How to Write a Devotional
Writing a devotional can be a spiritually rewarding experience. Whether you choose to write an individual devotional or a collection of devotional entries, the main idea is to use your own faith experience to enrich the spiritual life of your readers. You can do so by providing meaningful content in an easy-to-digest form.
Organizing the Overall Work
Know your theme and your audience.Most devotional books and collections are built around a single theme, and that theme is usually directed toward a specific audience. Keep your theme and chosen audience in mind as you research and collect materials for your devotional.
- For instance, you may choose to write a devotional for new mothers. “New mothers” are your audience and “motherhood” is the general theme. While you do not need to limit each individual entry to a topic that relates directly to motherhood, the overall tone of your book should address that theme.
Start from a personal place.More specifically, start from a place deeply rooted in your personal relationship with God. Doing so will make it easier to be passionate and write spiritually sincere words.
- Ask yourself what topics have been spiritually significant in your own life or which target audiences you feel called to work with.
- As you prepare to write, consider writing devotionals based on your personal Bible study, life experiences, or everyday circumstances.
Familiarize yourself with the basic components.Each individual devotional entry has four main components: a scriptural passage, a meditation, a prayer, and a key thought.
- The Scripture portion can be a few short verses or a long passage. For longer passages, consider writing out a short portion of that passage and providing the citation for the full passage below or above the quotation. Including a long passage on a page can make that entry seem cluttered.
- The meditation or reflection should connect directly to the verses you quoted before it. Seek to explain those verses with fresh insight.
- The prayer should be short and simple. Construct a few sentences that are related to the lesson you reviewed in your meditation.
- The key thought is usually a simple, one-sentence summary of the lesson learned. It can also be a call to action.
Determine your meditation type.Meditations can be personal or objective, but they need to address the topic at hand in a meaningful way. There are four main types of meditation you can expect to use: commentaries on scriptures, anecdotes, facts, and compilations.
- Commentaries are usually used when your scripture passages are notably long. Break down the story or idea presented in that passage into further detail.
- Stories are fairly common, as well. When you use a short verse, you might retell a longer Biblical story connected to that verse. Alternatively, you might tell a more personal story connected to your life or the life of someone you know.
- Factual meditations use scientific or historical facts to explain the significance of the verses presented before the meditation.
- Compilations are a combination of multiple meditation types.
Choose the right length for your overall work.When putting together a collection of devotions, consider how many devotions to include and how long the overall work should be. The right answer will vary depending on the market and purpose of your devotional.
- Many devotional books are monthly and include 30 to 31 individual devotions. If you are publishing a booklet, a week's worth of devotionals might be all you need, though. Conversely, if you have enough to say on the theme of your devotional, you can write several months' worth, instead.
- Some devotional books are also written by liturgical seasons. For instance, a Lenten devotional will usually cover the 40 days of Lent, the rest of Holy Week, and Easter.
Developing a Devotional
Be prayerful.You should be prayerful throughout the entire process, but it is especially important to pray for guidance when developing individual devotional entries. Good devotionals will help the reader draw closer to God, so God needs to be at the center of your writing. Pray for the ability to convey the truth in clarity, humility, and courage.
- Ask God what He would have you write about. You may already have an idea in your head, but be open to other ideas and thoughts that come to mind as you pray.
- On the other hand, if you don't "hear" anything specific as you pray for guidance, don't let that stop you from pressing forward. Writer's block can happen even when you're working on a project like this. You need to write your way through it if you want the ideas to start flowing again.
Keep each devotional short.A standard entry in a devotional book is no longer than 500 words. Keeping the entry short will keep your writing concise and poignant. Short writings are also easier for readers to pay attention to.
- If you tend to get carried away as you write, aim for writing something between 250 and 350 words. That way, if you end up writing too much by accident, you'll probably still be under 500 words.
- The other option is simply to cut out and revise a lengthy entry until you can trim it down to 500 words.
Focus on one subtopic for each entry.If you're writing a collection of devotionals, your overall work will have a somewhat broad theme. Each individual entry will need to be even more focused, but the subtopic you choose for the entry must still fit in with the overall theme of the collection as a whole.
- Try to connect the idea presented to at least one of your readers' physical senses (sight, sound, touch, taste, or smell). For instance, you could describe the sound of a church bell or the smell of incense.
Write a beginning, middle, and end.This might seem like an obvious statement, but any narrative meditation you include must have some form of exposition/rising action, climax, and falling action. Build up to your main point, declare your main point, and explain that point in further detail as needed.
