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Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

These lessons, by one of our most consistent FaithWriters' Challenge Champions, should not be missed. So we're making a permanent home for them here.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Come forth » Fri Jan 10, 2014 6:24 pm

Hi Jan, and all who sail here.

I'd like to make a few comments before I do my homework if I may.

I lovethe freedom of expression here. Sheldon's comments are so valid, and yet I don't see them in conflict with Jan's, simply different because we are all different. What ministers to one heart with the power of a cleansing wind, simply blows away the attention span of another. A devotional that causes one person's heart to beat faster in love for their Daddy causes another to reach for their latest fictional read to releave the boredom.

We are all different and respond to different writing. So what am I like?

I stopped reading daily devotionals years ago out of great boredom and being fed up with the Christianese. I, confession time, almost never read Scripture quotations at the beginning of a devotional. I just skip right over it and jump to the storyline. But, if the Scripture is in the body of the text and relevant to what is being said, then I'll check it out to see how it applies.

Another point for me is that I agree with Sheldon that devotionals are not meant to entertain, they are meant to impact and change my life because they speak into the most important relationship in my life. For me, that dosen't happen with the old tried and proven method of writing a devotional. Hit me between the eyes, like Rachel did when she invited me into her kid's bedroom, and my heart will open up ready to receive. (And it did)

Like I said, we are all different and no-one can write anything that is wonderful to everybody. I love the idea of Lyn speaking out in that southern voice and revealing herself, speaking from her experiences just exactly as she would to her next door neighbour. And yet, as we see with the responses from so many to the standard devotional format, it works and ministers into their heats.

This lesson has inspired me to think and pray about this subject and to consider becoming a devotional writer.

Thanks Jan and to everyone for letting me share.

I'm flat out right now but will do the homework later. Blessings, Graham.
May we all get eyes to see and ears to hear,
A Revelation of His Word, crystal clear.
Admitting our need to be drawn in,
Less of self, more of Him.

My prayer for us all.
God bless us with the Revelation of His Word, Graham
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby CatLin » Fri Jan 10, 2014 6:38 pm

Finally, even though devotionals are aimed at Christians, I'm the kind of writer who always hopes that a non-Christian will some day encounter something that I've written. I want to write in such a way that she will keep reading.


My desire exactly! I always keep the non-believer and questioner in mind when writing devotions.

Jan, your devotion is amazing! Using the points you provided, here are my comments. :)

“great hook” and “great storytelling” – These two go hand in hand in your opening vignette.
“Don’t abandon humor” – If irony is a form of humor, then you did well with this.
"language should be rich” You open with “and a new mother’s heart squeezes out an anguished no…”. Need I say more?
“unusual structure” Definitely not your mama’s devotion. Well done.
“great ending” – You let Scripture provide the path to a very satisfying ending.
“avoid Christianese” - This was first on your list, but I wanted to end here. I would definitely feel comfortable sharing this with friends who are crying out “WHY?" Nicely done.

My favorite quote:
How small my God would be, if His every act could be placed in a pretty box and tied up with a tidy ribbon! How little faith would then be required of me!


Here is a link to a devotion I wrote for the challenge. It didn't even place in the top 40, and I'm not sure why. I'd love your honest critique.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=33720

Thanks for starting the lessons again - and this first one is awesome!
Cat
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Fri Jan 10, 2014 6:51 pm

Come forth wrote:This lesson has inspired me to think and pray about this subject and to consider becoming a devotional writer.

I'm flat out right now but will do the homework later. Blessings, Graham.


Well, there you go. That's what I hope for, when I write any of these lessons--that a reader will use it as a springboard for his or her writing!

Looking forward to your homework.

j
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Vonnie » Fri Jan 10, 2014 7:04 pm

Hi Jan, Thanks for directing me to this forum. I do love reading devotionals and enjoy writing them even more. I'm just learning so appreciate any help I can get. My goal is to write a three-month devotional this year.

I didn't really see humor in your piece, it was more like sarcasm. I agree that the unusual or a personal touch is what I like best in a devotional. Most of mine tend to be about what I have learned through an experience and let the reader see if it relates to their life. I also tend to write between 400 and 500 words.
Here is one I am working on that I just am not satisfied with but can't figure out why. See what you think. It's a lot shorter than I usually write.

