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Writing Devotionals

Tips on Writing Devotionals
Tips to Make Your Devotions Great
Make Your Devotional Book Unique
Jeanette's Five Tips for Writing Devotionals
Carol's Tips, Sample Cover Letter and Proposal
Devotional Writing Resources on the Web

Tips on Writing Devotionals

To write devotions,
you need to be reading

Devotionals are about God, man, and their relationship. Typically, they are written in a short, one page, one-a-day format. John Drury, a pastor and writer of many devotionals, encourages you to put yourself in a receptive frame of mind. Imagine you have your cup of coffee at the breakfast table, or are relaxing in your easy chair. Now imagine that you are personally overloaded, burdened. Then read the devotional carefully:

  • Is it effective for you - does it minister to you?
  • Does it have an effective and fresh use of Scripture?
  • Does it have a compelling story?
  • Does it have a single point and application or “take-away?”

Nurture your own devotional life. Journal your own pilgrimage. Many of the turns in your walk with God will provide points for devotionals. Keep a record of stories.

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Tips to Making Your Devotions Great

John Drury shares tips from his Devotionals: A Great Place to Learn Your Craft workshop:

  • Write first to minister God's truth. All ideas come from God.
  • Then write to change a life. In bulletin devotionals I used to visualize someone hurting in the pew. Hurt of our society - two generations away from mom & pop & the kids down on the farm. Under every addict is a broken heart. Where is your broken heart? Central to my purpose is to heal even as I have been healed. We minister best in pain.
  • Use something that touches your own heart.
  • Learn to work with writer's guidelines and the format of the publication. Read the publication and see how they reflect the guidelines.
  • The honing of one effective point and application is important. It uses all the basic skills you need anywhere in writing. Editors very commonly respond, “There's not just one point here. There are three.”
  • Learn to use Scripture effectively. Something fresh. How has Scripture hit you in a powerful way?
  • Learn to use anecdotes effectively. I remember when an editor commented, “It's anecdotal.” I didn't have a clue what that meant. Do not use theology alone, a weak illustration, or even a moderately good one. Look for a killer illustration. It has to seize the reader's attention. Put the grabber up front in the lead. Storytelling is a powerful way to sell an idea.
  • Don't be preachy. You can't stand above the reader's level and wag your finger at him. This is a difficult point to learn at first. You must stand on eye level with the reader. Sharing your flaws is a better communication tool than sharing your perfections.

Make Your Devotional Book Unique

Lynne Thompson is the author of The Official Soccer Mom Devotional published by Regal Books. Lynne shares how she made her devotional book unique. "If you're always on the go-driving the kids to and from school, soccer practice, music lessons, scouting, and more-and finding time alone with God is difficult, keep this collection of 50 brief devotions in the car and fill those 'waiting' moments with conversational readings, Scripture, parenting tips, puzzles, and more. I had the idea of 'extra equipment' in the beginning. I figured Moms could spend quality time alone with God in the car/van and then give their mind a break from mommyhood with games, puzzles, and quizzes - giving moms time to refresh and then get back into the game.” In the link below, Lynne shares her book proposal:
Book Proposal for The Official Soccer Mom Devotional Adobe Acrobat

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Jeanette's Five Tips for Writing Devotionals

Devotional writer Jeanette Hanscome shares a piece "On Writing Devotions."

At my second Mount Hermon Writer's Conference I submitted a personal experience story for critique. My manuscript came back, covered with helpful comments. Then I talked one-on-one with Christine, the woman who reviewed my work.
  “Go home, add a scripture to this piece, add a prayer at the end, and submit it The Upper Room as a devotional,” she instructed me. “You are a devotional writer.”
  Those words resonated in my ears. Me, a devotional writer? Didn't I need to be a Bible scholar in order to write daily devotionals? But Christine seemed to have confidence in my ability to write them, so I decided to give it a shot, just for fun. While that piece didn't sell as a devotional (it sold as a short filler instead) I discovered a new niche for myself as a writer. Not only could I write devotions, but I thoroughly enjoyed them. I have gone on to write dozens of devotions, including several to The Upper Room, their teen version Devo'Zine, and The Secret Place. I regularly write assigned devotional lessons for Standard Publishing's teen publication Encounter-the Magazine and recently wrote a book of them for Focus on the Family's Brio Devotional Series, entitled Want More? Joy.
  Obviously my thoughts that I needed a degree in theology in order to qualify as a devotional writer were a little off base. I did however, have a lot to learn about the process of writing and submitting them.
  Like me, you may feel a tug to turn life lessons and unique moments with God into devotional readers, or even an entire devotional book. Here are my five tips for writing devotions.