Choose key verses.Sometimes, you will need to build a reflection around a chosen verse. Other times, you will write a meditation first and find the verse you need afterward. Make sure that the verse connects directly to the idea behind your meditation.
- When quoting scripture, always cite the version of the Bible you are quoting from since translations often vary.
- Never take a verse out of context or try to bend it into a shape that matches your meditation. If necessary, revise your meditation rather than revising the verse.
Check your facts.Check and recheck everything you write. This applies to scriptural passages you include as well as any external facts you mentioned.
- When verifying the verses you used, make sure that you have the correct wording for the translation version you cited.
Inspire action.Each individual entry needs to prompt the reader to take action in his or her own relationship with God. The action can be major or minor, as well as internal or external. Regardless of the action itself, you need to encourage the reader to be an active part of the experience.
- The action should relate directly to the message of that devotional entry. For example, if the entry was about forgiveness, ask the reader to consider whether he or she has been holding a grudge against someone and, if so, what the reader needs to do to let go of that anger and forgive the offender in question.
Don't be afraid to ask questions.You don't need to have all the answers. Your primary task is to prod the reader forward on his or her faith journey. There are times when a deep, reflective question may accomplish that goal better than a halfhearted answer could.
- Good devotional writing has an exploratory nature to it. Sometimes you will arrive at a conclusion, and sometimes you won't. This is a natural part of spiritual growth, so you needn't force an answer when a question is all that remains at the end of your exploration.
- On a similar note, don't be afraid to present yourself in a somewhat unfavorable way in a particular meditation. Readers can learn from your struggles and mistakes in the same way they learn from your questions.
Write in your own voice.Most devotionals are written in a conversational and fairly casual tone of voice. You still need to use good grammar and proper spelling, but keep the tone as natural and comfortable as you can.
Beware of a few common pitfalls.Writers who try their hand at a devotional often make similar mistakes in regards to content and language. Make yourself aware of these potential pitfalls beforehand so that you can avoid them as much as possible.
- Use the first person point of view as little as possible. You can use "I," "me," "my," etc., when sharing a personal experience. At all other points, however, the first person should be avoided. Stick with the third person ("he," "she," "they") or second person ("you") as much as possible.
- Watch your wording, as well. Avoid preaching, pouting, or pointing fingers.
- Meditations can take a lot of different forms, but they are not testimonies, tributes to specific people, sermons, formal Bible teachings, journal entries, fine literature, or biographical/autobiographical sketches.
- Avoid common or trivial symbols. A flower struggling to grow in a cement parking lot conveys the beauty of struggle, but it's overused and should be avoided unless you have a unique spin to present.
- Show, don't tell. Resist the temptation to spell everything out to your readers.
Publishing and Distributing Your Devotional
Edit your work.Your devotional might be honest, fresh, and from the heart, but if there are structural problems with your writing, no one will be able to see the value of your work underneath all the muck. Revise your work until it is as clean, cohesive, and coherent as possible.
- Aim to sell with each work you complete. Be confident in your writing, but make sure that your writing is up to par with other words you would expect to find on the shelf of your nearest Christian bookstore. If you wouldn't buy a book of its quality from someone else, don't expect someone else to buy it from you.
Expect criticism.Some criticism is constructive and should be taken to heart. Other criticism is destructive and should be ignored. Learn to tell the two types apart from each other. Use constructive criticism to improve your writing, and try not to let yourself get discouraged when you hear destructive criticism.
- You might also receive criticism from those outside of the publishing industry for wanting to make money on the devotionals you write. You can give you work away for free if that's what you feel God has called you to do; however, there is no shame in using your God-given talents to support yourself financially.
Choose the best market for your work.Send your devotional to the market that is most likely to publish it. No matter how great your writing is, a publisher that doesn't publish devotionals (or one that doesn't publish your type of devotional) will not accept it.
- Pay attention to things like target audience, length, and theme. Don't send a year-long devotional to a publisher that only publishes month-long devotionals. If your devotional is geared toward teenagers dealing with illness, don't send it to a publisher that deals exclusively with devotionals for adults.
- Every publisher has writer's guidelines. Publishers with websites usually post these guidelines online. If you can't find those guidelines posted anywhere, though, write to that publisher and ask for their writer's guidelines before you submit your work.
Revise and send your work back out.The vast majority of writers will receive plenty of rejection letters, and devotional writers are no exception. If your submission is rejected, don't get discouraged. Instead, take the opportunity to revise it one more time before sending it out to another publisher for consideration.
I really enjoyed this but how can I print it without all the pictures and stuff?
Video: David McCasland on how to write a good devotional
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