Missing Ingredient

Today I baked some friendship bread. It you have not heard of this bread, it is similar to banana or pumpkin bread. I mixed it up quickly, threw it in the oven, and went about my next project. Suddenly it came to mind that I might have forgotten to put in that second cup of flour. Oh no, I thought, what is this bread going to look like without that ingredient?
I know what the problem is. I was so busy planning my next project and hurrying to get things done, that I became distracted from the present task. Well the bread had to be baked a little longer, it did not rise like it should, and it fell apart when I tried to cut it in slices. The only consolation was that it tasted good.
Since I did get some flour in the bread, it was not a complete disaster. Yet, having only part of this ingredient made a big difference in the finished project.
So, too it is with our witness for Christ. I think of the verses II Corinthians 13: 1-3 about having the gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and faith; but it you have not love, it is nothing. Leaving out the ingredient of ‘love’ makes all our efforts of little or no value.
We can get very busy doing all our Christian things, like teaching bible studies, giving to the poor, preaching the Word or many other church duties, but if we don’t have love, it will be of little effect.
Maybe having a little love, like a little flour, will bring some results and influence a few lives. However, if that love is not very strong, our efforts could fall apart in the end and prove unprofitable.
Let’s not forget the other ingredients to a great walk with the Lord, faith, hope, wisdom, peace, etc. Without even one of these, we are lacking an impact in our lives and others.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Fri Jan 10, 2014 7:26 pm

CatLin wrote:Here is a link to a devotion I wrote for the challenge. It didn't even place in the top 40, and I'm not sure why. I'd love your honest critique.
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=33720

Thanks for starting the lessons again - and this first one is awesome!
Cat


Cat, I just wrote a nice long reply to this, and it seems to have disappeared. Rats! Trying again...

First of all, who knows why this didn't register with the judges that week. It may be that the judges on duty that week were squeamish about cold sores, or not inclined toward devotionals, or any number of other things. There's nothing wrong with this, and I enjoyed reading it, considerably.

I'll use my lesson as a sort of check list (although not every item on the lesson needs to be present in every devotional).

1. Avoid Christianese--in your piece, this would be most likely to show up in the last few paragraphs. There may be a hint of it in the last sentence, but it's nothing that a non-Christian or a very young Christian wouldn't understand.
2. Great hook--You start with tension, and then quickly add tension on top of tension. Hooked!
3. Characters, dialog, and creativity--check, not really, and check--and that's fine.
4. Humor--Yes, and it's self-deprecating humor, the nicest kind.
5. Rich language--Yes. Your itching pustules are full of wonderful (?) imagery
6. Unusual structure--Yes. It starts out in storytelling mode, and concludes with the life application and the scripture.
7. Great ending--Yes. Your cold sore metaphor continues to the very last sentence.

This is a top rate piece of writing, Cat!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Fri Jan 10, 2014 7:44 pm

Vonnie wrote:
Missing Ingredient

Today I baked some friendship bread. It you have not heard of this bread, it is similar to banana or pumpkin bread. I mixed it up quickly, threw it in the oven, and went about my next project. Suddenly it came to mind that I might have forgotten to put in that second cup of flour. Oh no, I thought, what is this bread going to look like without that ingredient?
I know what the problem is. I was so busy planning my next project and hurrying to get things done, that I became distracted from the present task. Well the bread had to be baked a little longer, it did not rise like it should, and it fell apart when I tried to cut it in slices. The only consolation was that it tasted good.
Since I did get some flour in the bread, it was not a complete disaster. Yet, having only part of this ingredient made a big difference in the finished project.
So, too it is with our witness for Christ. I think of the verses II Corinthians 13: 1-3 about having the gifts of speaking in tongues, prophecy, knowledge, and faith; but it you have not love, it is nothing. Leaving out the ingredient of ‘love’ makes all our efforts of little or no value.
We can get very busy doing all our Christian things, like teaching bible studies, giving to the poor, preaching the Word or many other church duties, but if we don’t have love, it will be of little effect.
Maybe having a little love, like a little flour, will bring some results and influence a few lives. However, if that love is not very strong, our efforts could fall apart in the end and prove unprofitable.
Let’s not forget the other ingredients to a great walk with the Lord, faith, hope, wisdom, peace, etc. Without even one of these, we are lacking an impact in our lives and others.


Hi, Vonnie--

First of all, I should have been clearer that not every point of the 7 I mentioned in the lesson needs to be present in every devotional. I've actually been somewhat alarmed at the people who've found humor in the devotional that I linked to. I didn't intend humor (or sarcasm!) at all, and if I ever re-visit that one, I'll have to take a closer look at that.

