ten with Jen to get the inside scoop on stuff that is blowing her mind, encouraging her heart, and refreshing her soul (subscribe and you’ll also get immediate access to free resources): https://jenniferdukeslee.com/subscribe/
Connect with Jennifer:
- Learn more at jenniferdukeslee.com
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JenniferDukesLee
- Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/jenniferdukeslee/
- TikTok: https://www.tiktok.com/@jenniferdukeslee
- Pinterest: https://www.pinterest.com/dukeslee/
- Subscribe to Top Ten with Jen: https://jenniferdukeslee.com/subscribe/
The whole interview is packed with inspiration and ideas, but perhaps these time stamps help you navigate to places in our discussion that may seem more interesting.
5:29 Courageous honesty leads to self-discovery.
7:21 Journaling and memory keeping.
8:53 Journaling is essential for writing.
11:23 Gratitude journaling and its impact.
14:48 Journaling can inspire and inform.
15:01 Inspiration from journaling.
16:27 Outline and plan your writing.
19:06 The short form writing process.
22:03 Journaling preserves memories and emotions.
24:09 Capturing memories through journaling.
26:33 Journaling sparks creative self-discovery.
29:08 Writing about interesting moments.
29:35 Birds and dreaming.
31:38 Trust the spark, capture it.
35:56 Treating journals with different purposes.
37:48 Social media and storytelling.
41:33 Battle with depression and anxiety.
(Transcripts are reviewed and lightly edited.)
Ann Kroeker I’m Ann Kroeker, writing coach. If you’re tuning in for the first time, welcome! If you’re a regular, welcome back.
Today I’m with Jennifer Dukes Lee, author of the guided journal Stuff I’d Only Tell God, and we’re discussing how courageously honest journaling can make us a better writer. Jennifer’s a best-selling author, thinker, and question-asker from Iowa, and she’s also a personal friend.
Her friends say they’re scared to sit in the same room with her because they’re afraid they’re going to tell her things they never intended to share. She says she’s proud of that, but also a little annoyed at how nosy she can be. Well, she put a lot of her questions into this one resource, Stuff I’d Only Tell God. It’s like your own little confession booth. She’s also author of Growing Slow, and It’s All Under Control. You can learn more about Jennifer at jenniferdukeslee.com.
Jennifer, it’s great to have you on the show. Welcome.
Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah, we better watch out. According to that bio, I might turn the tables today and start peppering you with questions.
Life will never make sense until we get curious enough to ask good questions.
Ann Kroeker And you know, you’re more than just a guest here appearing. You’re also my friend. And so yeah, I can vouch for the fact that you do ask great questions.
And you ask great questions not only as a friend, but also with your background as a reporter.
And then all these years of being an author, and working with authors, you know, you’re funneling all that into this new book, Stuff I’d Only Tell God.
So, one thing I noticed when I opened it up and I looked inside, read through the prompts, I realized, first of all, I’ve got a lot of writing to do using these prompts for a very long time. There are plenty that will get me through, I think, more than a year for me.
But one of the things you said at the beginning was this. You write, “Here’s what I know to be true. Life will never make sense until we get curious enough to ask good questions.”
Say a little bit more about that from your background that I just described.
We get to know each other through the questions that we ask each other.
01:52 Jennifer Dukes Lee Well, when you think just relationally how we get to know one another, it’s the questions that we ask each other. I’m still learning about my husband of 27 years due to just asking questions out of this journal, for instance.
And life doesn’t make sense, relationships don’t make sense, faith doesn’t make sense until we get brave enough to ask good questions.
I come from a Christian background and a Christian worldview. And my way to faith was through questions. I was a deep, deep intellectual doubter of God and Jesus. And it was questions that led me into a life of faith. It’s questions that now I consider Jesus, my CEO of my ministry, when it was like 20 years ago, I didn’t even know if he existed.
So yeah, questions have helped everything make sense. And I’m just going to keep asking them to learn more about myself and learn more about people and learn more about God.
Questions have helped everything make sense.
02:49 Ann Kroeker I love it. And this book you have, it’s Stuff I’d Only Tell God, but what you just pointed out is that you actually can use these questions not only for your personal self-reflection, but to grow closer to other people. And so it’s not really stuff I’d only tell God.
I did notice that you have a section that’s like, you probably don’t want to … [you might want to] shove this part under your mattress. But you say in the subtitle it’s a guided journal of “courageous honesty, obsessive truth-telling, and beautifully ruthless self-discovery.” What does that mean to you? And how do people process all of that?
Really dig in and go hard after the truth of your own life.
03:31 Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah, I wanted to convey the passionate aspect of this book, to really dig in. Journaling in general is digging in and pressing into how you’re feeling or pressing into your worries and your fears, your doubts, whatever it is. But I am calling people to go on an even deeper journey. And so I’m like, how do I convey that? What are the words that I could use?
