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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 PleasantLady215 » Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:45 am

tomoral wrote:I have to say this. Sheldon's devotionals are the ones that stay in my mind the most, as he writes without preaching and I can feel God working through his words.

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

Now back to me. I write what God puts on my mind, only I know I need help with actual writing still. I am from the south, and sometimes my lingo interferes with professionalism. I am working on a devotional now that I will soon share here.


I must jump on this wagon. Although I have been writing for many years, most of my writing tablets remain in the desk drawer. I needed additional income last year and registered on Elance to test my writing skills. I was hired for two completely different jobs. One was for a sewing website for the purpose of writing reviews for sewing machines, and articles related to sewing. The other was for a Christian writer/speaker who provided me with only titles and an outline. (I have a home based alterations business which places second next to my love for God and His Word.)

Both of these assignments proved to be great experiences. Being hired to write was definitely encouraging and prompted me to continue writing. I find that the more I write, the more I learn about writing. I really admire the way you write, Jan, and there are so many other writers on FW who just amaze me with their skills.

My first concern is to touch the hearts of those who are hurting and/or struggling. To me, being creative is not as important as writing the words that will provide comfort and encouragement. The Holy Spirit is the one who speaks to the hearts of the reader. Though He may use my words, it is His job to speak to the heart of an individual, not mine.

That being said, I have to confess that I don't work at being too creative. Although I do want my articles to be read and received, I don't worry much about how creative or convincing I am. What does concern me is that I present the gospel in a way that the Holy Spirit can work in the life of anyone reading what I have to say.

I enter the contests because they obviously challenge me to meditate on a title and incite me to be deliberate about how I present the subject to the reader. In my opinion, this has given me the opportunity to reach more people with the love of God than anything I could come up with on my own.

I also find the feedback very encouraging along with being able to see the numbers of how many times an article has been read. It gives me great satisfaction to know that I am being obedient to Jesus who instructed us to fulfill the Great Commission by spreading His teachings to the world.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 11:22 am

PleasantLady215 wrote:My first concern is to touch the hearts of those who are hurting and/or struggling. To me, being creative is not as important as writing the words that will provide comfort and encouragement. The Holy Spirit is the one who speaks to the hearts of the reader. Though He may use my words, it is His job to speak to the heart of an individual, not mine.

That being said, I have to confess that I don't work at being too creative. Although I do want my articles to be read and received, I don't worry much about how creative or convincing I am. What does concern me is that I present the gospel in a way that the Holy Spirit can work in the life of anyone reading what I have to say.



Thank you so much for this response! I don't disagree with this, or with anything that you had to say in your thoughtful post.

I guess I'd only add that the purpose of this particular forum is on the art of writing, and on ways to hone one's art. I'd offer this illustration: suppose you were offered two meals, both containing the same gourmet ingredients. One of the meals is poorly prepared: some ingredients are overcooked, others are unseasoned and bland. The whole dish has been tossed haphazardly onto a paper plate and presented to you without implements.

The other dish is beautifully prepared, with exquisite seasoning and the deft touches of a master chef. It's presented to you on fine china, looking like a piece of art.

Which will you be drawn to?

The Holy Spirit gives us the ingredients to prepare a fine meal, but it is our duty to present those ingredients so that they will be the most palatable--to give His words the honor they are due by honing our skills in their preparation and presentation.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby PleasantLady215 » Sat Jan 11, 2014 11:54 am

glorybee wrote:
PleasantLady215 wrote:My first concern is to touch the hearts of those who are hurting and/or struggling. To me, being creative is not as important as writing the words that will provide comfort and encouragement. The Holy Spirit is the one who speaks to the hearts of the reader. Though He may use my words, it is His job to speak to the heart of an individual, not mine.

That being said, I have to confess that I don't work at being too creative. Although I do want my articles to be read and received, I don't worry much about how creative or convincing I am. What does concern me is that I present the gospel in a way that the Holy Spirit can work in the life of anyone reading what I have to say.



Thank you so much for this response! I don't disagree with this, or with anything that you had to say in your thoughtful post.

I guess I'd only add that the purpose of this particular forum is on the art of writing, and on ways to hone one's art. I'd offer this illustration: suppose you were offered two meals, both containing the same gourmet ingredients. One of the meals is poorly prepared: some ingredients are overcooked, others are unseasoned and bland. The whole dish has been tossed haphazardly onto a paper plate and presented to you without implements.

The other dish is beautifully prepared, with exquisite seasoning and the deft touches of a master chef. It's presented to you on fine china, looking like a piece of art.

Which will you be drawn to?