As far as your devotional, a few things occur to me:

I've never heard of "friendship bread," so I was very intrigued by the first half of your piece. I wanted to know more. Why is it called "friendship bread?" What project distracted you? What was your reaction when you took it out of the oven? What did it look like when you were attempting to eat it (maybe a place for a touch of humor)? In short, I wanted more narrative, more details, more of the human touch. Nothing here is bad--in fact, it's so good that I wanted more.

I like that you put the scripture from I Corinthians in the middle (although you mis-typed it as II Corinthians). I think it'd be fine to quote the entire selection, for the benefit of any new Christians who might not be familiar with the passage.

I very much like that you've suggested "love" as your missing ingredient. I think your last two sentences, while quite true, might weaken that premise a bit by suggesting several possible missing ingredients. Since in your real-life example, you only left out one ingredient, the parallel with your spiritual lesson is stronger if you compare the one missing ingredient (flour) to one missing spiritual trait (love). If you were to elaborate a bit on that section (adding more love), I think the devotional would be stronger.

Those are just my thoughts--what do you think?
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby lish1936 » Fri Jan 10, 2014 9:35 pm

Lynn wrote:Same goes for Lillian. Her words are like God's voice speaking to me.


Thanks, Lynn, for your encouraging words. Like you, I write as God directs, then leave the results with Him. There are SO many great writers on this Forum. And I pray that the One who inspires us all will help us always to "fully please Him and make us fruitfill in every good work."

Many blessings,

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby tomoral » Sat Jan 11, 2014 12:14 am

For His Glory

Although my faith in a God that has saved my life, as well as my soul, is strong, there are times when evil attempts to invade my serenity and peace. It speaks in a loud and sometimes urgent voice that I have sinned so much in the past that no deity alive could forgive me. It twists my truth and nags at my conscience until I drop to my knees in prayer.

That's what I do. I go to the only power that can overcome evil's meddling. Christ didn't save my life to be unable forgive me. He didn't save my wretched soul while believing I was beyond redemption. The fact that he both forgave and saved tells me I am worthy of His unconditional love.

He didn't even bring on the cancer to punish for any misdeeds and wrongdoings I have committed. I believe just the opposite occurred. Had I not gotten cancer, I am convinced I wouldn't be alive today and by not knowing Christ, I would be in Hell.

The anger and resentment I carried was killing me a lot faster than any tumor ever could. God knew that unless I was rendered totally helpless, I would die without ever being saved. He loved me too much to let that happen. Besides, He had other plans for me. He made me one of His writers.

The doctors that came up with the prognosis that I would only live a few months were wrong. That was five years ago.

John 11:4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."

So when evil nags and lies, I pray, and then I remember what my life was for. It was and is for His Glory.
Last edited by tomoral on Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:55 am, edited 8 times in total.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Vonnie » Sat Jan 11, 2014 2:51 am

Thanks Jan for your comments on my devotional. I agree with you that I should just keep love as the missing "ingredient". I was thinking I might have messed up those last lines. Really appreciate your input on the beginning of the devotional. As for Friendship Bread - some friend gives you a starter in a zip-lock bag. For the next ten days you mush the bag and on certain days add some ingredients like milk and flour. On the tenth day you put 1 cup in each of 4 zip-lock bags, keep one for yourself and give the other three to friends as their starter kit, with directions. With the remaining, you add some more ingredients to and bake two loaves of bread. With your starter kit, you can make bread every ten days and give 3 kits away.

Do you think I could add this information to the devotional and also include that you should give away the bread starters with "love"?

I also wanted to comment that I so much agree with Lillian that a good devotional needs to be something God has inspired you to write. I always ask Him first what He wants me to say. Enjoyed all the comments and info in this class. Blessings, LaVonne

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby write4christ » Sat Jan 11, 2014 5:31 am

Reading devotions is a daily discipline for me, and personally I prefer it to be familiar and predictable in structure. Since each devotion differs in content with different writers, I seldom find it boring to read on.

The devotions I write are primarily targeted at Christians, but I agree that 'Christianese' is not a good way of writing, so I avoid it, except maybe in the closing prayer. Like many other devotional writers, I usually begin the devotion with a verse or two followed by an anecdote, an experiential life story, a testimony, recent news or happening. I keep in mind to try to keep the content current, practical, and preferably timeless—applicable even when shared or read in the future.

Personally, I try not to stick to a particular style of writing and frequently attempt to adapt my writings to what best approach to use to fit the topic, even though I prefer to have it written with a voice of my own. Sharing one's own personal experience usually works better for me, but when the topic is something I have not experienced, I would do my research and tie an event or a story to a biblical context I could work on to reach my audience. I use dialogs and sometimes humor as well.