And I remember sitting on the couch while Scott was watching Netflix and I was supposed to be watching Netflix, but I’m like, as a writer, I’m like busily in the notes app of my phone trying to craft this idea. And it just came to me and I’m like, Scott, pause Netflix. I’ve got to read this to you.
And it conveys that passion of honesty is one thing, but recognizing that there’s a certain kind of honesty that takes real courage. That’s where “courageous honesty” comes in, because it does take courage to get honest about what’s going on in our lives. It takes courage to look into our past and see how that’s shaped who we are today. It takes courageous honesty to ask God some important questions and to get honest with him about what’s going on in our lives.
And then when it comes to that “obsessive truth telling,” leave nothing behind. Just be obsessive about it. Really dig in and go hard after the truth of your own life.
When it comes to that “obsessive truth telling,” leave nothing behind.
And then the “beautifully ruthless self-discovery,” self-discovery is almost a buzzword, it’s just learning more about yourself so you can decide what you want to be as you move forward. But I know that the kind of self-discovery I’m asking people to do in this guided journal is ruthless. It’s hard to dig like that, but in the end, it’s beautiful. So that’s how I came up with “beautifully ruthless self-discovery.” So it conveys, I think, an idea of I’m going to do this thing and it’s going to make a difference. And if it’s going to make a real difference, then I need to give it all I’ve got.
05:33 Ann Kroeker Well, when I looked at those questions, as I said, I think it’s going to take me a very long time to work through them. And it’s for that very reason. It’s going to be a deep dive and hard work. And I don’t want to just rush through them. I want to spend some time with them and I hope that your readers do as well. And do you feel like this cross-section of being a writer, which you are, an author, you write regularly, you have great social media posts that really go deeper than what is normal, how much would you say your journaling intersects with your own writing efforts and projects?
06:09 Jennifer Dukes Lee Oh, quite a bit. I have sitting over here about seven different journals. Like you can’t see them in the camera, but I have a number of them. I’m going to show you a few of them actually.
So of course I’ve got Stuff I’d only tell God.
Multiple things in [journals] have then become social media posts, which may end up in books.
I have a gratitude journal. And when you take time to pause about what you’re grateful for, like all the time I’m like, oh yeah, like here, Beth Moore ministry was number 665. And I ended up making a post about something related to the Beth Moore ministry that has become my biggest Instagram post of all time. Just because I happen to just write it in a gratitude journal, whether it’ll make it in a book, I don’t know. But like there’s multiple things in here that have then become social media posts, which may end up in books that usually goes in that order.
I have a prayer journal where I keep track of things that I just need to pray about.
I have a commonplacing journal. I use this one a lot in my writing of books. This is where I keep quotes and other people’s thoughts and ideas and knowledge. This dates back, especially to the Renaissance era, where people would, they would call them commonplacing books and they would write down things that meant something to them. And I love doing the same thing. So this will definitely make its way into books because I keep quotes that I love.
I have a couple other journals here, but this one is very basic, very boring. It almost is like, I call it a memory-keeping journal. And in here are stories and sometimes just phrases or snippets. It’s not pretty on the outside. It’s not like Instagram-able, but they’re ideas and thoughts that I don’t want to forget. And often these will make … the memory-keeping journal stories will make their way into social media posts and into books.
Furthermore, I have the Notes app, which I treat as a journal. I told you, I’ve got a lot of them! And if I think of something, it’s going down in the notes app that counts as journaling.
And then finally, I have a running document on my computer called “Possible Posts,” which is really just a running list of ideas. And it’s 16,500 words. This is my one for this year. I started it in the spring, but that’s just all kinds of ideas and thoughts. And so I go to that file and I write from that particular document. And that counts as journaling too. Some of it makes its way into social media. Then some of it makes its way into a book. Some of it stays just for me, but it is just an absolute vital part of my ministry and my book writing.
Ann Kroeker How do you keep track of them all?
Jennifer Dukes Lee I don’t go through them every day.
Ann Kroeker Yeah. Okay. [voices overlap] Go ahead.
Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah. I don’t go through them every day. I think that can be overwhelming when people hear about all the journals that I keep.
Some journals, maybe the memory-keeping one, I’m only in maybe once a week.
The gratitude journal, maybe a bit more. Commonplacing, it just depends on what I see.
So I know what they look like and they’re at the ready whenever I need them. The one that I’m in the most, quite honestly, is the Word document because it’s on my computer, which is where I create content for people in books and social media posts.
09:27 Ann Kroeker Okay. I’m going to just camp here for just a second because I get really practical and very curious. You said they’re always at the ready. You’ve always got these analog books, these physical books ready to fill in. Like when I’m traveling, I like to keep things pretty digital because then it’s lightweight. It’s always with me. Do you take these with you everywhere?
