Tips on Writing
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
you need to be reading
- Is it effective for you - does it minister to you?
- Does it have an effective and fresh use of
- Does it have a compelling story?
- Does it have a single point and application or
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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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
- 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
- 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.
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
Jeanette's Five Tips for Writing
Devotional writer Jeanette Hanscome shares a piece "On
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
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
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
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
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
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
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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Devotional Tips, and Sample Cover Letter and
Carol Lee Hall, the author of
For Those Who Serve: A Devotional For Church
Volunteers, shares her tips for writing
- 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
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Devotional Writing Resources
on the Web