Writing devotionals to uplift your readers can uplift your faith too!
Devote yourself! Begin with a commitment to devote quiet time each day to praying, Bible reading, and meditating on what God says to you and wants you to say to others.
Take note! Keep a notebook nearby to write down each inspired thought God puts on your mind. Also, a sturdy wide-margin Bible in your favorite translation will encourage you to interact with Holy Scripture and respond to the Holy Spirit as you pencil notes in the margins. Later, those notes can be developed into a devotional poem or article shaped to fit this typical pattern:
Title – For individual articles you plan to send to a devotional magazine, the title will usually be a short phrase or single key word. For a full-length, one-year book of devotionals, your title needs to reflect your 365-day theme and purpose such as Devoted to Marriage: Devoted to God. Each devotional would then use that day's 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, Revised Edition (NABRE) makes your best choice for quotes, but the New Jerusalem Bible (NJB) and The Message, Catholic Edition can work too. For evangelical Christian readers, the main choices will be the New American Standard Bible (NASB), New International Version (NIV), English Standard Version (ESV), or New King James Version (NKJV.)
For interdenominational or ecumenical choices, consider the New Revised Standard Version, (NRSV) Common English Bible, or King James Version (KJV.) Since the KJV lives on and on in the public domain, you don't have to get a publisher's permission to quote large portions of that Bible. However, most translations let you use 250 verses without having to get permission from the publisher, and some permit up to 500 verses or more. To find out, look in the front matter of the edition you choose.
Text – With God and a biblical passage or verse to guide your writing, the main body of your devotional might be a poetic insight, a prayer, or a reflection on God's word. To help your readers fully enter that experience, avoid abstracts. Use active verbs and concrete nouns as you recall a true-to-life event in around 300 words that illustrate your chosen scripture. A “take-away” will also occur if your words, thoughts, and comparisons show your readers how to apply the Bible to their lives.
Prayer – In one or two sentences, a prayer ties together all of the above and helps your readers to seek God’s guidance as you've surely done!
Editorial guidance helps, too, as you follow a publisher's guidelines. If you know which publishing company you hope will accept your work, find their website and follow their writers’ guidelines. If you don’t know where to start, ask friends to save publications that use devotionals. Also, study the periodicals, books, and writers’ guidelines produced or sponsored by your church’s denominational headquarters.
©2015, Mary Harwell Sayler. This post originally appeared here in 2012 as “Writing devotionals.” If you need help with your devotionals, poems, children’s picture book, or book proposal, Mary offers professional feedback for a minimal fee.