© 2013 Dianne Neal Matthews
I attended my first writers’ conference with my only two samples of writing: an article for the manuscript evaluation and a short piece about a spiritual lesson my cat taught me. Since Warner Press was looking for writers to submit devotions for their church bulletins, I showed the cat piece to the editor. “I think you might be a natural devotion writer,” she said.
Since that time I’ve published two thousand devotions, including those in my four one-year devotional books. I’ve never followed a set formula, but here are a few suggestions:
Make every word count.
Writing devotions is excellent training because it forces you to write tight, concise pieces (which editors love). When you have a 300-word limit, cutting out unnecessary words becomes instinctive. Whether your devotion is drawn from a story or a biblical passage, make sure it’s centered on a single spiritual point.
Use creative illustrations.
The Bible is filled with stories, metaphors, symbols, and word pictures to explain spiritual principles. Our world is also filled with an endless source of illustrations to convey spiritual truth. Think about personal experiences, holidays, historical events, current news, science, nature, or cute things your kids/grandkids say. Keep your eyes and ears open, and you’ll never run out of ideas.
Show the relevance of Scripture.
Pair the story of a biblical character with a scenario of a person today struggling with the same problem. Relate customs in the Bible to contemporary traditions. Every scriptural passage offers life lessons that apply to the twenty-first century.
Beware of preachiness.
All the editors I’ve worked with prefer an informal conversational tone. Use “I” or “we” instead of “you.” Avoid words like “should.” Your goal is to invite the reader to join you in your own spiritual journey.
Use fiction techniques.
Include a couple of lines of dialogue or inner thought when appropriate. Engage the reader’s senses through description. Appeal to the emotions, not just the intellect. You’ve heard the advice, “Show, don’t tell.” That may be harder with a 300-word devotion, but it still applies.
End with practical takeaway.
Imagine your readers asking, “How can I take this Scripture or truth and apply it to my life today?” Whether you end with a question, prayer, or faith step, design your closing thought to linger in their minds. Then pray that God’s Word will do its life-changing work in everyone who reads the devotion.
Dianne Neal Matthews is a freelance writer and the author of four daily devotional books including The One Year Women of the Bible (Tyndale House) and Designed for Devotion: A 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation (Baker Books). Designed for Devotion won a 2013 Selah Award. She writes for websites and blogs (such as CBN.com and FindingGodDaily.com), contributes to compilations (including Guideposts’Mornings with Jesus), and enjoys teaching at conferences. She and her husband, Richard, live in Salt Lake City.