09:52 Jennifer Dukes Lee No, I don’t. I have been taking Stuff I’d Only Tell God with me. I’ve been doing a lot of travel this summer, mostly because I have committed to doing what I’m asking other people to do. So that is the one that I have taken. I also have been taking, I usually take this one, this is Praying the Scriptures for Your Kids. So this is how I parent now. I’m “prayerenting,” I call it, because my kids are now out of the house and so I’ve been praying the scriptures. But every once in a while, I’ve taken a gratitude journal or if I think I’m going to find some interesting stories, I might take my memory-keeping journal. But usually just one, maybe two, sometimes none.
10:26 Ann Kroeker So if you’ve got somebody who’s never really journaled before, obviously the best first step is to buy Stuff I’d Only Tell God. How can they make their decision about like, “I’m ready to do more with this”? Maybe they’ve had a stop-start experience with journaling in the past. Where should they begin to try to make this an ongoing habit?
Would you survive a zombie apocalypse?
10:51 Jennifer Dukes Lee It depends on if you like the idea of a guided journal or not. So Stuff I’d Only Tell God has thousands of questions in it that are very deep, but also like really quirky. Things like, “Would you survive a zombie apocalypse?” for instance.
So there’s just fun questions like that, but also questions about your past and your, you know, if you want to just like delve in and have somebody sort of help you along down this path of journaling Stuff I’d Only Tell God or any kind of guided journal would be super helpful for you.
If you don’t really, you’re not really into that and you don’t want to be told what to write, then making a gratitude journal would be a really great place to start because you just start numbering it and write down things you’re grateful for.
And that’s such a positive, that has an immediate therapeutic impact on your life. We know that journaling is therapeutic, but if you journal and write down things that you’re grateful for, your mind gets trained to begin to scan your environment looking for positive, good things for.
We have to train our brains to be positive, so a gratitude journal might be a really great place to start.
Our brains are actually wired to see the negative. We were made that way, honestly, to keep us safe so that long, long time ago we wouldn’t just say, “Oh, I wonder what that was in the bushes. It’s probably just the wind,” but you know, then it turned out to be a tiger. So we have negativity bias for a reason and it still works for us now when we’re like in a parking lot and it’s dark and there’s people around.
And so we have a negativity bias to be a little bit scared, but we have to train our brains to be positive, so a gratitude journal might be a really great place to start. If you are a writer, don’t feel bad. If you’re listening … you’re probably a writer if you’re listening to Ann’s podcast here.
I think the thing that I felt a little bit shameful about is that I could not do a blank journal very well. I would literally get writer’s block. I’m like, “I don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to do.” And so I just wouldn’t journal unless I had a specific reason. That’s why I have so many different kinds of journals. And I’m thinking if I, as a writer who’s been writing books for this many years, get writer’s block while journaling, then I think other people do too. And so a guided journal can be a great place to start.
13:03 Ann Kroeker Starting without it being a blank page. So starting with something on it does seem like a great way to kind of kickstart things, so you’re not starting from scratch, not staring at the blank page.
There are some things in a journal … can make their way out into the world and really serve a good purpose.
13:13 Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah. I mean, it could end up being, I think for speaking again to the writers who are listening, answering some of the prompts in a guided journal like mine could end up being like, “Oh my goodness, this is like a whole chapter!” or “This is a whole book!” or it’s certainly, “I could make a social media post out of this.” You could go through that and I think really get yourself some good content to move forward.
I did one the other day called “Dear Younger Me.” And I wrote a letter to my younger self, which there’s space in the book to do that. And after I wrote it, I’m like, “I’ll bet somebody else could use that kind of thought about their younger self some, too.” And so I ended up sharing it on social media and it did really, really well. And a lot of people related to it.
There’s another one, “Things I Would Want Myself to Know on a Hard Day.” I ended up making a Reel out of the content that I put on that particular journal prompt. And it did really well because it spoke to other people when I was speaking from such a vulnerable place.
So some things you will just want to keep between you and God. But I think that there are some things in a journal like this or in any journal that eventually can make their way out into the world and really serve a good purpose.
14:32 Ann Kroeker And you’ve got a place to store it so that if you’re not ready right away, you can come back to it later. And there it is preserved, the thought, the exploration that you did. I asked people on Instagram to ask me if they had any questions they wanted me to specifically ask you. And Erica Baldwin said, “Have any of your previous books been inspired by your past journal entries?” So you talked already about how you’ve used it for short form, but how about your actual, the full length books? Have your journals?
Almost everything that you see in a book, at least the nugget of it, the seed of it started in a journal that made its way into a short form post on Facebook and Instagram.
