March 15, 2012

Writing devotionals

Devotional writing begins with devoting daily quiet times to praying, Bible reading, and meditating on what God says to us and wants us to say to others. This way of getting closer to God may receive more emphasis during Lent, but for devotional writers, these quiet times become a way of life especially appropriate in a Christian writer’s life.

Not every Christian poet, writer, or Bible lover will be drawn to devotional writing, but if you are, you probably like to read the Bible! You probably remember to pray, and you probably have insights that come to you as you spend time with God.

To get ready to write, keep a notebook handy for those inspired thoughts God puts on your mind. Better yet, get a wide-margin Bible in each of your favorite translations, so you can interact with Holy Scripture and respond by taking note.

In addition to shaping those fresh thoughts into devotionals, you might have poems or articles that, with a little tweaking or revising, would fit this pattern for short devotionals:

Title – For short devotionals that you plan to send to a magazine or other periodical, the title will usually be a short phrase or single key word. For a full-length, one-year devotional book, your title needs to reflect your 365-day theme and purpose such as Devoted to Marriage: Devoted to God. Each day’s devotional would then use the date as the title.

Bible verse – After the title comes a Bible verse from which the entire devotional flows. If you’re writing for Catholic readers, the New American Bible (NAB) makes your safest choice for quotes, but the Revised Standard Version (RSV), New Jerusalem Bible (NJB), and Good News or Today’s English Version (TEV) usually work too. For evangelical Christian readers, the main choices will be the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), English Standard Bible (ESB), or King James Version (KJV.) For interdenominational choices, consider the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV), New Living Translation (NLT), or new Common English Bible.

If you’re writing a book of devotionals, be aware, too, that each translation comes with its own set of rules for permission. Most of the above translations allow you to use 250 verses without having to get permission from the publisher, but some let you go up to 500 verses or more. To find out, look in the front matter of the edition you choose.

Text – With your chosen Bible verse to guide you, the main body of your devotional might be a poetic flow of insight or a true-to-life episode to illustrate that particular verse. A “take-away” will then show your readers how to apply the verse in their lives, but most importantly: This will show, not tell them!

Prayer – In one or two sentences, a prayer ties together all of the above and helps readers to seek God’s guidance in that area. Also, a full-length book of devotionals needs to have a consistent format, and the closing prayer is no exception. So, decide at the start if you will use first person plural (we/ us/ our) or second person (you/ your.)

First personal singular (I/ my/ me/ mine/) can make a devotional seem all about me-me-me, while second person can sound, well, preachy! First person plural can help to unite you and your readers since we are all in this together. Before you decide on a perspective to use in your devotionals, try them out to see which seems most natural to you. If, however, you know which publisher you hope will accept your manuscript, follow their guidelines.

If you do not know who publishes what, you will find annually updated editorial contacts and guidelines for your devotional articles, books, poems, novels, children’s books, and more in The Christian Writer's Market Guide, a highly recommended book that lists traditional publishers who just might be highly open to your work:


© 2012, Mary Harwell Sayler, all rights reserved. If this article helps you to encourage a Christian writer-friend or someone in your church to write devotionals, just acknowledge this source. For fresh views of Bible topics, see Blogs by Mary.


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