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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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Verna
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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Verna » Mon Jan 13, 2014 11:45 am

I see I am late to the party--very late, but I just wanted to add a comment or two--or more :) . For the last three or four years I served as editor, as well as one of the writers, for our church's online weekly devotional study. (One year, five days a week--whew!)

Several thoughts stand out to me as a reader of devotionals, those I edited and others:
If I want an exposition of a Scripture, I'd prefer to read a commentary by one of my favorite theologians.
I can understand facts and opinions better if there are good examples.
Creativity draws me in. Some years ago I submitted a devotional to a well-known devotional magazine. The editors rejected it and advised me to use sensory images to make it come alive.
I feel like I've read a good devotional when my faith is strengthened, my soul is blessed, I am encouraged, and/or I'm inspired to follow Christ more closely.

Here are several suggestions for those who enjoy writing devotionals:
When studying the Bible, look for a new insight the Spirit whispers to you.
Jot down personal experiences that you can develop later.
Keep your eyes open to articles you read in the newspaper or other media that prompt a response from you and put them in a folder.

Finally, Jan, I loved your latest devotional in JewelsofEncouragement.com--the perfect example of an encouraging devotional.

This is one of my devotionals that was in Jewels of Encouragement a long time ago--open to critique.
Always Loved

While standing in line to pay for a purchase in a department store, I enjoyed watching the antics of the children in front of me. A young mother had three very active children dancing around her. The two little girls, outfitted like child models, sang and circled each other in perpetual motion.

Their brother, a little older than they, put his around one of his sisters and tried to kiss her cheek. When she quickly pulled out of his reach and moved away, he put his arm around the other sister. As he attempted to kiss her cheek, she muttered, “No, no, no,” and with no great gentleness pushed him away.

Brother announced in a petulant voice, “Nobody wants a kiss from me.” He looked up at his mother, who was opening her purse to get ready to pay for the little dresses and boys’ dress shirts she had laid on the counter. He said, “Mama, lean down and let me kiss your cheek.”

Immediately, she stopped shuffling in her purse and bent down to receive his kiss. She said, “I love you.”

He said, “You always love me.” And that’s the way of it with a true mother’s heart. Even so, much more, that’s the way of it with God’s heart. What precious security we have in God’s love.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 / ESV)
Verna

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...
Proverb 17:22

Facebook author page: Verna Cole Mitchell
http://www.magnificomanuscripts.com/

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:00 pm

Verna wrote:Several thoughts stand out to me as a reader of devotionals, those I edited and others:
If I want an exposition of a Scripture, I'd prefer to read a commentary by one of my favorite theologians.
I can understand facts and opinions better if there are good examples.
Creativity draws me in. Some years ago I submitted a devotional to a well-known devotional magazine. The editors rejected it and advised me to use sensory images to make it come alive. (emphasis added by Jan)
I feel like I've read a good devotional when my faith is strengthened, my soul is blessed, I am encouraged, and/or I'm inspired to follow Christ more closely.

This is one of my devotionals that was in Jewels of Encouragement a long time ago--open to critique.
Always Loved

While standing in line to pay for a purchase in a department store, I enjoyed watching the antics of the children in front of me. A young mother had three very active children dancing around her. The two little girls, outfitted like child models, sang and circled each other in perpetual motion.

Their brother, a little older than they, put his around one of his sisters and tried to kiss her cheek. When she quickly pulled out of his reach and moved away, he put his arm around the other sister. As he attempted to kiss her cheek, she muttered, “No, no, no,” and with no great gentleness pushed him away.

Brother announced in a petulant voice, “Nobody wants a kiss from me.” He looked up at his mother, who was opening her purse to get ready to pay for the little dresses and boys’ dress shirts she had laid on the counter. He said, “Mama, lean down and let me kiss your cheek.”

Immediately, she stopped shuffling in her purse and bent down to receive his kiss. She said, “I love you.”