15:01 Jennifer Dukes Lee Absolutely. And I’m going to, at this moment, treat journaling very broadly. I’m going to treat journaling also as answers that I put in Bible studies, the words that I put in my journaling Bible, where I can write in the margins where something will occur to me related to, you know, something in Exodus, like, “Oh, wow,” which actually happened when I wrote one of my Bible studies, it ended up coming into my Bible study, the notes that were in my, the side of my journal, it became a whole chapter or a whole session, if you will.
So very regularly, almost everything that you see in a book, at least the nugget of it, the seed of it started in a journal that made its way into a short form post on Facebook and Instagram. And then it made its way into a book.
I don’t have the entirety of a book out on social media. But if somebody watches my social media closely enough, they can probably figure out what I’m going to write next, because I’m just working it out. I’m just like, you know, this is stuff that I care about. I wonder if other people care about this. So I’m always like, ideating what I’m writing and thinking through what else to put out there.
Ann Kroeker We’re all going to be prowling through trying to pick up the clues.
Jennifer Dukes Lee Well, tell me if you see anything that looks like it should be if you’re listening and you see something that looks like a good next book, then do let me know because I’m trying to figure it out.
16:22 Ann Kroeker DM her! Let her know that’s going to resonate. Well, while we’re talking about your books, Twyla Franz asked this: “Do you outline where you’re going or let the writing lead? Also, is it different for long versus short writing?
Put together … an outline, an idea of where you’re going. It serves as a roadmap.
16:33 Jennifer Dukes Lee I do outline extensively for the books that I write. And that’s why I think even if you got a book contract without a book proposal, you should basically still put together the book proposal in terms of the chapter summaries and an idea of where you’re going. It serves as a roadmap. I’m very old fashioned in the way that I do this.
I actually have color coded cards and I have the chapter and what I think the chapter will be.
I have one color I’ll do in the key story.
One color will be the big takeaway.
And if there are any practical tips, that will be another color.
And then if there’s some kind of a Bible story, since I’m a Christian book writer, then that would be like in red or something like that.
So then I put them on the wall and I move them around and get them in the right order.
And on a writing day, I look at the wall and I pull one off. “That one, that’s the one I’m going to do today.” And I sit down with the card and I start.
So that’s the process that works for me. And I can, when I see it all together on the wall and move it into application software, I guess, called Scrivener. That is also kind of based on the same idea of little cards. It looks like that on Scrivener. And I do use that then as well. So it kind of moves, it migrates into the online cards. But that’s what’s worked for me for a long time.
And it’s what I coach other writers to do if they’re stuck. In fact, I’m an acquisitions editor, so I do help authors all the time, put their books together.
One last year was with a Nashville author and she’s like, “Jennifer, I’m stuck.” And I’m like, “Well, I’m getting a plane ticket.”
So I flew out and I brought my little cards and I’m like, “We’re going to map your book. And by the end of this day, you will know what the book is.” And we did it. And the book comes out real soon and I’m so excited about it. And it’s really, really, really good. We did exactly that: we just went through what’s the story, what’s the theme, what’s the takeaway, if there’s any practical helps, what can we put in there. And in her case, she had some biblical guidance. So we had that on the cards too.
Ann Kroeker Brilliant.
Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah. The short form is less structured like that, or is less structured. It doesn’t have like a card system. And I assume that Twyla means like a blog post or a social media post. That is usually more just, I have an idea of what I’m going to write.
And I either start with kind of an impactful, thought-provoking question, or more often than not, I start with a short personal story before I move into whatever I’m trying to, whatever, you know, if there’s a teaching or a lesson or some bit of encouragement, I usually start first with my story and then move into speaking directly to the reader.
In the same way that I was interrogating police chiefs and mayors and governors, I began to interrogate my own life in that way.
19:36 Ann Kroeker Do you ever feel that there’s a danger of being a little too vulnerable? Because you’re very open about your life. And I’m wondering if some of the people who are tuning in might be feeling like, “I don’t know about being so brutally honest with myself and then vulnerable with others, especially online in a place where it’s now available for anybody to read.” How do you deal with that?
20:00 Jennifer Dukes Lee I just, you know, I literally don’t think about it. It’s so, I mean, that’s probably not the answer that you would want or think, but I have been writing online in a pretty open way since 2009. I just don’t know another way. It was hard at first because all of my other writing up to that point was about other people and other events because I was a newspaper reporter.
But in the same way that I was interrogating police chiefs and mayors and governors, I began to interrogate my own life in that way. So I feel like turnabout’s fair play. So I put a lot, there’s not a lot that’s off the record. Let’s just put it that way in news terms. And I feel comfortable with it. I’ve seen too much fruit to turn back now.
Ann Kroeker Yes, I mean, that last line makes sense because if we do hold back, then maybe we’re just skimming the surface and never really going to the places that people want and need to go to for their own transformation. Is that what I’m sensing from you here?