Objectively, however, writing devotions IMHO should be aimed at ministering and not winning the challenge. Above all, before I begin, I ask God what He would have me write.

I hope this little sharing helps some of us who write devotions. God bless.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby barbaramarie » Sat Jan 11, 2014 8:59 am

Thanks so much, Jan, for your encouraging words. I have to confess that I submitted In His Hands without the awareness that I had written a Devotional.

It seemed to be appropriate for the topic. Was it? What area(s) could I have better expressed?

Reading and Scripture reflection is part of my daily life; I am more comfortable with writing about its meaning rather than quoting it.

I love to write - especially from my heart. The thoughts and feelings I wish to express come quickly and easily. The content is true. I can still see myself looking out the window of the plane that day, and continue to reflect upon its meaningfulness.

I consider myself an extremely inexperienced writer - looking forward to learning from the best.
Sincerely,
Peace,
Barbara

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:19 am

tomoral wrote:For His Glory

Although my faith in a God that has saved my life, as well as my soul, is strong, there are times when evil attempts to invade my serenity and peace. It speaks in a loud and sometimes urgent voice that I have sinned so much in the past that no deity alive could forgive me. It twists my truth and nags at my conscience until I drop to my knees in prayer.

That's what I do. I go to the only power that can overcome evil's meddling. Christ didn't save my life to be unable forgive me. He didn't save my wretched soul while believing I was beyond redemption. The fact that he both forgave and saved tells me I am worthy of His unconditional love.

He didn't even bring on the cancer to punish for any misdeeds and wrongdoings I have committed. I believe just the opposite occurred. Had I not gotten cancer, I am convinced I wouldn't be alive today and by not knowing Christ, I would be in Hell.

The anger and resentment I carried was killing me a lot faster than any tumor ever could. God knew that unless I was rendered totally helpless, I would die without ever being saved. He loved me too much to let that happen. Besides, He had other plans for me. He made me one of His writers.

The doctors that came up with the prognosis that I would only live a few months were wrong. That was five years ago.

John 11:4 When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death. No, it is for God's glory so that God's Son may be glorified through it."

So when evil nags and lies, I pray, and then I remember what my life was for. It was and is for His Glory.


Lynn, this is tremendously moving. It works both at a writerly level and as an effective devotional. It's particularly strong with imagery and figurative language. Well done!

If you've haven't written this story as a narrative, I hope that you'll consider doing so! While this devotional will reach and touch believers, the story of your illness and coming to faith might be hugely moving for non-believers.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:20 am

Vonnie wrote:Do you think I could add this information to the devotional and also include that you should give away the bread starters with "love"?



Absolutely!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:24 am

write4christ wrote:Personally, I try not to stick to a particular style of writing and frequently attempt to adapt my writings to what best approach to use to fit the topic, even though I prefer to have it written with a voice of my own. Sharing one's own personal experience usually works better for me, but when the topic is something I have not experienced, I would do my research and tie an event or a story to a biblical context I could work on to reach my audience. I use dialogs and sometimes humor as well.



Thanks for these tips from one of FWs most consistent and prolific devotional writers! I had hoped that you'd stop by.

I'd love it if you'd care to link to a devotional of yours that contains dialog or humor. I've had a more difficult time finding examples of that type of devotional to post here.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:32 am

barbaramarie wrote:Thanks so much, Jan, for your encouraging words. I have to confess that I submitted In His Hands without the awareness that I had written a Devotional.

It seemed to be appropriate for the topic. Was it? What area(s) could I have better expressed?

Reading and Scripture reflection is part of my daily life; I am more comfortable with writing about its meaning rather than quoting it.

I love to write - especially from my heart. The thoughts and feelings I wish to express come quickly and easily. The content is true. I can still see myself looking out the window of the plane that day, and continue to reflect upon its meaningfulness.

I consider myself an extremely inexperienced writer - looking forward to learning from the best.
Sincerely,


Hi, Barbara--

Welcome to FaithWriters and to the writing forum!

I'm not sure that In His Hands is strictly a devotional, in that it doesn't really focus on teaching a lesson based on a verse or two of scripture. It's probably better described as a short piece of inspirational writing.

I'd definitely say that you wrote on topic, and that's actually what I'll be covering next week on this forum.

Your entry touched on what must have been a fascinating part of your life, and I'm sure that you have many stories that could be told about your time at the mission. You may want to tell some of those stories in future challenge entries!
Jan Ackerson

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