When writing a devotional for The Upper Room, The Secret Place, or any other of the magazines that publish these short, pointed, inspirational articles, we can strengthen our piece by keeping the following tips in mind:
1. Start with an attention-grabbing hook. Eva Shaw says all great writing starts with a great hook. If a fisherman expects to catch fish, he baits his hook. If we want the reader to finish our story, we need a “baited hook" at the beginning. Without giving away the whole story, we can place the reader in the middle of the action and pique their curiosity about what follows that intriguing first sentence. For more on hooks see my archived article on this blog, “"By Hook and By Crook".
2. Use verbs in passive voice only when they will convey the meaning more precisely. In the active voice, the agent of the action is the subject of the sentence. In the passive voice, the receiver of the action is the subject of the sentence.
3. Be honest. Though we are reticent to show others the cracks and dings in our armor, Christian writing is not the place to put on a good front. People will be unconvinced by phoniness and our writing will be meaningless.
4. Be descriptive. Over and over writers are encouraged to place the reader at the scene by describing what was seen, heard, touched, smelled and tasted. By including these details in our devotions, we connect God to the everyday aspects of life.
5. Connect Scripture to a life lesson. Readers of devotionals seek a closer relationship with God. God’s Word speaks His heart and repeatedly proves applicable for today. Make that connection crystal clear for the reader—give them a “doggy bag” to take home and apply to their own lives.
6. Avoid “preaching”. Especially in Christian writing, we tend to lapse into phrases like "you should . . .”, “you need to . . .”, “you must . . ." Using “we” and “us” will help.
7. Stick to the point. Devotionals are expected to be short, making just one point. A word count of 200-300 means every sentence must relate to the main idea.
8. Read the piece aloud. This will help to eliminate redundancies and overused words and will also make us aware of awkward sentences and choppy paragraphs.
9. Always proofread. Use the computer spell check, but also proofread all manuscripts. If we accidentally use the wrong word but spell it correctly, spell check won’t catch it.
10. Follow the submission guidelines. Editors often set out strict guidelines about the formatting, word count, themes, and timeframes for submitting. For instance, when they specify that submissions are to be included in the body of an email, we do not want to send it as an attachment. We want our manuscripts read, so the first step is following the guidelines exactly.
©2011 Pamela D. Williams
©2011 Pamela D. Williams