21:06 Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah, I think so. Now I think there is a place for holding back if it’s just sort of like unprocessed grief or unprocessed hurt, or if it’s, “I’m going to say this in the name of vulnerability, but I’m really just going to be passive aggressive because I know that friend is going to be reading my social media posts.” You know? I mean, there’s a difference, right? So I think that you have to give yourself time to work through some things.
On the other hand, there are more harmless things that are in life that aren’t fully processed. For instance, my dad passed away in September. And the grief that I was feeling was expressed in real time on my social media. And while it was helpful for other people to read it, who were also grieving at some point in their lives, it was also very therapeutic for me.
And that’s the value of journaling. It’s just that my journals tend to be just a bit more public than most, but that is what I was doing through grief. And that one of the ways that it was therapeutic is that I knew that my pain was serving a really good purpose because I could see it in the comments and I could see it in my own life.
And now I have this real-time record of the pain I was feeling, the hope I was finding, all of those kinds of things.
Lists count as journaling.
There was something that I’d never wrote about and I didn’t write about it in my journal. I didn’t write about it in my notes app on my phone. And I had a fit about it about two or three nights ago. And I was in the grocery store parking lot. Then I texted my sister frantically in tears. And I’m like, “What did dad say? Remember when I asked him that one question and he said this one answer and I can’t find it anywhere. And I’ve got to know, I don’t know where it is. I don’t have it in any of my journals.” I was frantic.
Well, thankfully, my sister, Julianne, is a Notes app journaler. And she says, “Well, here it is, Jennifer.” And she took a screenshot and sent it to me.
And I think that that’s the power of it. This memory-keeping journal, if I don’t write things down, it’s just all these things that I think I would never forget. I do.
I wish that I had written down the way I felt on my wedding day. Things that I thought that I would never forget. And I don’t remember some details. I wish that I would have written down more about the way I felt when my girls were born. And I didn’t. And so much of it is gone.
23:41 Ann Kroeker I didn’t either. And I, like you, I regret it. In those moments though, it’s so like you’re getting married or you’re in the thick of dealing with a newborn. It’s really hard to figure out how, “Oh, I’m going to take a moment now to pull out my journal.” And in the chaos, “Hold on a second, honey. I know it’s our wedding night, but I got to write some things down.” How do we find appropriate times to capture the moment before it’s gone, but not interrupt life?
24:09 Jennifer Dukes Lee Right. I mean, obviously you don’t have to do it the night of, or, you know, like I didn’t pull out my journal at dad’s funeral or anything like that. But when I did get home and the dust had settled … like, I’ll just read this. All these things mean something to me. “Co-regulation, clap offering, my hand on dad’s chest, the hidden stairs, how Justin came from Canada. When you place your hand on your own heart when you talk to people.” I know what all those things mean. They don’t mean anything to anybody else. But because I have just that snippet, now I can build that out more.
So I didn’t have time. I didn’t have the energy. I still don’t have, in some ways, the capacity emotionally to address some of these in full, but I have enough there now that the memory is immediately coming back.
So that would be one way to do it. It’s not this, I think this counts as journaling. Lists count as journaling.
25:10 Ann Kroeker Yes. So you’ve got little fragments, you’ve got key words. Maybe you have some multi-sensory elements you want to remember and retain. Maybe the actual phrase seems key based on what you said about that frantic feeling that you lost what your dad had said. Those seem like things to preserve without having to take the time to write the whole story. Is that what I’m hearing?
25:29 Jennifer Dukes Lee That’s exactly right. And sometimes it’s just too painful to write. But, you know, I mean, Julianne, my sister had written down all of these conversations and all these things that dad had said in the last month of his life. And I was just hoping that her journaling, that counts as journaling, that it would be there. And I am so used to having my fingertips be able to find those things that when I couldn’t, it was really troubling to me.
25:51 Ann Kroeker Wow. I don’t know if you’ve heard of this person. His name is Matthew Dicks and he encourages what he gives an assignment that he calls “Homework for Life.” Have you ever heard of him?
[Jennifer shakes her head no.]
Homework for Life has to be done daily to really reap all the fruits from it. Does all journaling have to be daily?
So, he wrote a book called Storyworthy and helps people—trains people—on how to tell better stories. He’s a Moth Story Slam winner and trains people through a program. But this Homework for Life is very much like what you just described with these little fragments. That’s why I thought maybe you are familiar with it.
And he keeps it all in a spreadsheet and he encourages people to do it every single day. “Ask yourself, what’s the most story worthy moment from your day?” And like you, he says you don’t have to write it all out. Just the little fragments that are going to bring it to mind so you can access that memory later.