The Holy Spirit gives us the ingredients to prepare a fine meal, but it is our duty to present those ingredients so that they will be the most palatable--to give His words the honor they are due by honing our skills in their preparation and presentation.


I can certainly agree with that. That's why I'm here! Until I became a part of FW, I never gave it that much thought.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby tgrdeets » Sat Jan 11, 2014 12:13 pm

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=45388



Above is the address for a devotional article I did last year for the challenge, I'd love your feedback. It lacks the Bible quotation.

I loved your lesson, it was very helpful to me. I agree about using the Bible verse at the beginning in italics, because I always skip over those (and feel guilty) too. I loved how in your devotion, you embedded the verses, this was more powerful to me.

I loved the character development without telling too much! I also agree with the Christianese comments... when I remember to do this, it does make my writing better and assures that anyone who reads it will understand.

I write a lot about my own experiences about my life as a mom with RAD (Reactive Attachment Disorder) and I relate your comments on Christianese to making sure I don't assume my readers know what I am talking about, but explain, without being redundant.

My biggest struggle is my concern about writing too much of my children's story. My goal in my writing is to glorify God and to tell my story in order to encourage other moms struggling with the same issues. In this devotional you will see I have changed my kids names, but is that enough. Any advice in this area would be really appreciated.

Blessings and Thanks,
Taryn

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 12:54 pm

tgrdeets wrote:http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level1-previous.php?id=45388
Above is the address for a devotional article I did last year for the challenge, I'd love your feedback. It lacks the Bible quotation.



Taryn, your piece was fascinating--what an inspiration you are! You used lots of sensory details to paint a picture for your readers of Compassion and Soccer, and of your challenges as a mother.

I wouldn't call this piece a devotional, though. It's really a first-person narrative, an inspirational piece. It's not really designed to teach a lesson, but to show your readers a glimpse into your life, and to testify about how God is helping you.

I love this kind of writing, and I'm sure that eventually I'll have a lesson here on writing true first-person stories. It's not something that I've covered before, and it definitely merits a look.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby CatLin » Sat Jan 11, 2014 9:21 pm

glorybee wrote: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.


I know this wasn't written to me, but I have one for you to look at. It was my entry for the "inspirational" topic at FW. (it didn't place either, btw) I later shortened it and submitted it to The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter. And it was published. :superhappy

The original, from 2007 and Level 3:
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=15556

I'm really enjoying reading all of the marvelous devotions y'all are sharing, and learning along with you. Thanks, Jan!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby lish1936 » Sat Jan 11, 2014 9:54 pm

Hi, Catrina

I read your article, and it raised another question that I hope Jan will answer before she posts her comments to you. I hope it's okay to piggyback on your request. :D Great message, by the way.

Jan, I've noted the comments of some about not reading or skipping over the Scriptural reference that's placed at the beginning of the devotional. I was wondering what advantage or merit is there, if any, in placing it at the end, as per Catrina's devotional?

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:22 pm

CatLin wrote:
glorybee wrote: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.


I know this wasn't written to me, but I have one for you to look at. It was my entry for the "inspirational" topic at FW. (it didn't place either, btw) I later shortened it and submitted it to The One Year Devotional of Joy and Laughter. And it was published. :superhappy

The original, from 2007 and Level 3:
http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article- ... p?id=15556

I'm really enjoying reading all of the marvelous devotions y'all are sharing, and learning along with you. Thanks, Jan!


Cat, thanks again for sharing this! It's delightful, and it gives me an opportunity to reiterate that the kind of humor I most enjoy is humor turned gently on oneself. Well, in this case, you included your husband, but it was never mean-spirited or mocking. How marvelous that you found publication with this gem!
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sat Jan 11, 2014 10:34 pm

lish1936 wrote:Hi, Catrina

I read your article, and it raised another question that I hope Jan will answer before she posts her comments to you. I hope it's okay to piggyback on your request. :D Great message, by the way.

Jan, I've noted the comments of some about not reading or skipping over the Scriptural reference that's placed at the beginning of the devotional. I was wondering what advantage or merit is there, if any, in placing it at the end, as per Catrina's devotional?

Lillian


Good question, Lillian, and I can only speculate.

First, I think that people might skip the verse at the beginning because they're eager to get to the meat of the lesson. But when the scripture is at the end, that eagerness has been satisfied, and perhaps they're more able to slow down a bit, to ask themselves, "What scripture backs up the lesson that I've just learned?"

It also might be a sort of psychological thing--we might frequently take a shortcut, but we rarely leave a task unfinished, especially so near the conclusion.