Tip 1: Do your homework. Most devotions run between 200 and 300 words and include the following: a scripture reference, one verse written out (including Bible translation). They open with a true-to-life illustration, transition into a tie-in to the scripture and end with a prayer. Some often include a “thought for the day”. However, as with magazines and book publishers, style, format, and word count vary. So (I'm sure you've heard this a bazillion times) request guidelines and follow them closely. Keep in mind that some devotional publishers prefer certain Bible translations, or specifically ask writers NOT to use others. Pay attention to details like that. Be sure to read recent issues of the devotional magazine that you hope to write for, to get a feel for their style. Some prefer a more formal tone while others are light and conversational, and you'll want to write accordingly.

Tip 2: Write a lot of them, even if they are just for you. Devotional writing is a unique craft. You have very few words in which to tell your story and make a point, according to what God has taught you through His Word. When I first started writing, I found that devotions often flowed from my personal quiet times. Some of these were so personal that I didn't want to share them with the world. Still they provided me with practice and helped me find my style and voice. You may want to make devotional writing an extension of your time with God, as you meditate on what He is teaching you. Then polish and submit those that you fell led to share with others.

Tip 3: Say something new. You'll read this tip again and again, in guidelines for popular devotional magazines-“Avoid common or over-used passages.” Think about it. What do you typically do when your devotional reading for the day includes John 3:16 or a reference to Psalm 91? If you're like me, you skip the verse or Scripture reading because you have it memorized then skim the reading, figuring that you know exactly what it will be about. So stay away from verses that have, sadly, become Christian clichés. Instead choose those that made you stop and think more deeply about the meaning, or became precious to you during a difficult time.

If you must use a common verse, try to put a new twist on it (assuming that twist is the truth-another important thing to watch for). For example, instead of using the story of the rich young ruler as an example of how difficult it is for the wealthy to enter the Kingdom, I used it to illustrate the distractions of the World, and how the enemy so often uses them to keep us from what Christ has to offer. Catch an editor's eye by saying something that hasn't been repeated in scores of devotions already.
Keep this in mind when writing the closing prayer as well. I can't count how many devotions that I have read that ended with “And Lord, teach us to pray, Our Father . . . “(I'm sure you know the rest of the Lord's Prayer). Let the honest prayer of your heart spill onto the page, limiting it to around two sentences.

Tip 4: Choose the right illustration. Remember that your opening illustration is your first impression, with editors and readers. Most devotional writers open with examples from real life-tender moments with their kids, times of crisis or illness, and life lessons. Some are funny, others are tear-jerking serious. Great alternatives are interesting news stories, trivia, or historical facts. Occasionally I open with the story from that day's scripture. “Jonah was in a terrible jam. Worst of all, he only had himself to blame.” Then I bring my personal experience in and tie it to the scripture. Whatever you open with, make sure that it is original, meaningful and will speak to a variety of people. Keep your audience in mind when deciding how to open. You wouldn't want to use a special parenting moment to open a devotional for teens or a bit of youth-friendly trivia in a meditation for senior citizens.

Avoid cheesy illustrations. Here is my favorite example of cheesiness, compliments of my teenage son who was complaining about the devotional book that I'd chosen for our nighttime prayer time. “As I was talking the isles of the grocery store, I spotted the bread isle and realized that I desperately needed some at home. Then God spoke to my heart, reminding me that, just as I need bread to live, I also need the daily bread of His Word.” True, but cheesy. Challenge yourself to dig deeper, even if the message is simple. There are enough shallow devotionals on the shelves.
If you hope to submit to a magazine like The Upper Room, which is translated into many different languages and circulated around worldwide, stay away from examples that only an American would appreciate, like an experience that you had at a Building 429 concert or while rushing through Costco. Instead use an experience that you had with a friend or your spouse, or some other universal theme.

Tip 5: Save the preaching for your pastor. Nothing brings hope like a story told by someone who has been there and, better yet, survived to tell about it. The best devotions flow from a vulnerable heart that is willing to share what God revealed in those dark, frustrating, or even embarrassing moments. Instead of telling your reader how to live, what to believe, and what God commands, share what He taught you. Let your reader learn and grow with you.

Assignment: Sharing the gems of God's Word, and what He teaches us in our daily, ordinary lives is great privilege. Here is your assignment for the day. Try turning a recent experience or lesson into a 250-devotional for a magazine like The Upper Room or The Secret Place. Thank God in advance for what He will do through your story.

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Carol's Devotional Tips, and Sample Cover Letter and Proposal

Carol Lee Hall, the author of For Those Who Serve: A Devotional For Church Volunteers, shares her tips for writing devotionals:

  • Focus on one point you want to get across
  • Write the kind of devotions that you like to read
  • Keep it short
  • Take a class on writing devotions at a conference
  • Pick a topic that means a lot to you
  • Use an incident that happened in your life

Carol graciously shares her cover letter and proposal for her devotional book. Click on the links below to see her submissions:

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Devotional Writing Resources on the Web