And of course he’s just picking one moment from the day, one story from the day that you can connect with other stories. So he encourages it has to be … homework for life has to be done daily to really reap all the fruits from it. So one question I would have for you is, do you agree with that mindset that to do it daily is critical? Do you feel that’s true?
A lot of what makes its way into books are very ordinary things.
26:59 Jennifer Dukes Lee I don’t know that I do it daily, but it makes me want to! Because, you know, these things were ones that seemed like big moments to me. But in the end, a lot of what makes its way, if let’s say, let’s say we’re talking directly to the writer at this moment, a lot of what makes its way into books are very ordinary things.
And I suppose in a way, my gratitude journal offers that. But there’s some things I’m not grateful for that should also be listed. So I’m learning a new practice. But the essence of what he’s talking about is what I’ve been doing intuitively. I just didn’t know it had a name and I love it.
27:38 Ann Kroeker It is trademarked. So you can’t steal it, but you can certainly give him credit.
Jennifer Dukes Lee and I can use it. I can use it in my own life. I love that.
Ann Kroeker He has a nice TEDx talk that you can watch to follow that.
Jennifer Dukes Lee I’m writing it down right now.
Ann Kroeker Put it in your commonplace journal!
Jennifer Dukes Lee I’m literally typing it into the one that’s on my desktop. This is what I do!
Ann Kroeker There we go. Right at hand.
28:07 Ann Kroeker When it comes to writers, then, you talked about getting started for anybody who might be listening in, but especially for the writers—because as you say, that’s the audience here that we’re talking with …
We’ve talked about using a guided journal if you really don’t know where to start or if you want to be “courageously honest and beautifully ruthless” in your self-discovery.
In order to do that deep dive that you might want to do in your creative nonfiction, maybe in your online writing, or even as a novelist to get down to the real human condition that’s within—to infuse some of your characters with certain aspects, memories, struggles … so, right? That would be one outcome of it.
Then you also talked about the gratitude journal.
But is there any other writing-specific practice related to journaling that comes to mind that’s different from that or is that sufficient? Those two?
28:56 Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah. No, I think that’s good.
One that just came to mind as you were talking is every once in a while, well, quite often, I will see something just sort of interesting and I will sit down to write about it to see where it goes. I don’t even know what it means until…
So I’ll just read you an example from the journal. This is going to be kind of weird. Okay. So a bit of context is I was driving up the driveway and I saw pheasants along the driveway. Okay. And I was just observing them. Side note, I’ve been kind of obsessed with birds lately. That’s a whole other story. But okay. So here it is … I just came down and wrote:
“You know how pheasants do that thing where they run alongside your car, scared out of their minds, running as fast as they can. And then they take flight, but they stay low. They can’t fly any higher because of their weight. But for a time, they soar like any other bird can, but low, like you could reach up and grab them. This is the way I fly in my dreams. Soaring only for a little while low, always afraid someone is going to pull me out of the sky.”
So I didn’t know the part about me until I started writing about the pheasant. And I still don’t fully know what it means, but it’s, it’s the start of something that is, it says something to me about the way I dream.
And I’m wondering if it says something about me regarding the way I dream about my future. I wonder if it says something about how I’m afraid that I’m not really going to soar, that I’m not going to get high as high as the other birds and that I’m going to be pulled down.
To me, it seems to suggest that I’m not very good at dreaming big.
All from a pheasant.
So, you know, I mean, maybe that’s like super weird or super deep, but that, I think that’s the kind of thing that a journal can do as you, you know, as you go along.
So like, you know, like Lydia [her daughter], she’s been at Oxford for the past six months and she’s been telling me about “wild swimming.” That’s what they call it. If you don’t swim in a pool, you’re in a lake or a river or a pond, it’s called wild swimming, which I really, really like. So I’ve got this little start of something about wild swimming here. I have no idea what that means, or if there’s any, it doesn’t necessarily mean there’s any big lesson about it, but I just think it’s interesting concept, like the term wild swimming. So there you have it. I just, I think it’s just fun to explore ideas and nature and the things around us.
So many times we, we don’t trust the spark.
31:22 Ann Kroeker And you trusted that little spark that came to mind when you saw the pheasants, not knowing it was going to make that connection to your dreams, right? Like you just saw the pheasants and you went in and you captured the moment based on that spark.
I think so many times we, we don’t trust the spark. Anne Lamott talks about how everyone should carry a pencil because you get those little thoughts and then you don’t have something to write it down. Of course, this is before the time of smartphones, but you know, sometimes even with our smartphones, we don’t take that extra beat to say, “Ah! I noticed something” or “Something caught my attention and I have a little spark.” And if it doesn’t seem like much; we ignore it, maybe.
And I think your, your trust and your attentiveness to that moment, attending to it on paper or on, on a smartphone, you are capturing that and letting it go where it leads when you, when you have time to write it through it. I find that excellent advice for any writer.