I think it's also possible that people might actually skip over a verse put at the end of a devotional after all, which is why I really like to see the scripture verses incorporated into the body of the devotional. There, our lazy eyes are far less likely to skip over them, because if we skip, we may not take it up again in the right place.

But like I said--that's pure conjecture. And by all means, if the placement of scripture at the beginning is where your comfort lies, you can certainly keep it there. To return to my "gourmet meal" analogy: some people might prefer a few sips of champagne at the beginning of a meal, while others would prefer them after their tiramisu. But if the whole meal is offered with excellence, it won't be forgotten, no matter at what point the diner has the champagne.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby swfdoc1 » Sat Jan 11, 2014 11:24 pm

I was interested in your comments about devotionals vs. first person narratives/inspirational writing. Ten years ago, I had a piece called “Yellowstone or Aramaic?” published in Ronald Allan Knott, ed., College Faith, vol. 2: 150 Christian Leaders and Educators Share Faith Stories from Their Student Days (Andrews University Press, 2004).

Because of the subtitle, we were told to start with our name and institutional affiliation. We were supposed to “tell a story.” We were supposed to end with a Scripture that “fit” the story. I picked a Scripture that I thought was illustrated by my story. (You’ll notice that I used a completely different Scripture within the story.)

In my mind, this has always been a devotional. But now I think it’s on the other side of the line; it is after all a “faith story.”

Of course, it was presented alongside 149 other “faith stories.” Which does it feel standing alone?

(By the way, I recognize some Christianese in here. Excuses: it was written to an explicitly Christian audience and it reflects my abilities and approach 10 years ago. Also, some typos or punctuation errors may have crept in due to re-typing.)


YELLOWSTONE OR ARAMAIC?

Steven W. Fitschen
President and Executive Director
National Legal Foundation


During the summer of 1988 Yellowstone National Park burned. In all, fire consumed over 1,500,000 acres. In May of 1989, the Park’s forests had already begun the miraculous comeback that will ultimately take 150 years to complete.

Meanwhile, I sat at a table in a library 2,300 miles away.

What’s the connection? From 1979 until 1987, I had made my living as a forester. Then in 1987, in preparation for a total career change, I enrolled at Regent University to study public policy and theology. So in May of 1989, I was torn. The forester wanted to go see Yellowstone bounce back. The student knew that there was just a week or so before the summer session started and that this small window of opportunity was the only time to wrap up an independent study that was due at the end of the summer.

Both ideas made some sense. Watching the beginning of the Yellowstone rejuvenation would be—in an overused, but in this case accurate, expression—a once in a lifetime opportunity. The last time America had seen a fire this big was 1910 and the time before that was 1871.

On the other hand, an independent study in Aramaic was no walk in the park. I knew that if I didn’t hit it full-bore before summer classes started, the summer semester would be miserable. Weeks of all-nighters and near-all-nighters loomed on the horizon.

Maybe you have to be a forester—or even a forester interested in history—to understand, but this was an agonizing decision for me. As I pressed in to God in prayer, a verse came to me: “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” To me that meant that my days as a forester were in the past. The next week or so was to be dedicated to Aramaic.

As I sat at that table with my Aramaic grammar, I also prayed. The burden to pray was great. I began to feel as if the week was more about prayer than it was about the independent study. At the end of a week, God had impressed three things on my spirit. One of them comes into this story. I believed that God was leading me to invite the President of our University and his wife to dinner at our house. Fortunately, my wonderful wife was willing to go along with this invitation.

When I invited him to dinner, he said he would be delighted to come but that it might take a while to arrange because of his busy schedule. I had no idea that “a while” would turn into a year.

But he never forgot, and a year later he and his wife showed up at our tiny townhouse. Our President was a wonderful man of God named Bob Slosser (who has since gone home to be with the Lord). He and his wife, Gloria, were wonderful guests. We shared a pleasant evening of Christian fellowship consisting mostly of small talk. However, Bob was used by God that night in a way that he never knew.

He asked me what my major was and what my interests were. I explained my joint degree program in public policy and theology. I also explained my interest in things political and legal. He mentioned in passing that I might be interested in a new organization—a public interest law firm—that Regent University’s Chancellor Pat Robertson had started, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ). The ACLJ was so new, it had not existed when I had originally invited Bob to dinner a year earlier. Bob was just making small talk, but God was speaking through him.

For weeks, I could not get those words out of my mind. Because of those words, I pursued a position at the ACLJ. And that is another testimony of God’s goodness: how I started as a volunteer, became a part-time student employee, joined the staff after graduating from Regent, and eventually became the Assistant to the Executive Director.