He said, “You always love me.” And that’s the way of it with a true mother’s heart. Even so, much more, that’s the way of it with God’s heart. What precious security we have in God’s love.

“For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38-39 / ESV)


Verna, thanks for what you said about creativity and sensory images. I don't know why so many people seem to think that creativity and good writing are only necessary in fiction or poetry. They're even MORE important in non-fiction, in my opinion, lest it become dry, academic, or abstract.

Your devotional is so tender and precious. You built up a little bit of tension; I was worried that the mother, too, would reject the little boy's efforts to get some affection. Then there was that "awww" moment that led perfectly into your lesson.

My only critique would be that another sentence or two of "lesson" might be called for; it felt slightly truncated. Maybe something along the line that people can reject us, as the little sisters did, just to strengthen the connection between your illustration and your lesson.

This was exactly the kind of devotional that I like to read!
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Verna » Mon Jan 13, 2014 12:24 pm

Thank you, Jan. You take me back to college when my professors loved to write in the exam blue books--"too brief" or "needs more exposition."
Verna

A merry heart doeth good like a medicine...
Proverb 17:22

Facebook author page: Verna Cole Mitchell
http://www.magnificomanuscripts.com/

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby ebrightken » Mon Jan 13, 2014 9:56 pm

One thing I like about is devotional forum that was said is about using dialog. One of the most popular devotional s I Our Daily Bread. They have never used dialog. It would be interesting if they ever had a devotional that had dialog.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby tomoral » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:08 pm

I love Verna's devotional. So real and touched the heart and soul. "You always love me" is the thing faith is made of.

Blessings!
God Bless the beasts and the children
Give them shelter from the storms.
Children are our tomorrow
Keep them daily from the sorrow
Of the beasts in life

http://www.faithwriters.com/websites/my ... p?id=57394

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Mon Jan 13, 2014 10:14 pm

Ken, you're right about that. I suspect it's because Our Daily Bread devotionals are very short--only about 200 words. They really don't have room for dialogue.

But in longer devotionals like those allowed here on FaithWriters, or if a person is writing one for their own blog or for a church newsletter, or something like that--there would be room to introduce a character or two and some conversation. It's certainly not a requirement, but it's often nice as a change of pace.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Heartsinger » Tue Jan 14, 2014 9:36 pm

Just a quick reply (without having read your devotional link yet)

Thanks so much - such great advice from a true master - I haven't tried too many devotionals but am feeling the pull (slightly)
I'll definitely be returning here first though.

Once more, thanks for your experience and advice

Terry Ruth

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby trudynewell » Wed Jan 15, 2014 3:42 pm

Hi Jan - Thanks, this has been extremely helpful. Keep the info on writing coming! Trudy

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby WriterFearNot » Thu Jan 16, 2014 11:16 pm

I said I would post my Challenge entry for this week after it went live, so here it is. It is nonfiction. I don't believe it falls into either a devotional or a Bible study, even though it does connect with God. Like I mentioned, this is my typical style of nonfiction, which is basically me pulling my heart out of my chest and shaping it into a document.

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=47408

I'm not sure how well this piece fits in with your devotional-writing lesson here, but I'm open to any comments you might have.

One thing I noticed reading it now is that I could have spent more time on word choice. I have some unnecessary alliteration and some rhym-y bits that really don't quite flow. I struggle with 'hearing' the rhythm of my own writings. Maybe that could be a future lesson--word choice and flow :)

Theresa

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Fri Jan 17, 2014 10:38 am

WriterFearNot wrote:I said I would post my Challenge entry for this week after it went live, so here it is. It is nonfiction. I don't believe it falls into either a devotional or a Bible study, even though it does connect with God. Like I mentioned, this is my typical style of nonfiction, which is basically me pulling my heart out of my chest and shaping it into a document.

http://www.faithwriters.com/wc-article-level4-previous.php?id=47408

I'm not sure how well this piece fits in with your devotional-writing lesson here, but I'm open to any comments you might have.