John Steinbeck kept a journal while he was writing one of his books. I think it was East of Eden that he was writing through as a writing journal. So it would be sort of chronicling how much he got done and wondering about some of the questions and bemoaning himself, his own writing skill and feeling like he’s not, he’s not capable of doing it.
So that’s specifically a writing journal related to that book, but also there are writing journals where, so not just associated with a book project or a work in progress, but also just about your writing life. Are any of your journals, would you say any of them are sort of dedicated to you as writer or is all sort of, you know, linked together?
32:55 Jennifer Dukes Lee It is all sort of linked together. However, for most of my books, I’ve had, you know, kind of like this college bound, you know, this kind of thing. Well, there’s some of my notes that aren’t probably very much related to this, but I keep notes like that for my books.
And then what’s get, what’s here ends up on those cards. So it’s not pretty, it’s not as orderly as what you’re describing, but I do have dedicated notebooks so that I can write down ideas specific to the book as it’s forming. I have one going right now for my next book project and it’s, it’s helping me make some sense of it.
33:38 Ann Kroeker I think finding the type of journaling that works for you seems key. And I just love that you’re kind of all over the place.
Jennifer Dukes Lee I am.
Ann Kroeker And I think that’s just so refreshing because I tend to be more like, “I need to consolidate. I can’t find what I’m looking for. I’m never going to find what’s in a printed,” you know, written down on pages. I would have to look and look and look.
And for me, just to give our audience a different way of thinking about it, I do like to keep it all in one place. So it’s searchable. So I, you know, with one, you know, with a little bit of keyword searching, I can find what I’m looking for and then it’s much faster. It’s all in one place because the scatteredness would make me so crazy.
And again, like I said, I don’t think I would want to have a whole big tote bag with all my journals, but I really, really love that people who are drawn to that could then just grab the one you had some, you showed us, you held up your journals so we could see what they look like. And they each have a different look and feel. And one was so plain as you showed us and one had had some floral designs on it. And one is more like a bound book. And then of course, Stuff I’d Only Tell God is also a bound book that we can move through writing directly on the pages. And so anyway, I just love this variety, I guess. I just like giving people options that there isn’t one right way to do this.
35:01 Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah. It surprises me, given my personality type that I actually do like this because I tend to be pretty like orderly in life. But in a way for me, this has order because each one has its purpose.
One is for praying for people, one is for praying for my kids, one is for gratitude. So I know if I’m in the prayer journals, I don’t really use for my books, I don’t suppose. But yeah, I kind of just know where the thing is. I will have to flip around to find things for sure.
Ann Kroeker It’s like if we had boxes or tubs that were labeled and this is where the Christmas supplies are and this is where packing material is, we would be opening the box to get what we need. It seems like that’s how you’re treating these different journals with different purposes.
Jennifer Dukes Lee That’s right.
Ann Kroeker Is there anything we haven’t covered today that you would want to share with a bunch of writers who are really thinking now, right now about journaling, that intersection of journaling and writing?
Journaling is a way to [build your author platform] with confidence and with joy.
36:01 Jennifer Dukes Lee I want to emphasize again how, I mean, if you’re a writer, you know the P word “platform,” right? I mean, if you want to get published by a traditional publisher, even if you aren’t wanting to get published by a traditional publisher, you need to grow your platform so people can find you and find out about your book, right?
Journaling is a way to do that with confidence and with joy.
You can look back on something you’ve written and see a nugget in there and you know you don’t have to share it word for word. You could leave out some of the hard details, but maybe just going one step further than you feel comfortable with, I think that you will see fruit with it too and that’ll give you more confidence and that will bring you more joy in the process of the social media piece of writing.
Social media for us is writing. It is such a gift, such an opportunity!
I hear some, I mean, probably 90% of the writers I know, say, “I don’t like social media because I don’t like selling myself. I don’t like it,” and I’m like, “Social media for us is writing. It is such a gift, such an opportunity!”
We don’t have to wait two years to get to make an impact with our words. We have an opportunity to do it every single day on socials and to make a difference like right away.
It’s a great place to practice your craft. It’s a great place to build, at the same time, build an audience.
It’s a great place to impact other people’s lives.
So I just encourage you to view social media that way as kind of an online journal that you’re letting people read in a way that you feel comfortable with and maybe even a little uncomfortable with, but just to approach it that way and to see what happens.
I just encourage you to view social media that way as kind of an online journal that you’re letting people read.
37:44 Ann Kroeker I 100% agree with all of that. It’s a way to distinguish ourselves from others who might be in a similar sort of space as what we are in.
When we tell our stories, they’re our stories and nobody else can tell those stories. Nobody else can reveal those pieces of ourselves.