After three years at the ACLJ, the Lord led me to move to the National Legal Foundation (NLF), another public interest law firm. Within two years of my arrival there, our President was ready to retire. Largely because of the skills acquired at the ACLJ, I was asked to serve as the NLF’s Executive Director. Again, that is another testimony: how a non-attorney was asked to run a public interest law firm and then went to law school and got his license.

Is this a career path for others to follow? Hardly. As I sometimes tell folks, tongue planted firmly in cheek, “I went from being a forester to being a lawyer via seminary. Doesn’t everybody?” But fourteen years later I believe this: The choice between Yellowstone and Aramaic was about a lot more than how to spend a week that summer. It was about the first link in a chain of events that might never have happened.

Isaiah 55: 8-9: For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sun Jan 12, 2014 12:12 am

swfdoc1 wrote:I was interested in your comments about devotionals vs. first person narratives/inspirational writing. Ten years ago, I had a piece called “Yellowstone or Aramaic?” published in Ronald Allan Knott, ed., College Faith, vol. 2: 150 Christian Leaders and Educators Share Faith Stories from Their Student Days (Andrews University Press, 2004).

Because of the subtitle, we were told to start with our name and institutional affiliation. We were supposed to “tell a story.” We were supposed to end with a Scripture that “fit” the story. I picked a Scripture that I thought was illustrated by my story. (You’ll notice that I used a completely different Scripture within the story.)

In my mind, this has always been a devotional. But now I think it’s on the other side of the line; it is after all a “faith story.”

Of course, it was presented alongside 149 other “faith stories.” Which does it feel standing alone?

(By the way, I recognize some Christianese in here. Excuses: it was written to an explicitly Christian audience and it reflects my abilities and approach 10 years ago. Also, some typos or punctuation errors may have crept in due to re-typing.)


Hi, Steve--

I wondered if you'd show up here! Thanks for sharing your story; I had no idea that you were once a forester.

I think there's blurring of the lines between faith stories/devotionals/inspirational writing, and that each might be defined by the entity publishing the writing. To me, this doesn't really have the "feel" of a devotional, both because of its length and the lack of a lesson or life application for the reader.

As I'm typing this, it's occurring to me that there might be a sort of continuum of these sorts of nonfiction writings, with some overlap:

first person faith stories--lots of narrative, more likely to contain dialogue and to have a 'story' feel to it (exposition, rising action, climax, falling action, resolution), tells the reader how God worked in the narrator's life, may or may not contain scripture, length varies but may be longer in order to fit in all those story elements, intended to engage the reader

devotional--may contain some narrative and some story elements but not a complete story (more like snippets), tells the reader how God might work in the readers' life (maybe by extension of the lesson that the writer learned), contains one or a few scriptures and some expository writing, tends to be shorter

Bible study--may contain a few references to life experiences of the writer as illustration, much more expository writing, deals with several scriptures and how they are interrelated, likely to be much longer than a devotional, intended to teach

This is totally off the top of my head, and it's a bit late in the evening. And as I said, I think those characteristics are certainly fluid, and with some overlap.

Your thoughts?
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby swfdoc1 » Sun Jan 12, 2014 12:34 am

I think you're right--there probably is a continuum.

In the case of my piece, the 150 stories (plus those in other volumes) were designed to be read by students in college who might be struggling. The submitted stories were split into different categories by the editor. I think mine was in the section about seeking direction. So the life lesson was not intended to come from illustrating or explaining a Scripture per se. That's why we were told to just pick a Scripture that "fit." I think the reason I always thought of it as a devotional is because I thought the story did teach a lesson that matched the Scripture pretty well. But as I said, I now think this piece is on the other side of the line. Or should I say nearer the other end of the continuum.
Steve
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby lish1936 » Sun Jan 12, 2014 12:35 am

Jan wrote:But if the whole meal is offered with excellence, it won't be forgotten, no matter at what point the diner has the champagne.


Great point, Jan! It's great to have choices. If the Scripture is at the beginning, perhaps we can call it an appetizer Or, like Jesus at the wedding, we can save the best for last. :D :roll:

Blessings,

Lillian
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby write4christ » Sun Jan 12, 2014 4:03 am

glorybee wrote: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.

Not my best pieces, but here are some examples ...

A Mutual Friend

Heart of Conversation

Preferential Treatment


Best Regards
Edmond
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Sun Jan 12, 2014 2:08 pm

write4christ wrote:
glorybee wrote: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.

Not my best pieces, but here are some examples ...

A Mutual Friend

Heart of Conversation

Preferential Treatment


Best Regards
Edmond


Thanks, Edmond! These are all good, and I was especially drawn to the one with the philosopher's coat. I love absurdity, and that really made me want to keep reading. Well done!
Jan Ackerson

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