One thing I noticed reading it now is that I could have spent more time on word choice. I have some unnecessary alliteration and some rhym-y bits that really don't quite flow. I struggle with 'hearing' the rhythm of my own writings. Maybe that could be a future lesson--word choice and flow :)

Theresa


Theresa, I agree that this isn't really a devotional--more of a first-person narrative. And it's a really, really good piece of writing, with authenticity and heart.

I love your idea of doing a lesson on word choice. I'll have to think about how to go about that.
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Fullheart » Fri Jan 17, 2014 5:19 pm

My inbox is flooded with devotions from a particular ministry that I stopped reading. In my former post I pointed out some things that I feel should be written a bit differently than our other work, when it comes to devotionals. When I tried to figure out what it was about that particular site's devotions that I no longer benefit from, I was pleased to find many of your pointers right on point. First they were a bit too didactic and not creative at all. Though I know they did not intend it, they sounded almost self-righteous—a sure turn off for any non-believers. "This is the truth and this is what you need to do," sort of thing.

I am now adding a bit more descriptive language and applying some of your instruction to my own devotional writing. :coolsign BEANS :clap :clap Thank you and may the Lord Super-size your blessings!

Sheldon

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Yannick » Tue Feb 11, 2014 4:40 pm

Hello! I have recently joined FaithWriters, and I entered a devotional piece for the writing competition on "Bookends". Vonnie recommended this forum to me, and I am glad to have been directed to it - thank you Vonnie! The comments on creativity and avoiding Christianese were very helpful; I rather suspect that I fell foul of these in my submitted piece!

I have mostly written short articles of devotional or simple expository nature for a Christian magazine in the UK of fairly limited circulation, so I have a good idea of the readership. I haven't written much for the wider public, although I produced a booklet "Why I am a Christian" to give out to friends and contacts, so again I know the readership. When writing a devotional article for a wider readership, how do you tend to visualise your intended audience? I would be grateful for tips on this so that I could tailor my writing to be more suitable for a wider audience.

Thanks very much!

Yannick

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby glorybee » Tue Feb 11, 2014 7:09 pm

Yannick wrote: When writing a devotional article for a wider readership, how do you tend to visualise your intended audience? I would be grateful for tips on this so that I could tailor my writing to be more suitable for a wider audience.



Well, this is a difficult question--because really, it still depends on who that wider readership is. But if you're going to be writing with non-Christians in mind, I can't emphasize enough that you must avoid Christian jargon. It's just not a language that they speak.

All readers--no matter what demographic they may be--respond to compelling and well-written prose. Borrow some of the best characteristics of good fiction to integrate into your devotionals: well-chosen words, tension, emotional content, humor, human interest.

If your audience has some more identifiable and specific characteristic: working mothers, teens, retirees, homeschoolers, golfers--whatever they might be, then of course you'll write using illustrations that will appeal to them. The "chicken soup" books are a great example of writing tailored for very specific audiences, and you might want to check out a few of those.

I'm not sure that I answered your question (I'm not entirely sure that I understood it), but I hope this helped. If not, then ask again. I'm a little bit slow, but eventually I catch on...
Jan Ackerson

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby Yannick » Thu Feb 13, 2014 3:52 pm

Jan, that is very helpful, thank you! In particular, I will try to follow your advice on borrowing some of the best characteristics of good fiction. I think my writing can be a bit heavy at times, so your advice is great.

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Re: Be a Better Writer--Devotionals

Postby rsw2007 » Sun Mar 16, 2014 7:59 pm

Jan,

Thank you for your tips on how to compose a devotional especially the one on using "Christianese". Since I write a monthly piece for a devotional blog, this tip helps me to remember that my audience may be a mixture of believers and non-believers.
Also I had to re-think my style because I felt is was sounding too preachy. Again, remember my audience. :book2

Thanks!
JackiB

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Philippians 4:13

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