And it’s also another sort of pushback to what AI is producing. They can’t produce our stories. They might be able to organize things nicely and give us suggestions for how to present content, but it can’t tell our stories.
And that comes from places like Stuff I’d Only Tell God.
And I guess I have one more thing came to mind before we close this out. When we’re telling our stories—and you touched on this a little bit, but I want to go just a step beyond with—when we share other people who are in our stories publicly, we have that frequent fear that memoirists face.
If somebody else is in my story—and almost all the time somebody else is in the story—how do we protect ourselves and not protect them? Because what if someone shouldn’t be protected, right?
How do we deal with that tricky issue and if we’re worried about any kind of negative impact for those relationships for the living or the dead … but mostly the living?
Be as transparent as you can with people before you put it out into the world.
39:08 Jennifer Dukes Lee Yeah. So first of all, there are the big picture legal issues you have to think about, right?
I would not just throw some stuff out on social media. Put it in your manuscript and then have your publisher do a legal review on it. I do that all the time with my authors if something seems a little bit touchy.
And so then if you really feel the story is needed, you will either need to A, get their permission or B, get corroboration for it and you may need to revise the content.
Now that’s a more of a negative piece, right? But I just had an author last week turned in their first manuscript and they had a story that was very kind toward the other people, but it involved the husband having gone through an injury of some sort that was debilitating in his life. And I said, “This is a great story. It’s a great example, but you’re going to need to have them sign a waiver of permission.” Right?
And so I think that the legal thing is a huge factor.
And then second, you have to ask, “Is this worth it? It’ll serve the story, but is it worth it?” Count the cost. Think about what you might lose and only you can decide if it’s worth it.
If it’s a life story and it involves things that your mom did when you were little that left you feeling alone and abandoned, you’re going to have to think through. Is it worth it? You’re going to have to think through, “Will this possibly bring me closer to Mom? If I share this with her before publication and say, ‘Mom, you know, I know we’ve patched things up now, but I’m going to share this story from my childhood just all along the way.'” Is it worth it?
And just be as transparent as you can with people before you put it out into the world.
I don’t tend to write stories about even my husband or my kids without saying, “Hey, this, do you mind if I share this situation?”
41:04 Ann Kroeker This would count also for social media posts, blog posts as well?
41:08 Jennifer Dukes Lee Yes, absolutely. And then you don’t have, unless you’re a lawyer or have one, you don’t have the benefit of those harder stories. So you just have to be a little bit more careful.
But I don’t tend to write stories about even my husband or my kids without saying, “Hey, this, do you mind if I share this situation?”
Anna has been — our younger daughter has been pretty public about her battle with depression and anxiety. And in fact, we went to Indiana together where she spoke at a conference with me and shared the stage with me. So she’s been very open about her battle with depression.
Even so, anytime I talk about it in anything, I have a read it first, or I read it to her first, or I’m not going to publish it. Scott, the same way, you know, I’m like, “Hey, honey, I’m going to put a post up about our anniversary. Is that okay?” It’s glowing. It’s wonderful. And he says yes, and he’s supportive of my work.
But for me, that’s really important to keep other people in the loop.
Ann Kroeker Do you have them sign a release?
Jennifer Dukes Lee No. It’s worked for me so far, though. I’ve been doing this again since 2009 and I haven’t gotten in trouble yet. Cross our fingers that it doesn’t happen like, today!
42:30 Ann Kroeker That’s great. Well, your training in those early years as a reporter? You understand maybe more how to navigate that.
But it seems like what you do most is you share from really your own … it’s more about you and your struggles and your questions and the things that you’re wondering about. And I think that comes through loud and clear on all of your social media and your blog posts, all that content.
And speaking of which, now that we’ve had this great conversation, I’m sure that people who are tuning in are dying to know how to get to know you better. So how can people, what’s the best way for people to connect with you?
43:04 Jennifer Dukes Lee I’m on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, @JenniferDukesLee. And I’m also on Instagram at @StuffIdOnlyTellGod — which has been kind of fun. We’re just going through the journal together and just journaling tips, all those kinds of things.
And my website is Jennifer Dukes Lee (jenniferdukeslee.com) as well.
Ann Kroeker Fantastic. Jennifer, thanks for your time today, for giving so much of your life to us, in the book, but also today as we’ve interacted.
I think you’ve probably given people a lot to think about and a lot to write about.
Jennifer Dukes Lee Awesome. Well, thank you so much.
Ann Kroeker Well, I hope you enjoyed this interview as much as I did. You can find all the links and all the information you need related to this episode at annkroeker.com/JDLStuff.
And I’m Ann Kroeker, cheering you on as your writing coach. Everywhere where you may meet, at my website, on this show, or even in person, I’m always looking for ideas to share with you that will help you achieve your goals and have fun by being more curious, creative, and productive. Thank you for being here.
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