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Six Keys to writing Christian Devotionals

How do writers put together Christian devotionals? God, writing, Cynthia Ruchti, Karen Whiting, Tricia Goyer, Kathleen Y'BarboHow do authors write Christian devotionals?

Obviously, the earliest writers like Theresa of Avila wrote under compulsion from God–in her case out of her mysticism.

Writers want to share what God has put on their hearts, or because they have wisdom to help others deepen their relationships to God.

I recently spoke with four contemporary devotional writers about the process.

Six keys to writing Christian Devotionals

1. Stick to the format given.

Present day devotionals generally conform to a pattern provided by the publisher–who often then seeks writers to create the devotions. Since readers will be visiting the devotional regularly for a set amount of time (often a year), it’s important they know what to expect each day.

“Many devotions follow this pattern: Scripture, story, connection to Scripture, application, action point/takeaway, prayer,” explained Cynthia Ruchti, who has written numerous devotionalsHow do writers put together Christian devotionals? God, writing, Cynthia Ruchti, Karen Whiting, Tricia Goyer, Kathleen Y'Barbo, including Mornings with Jesus 2015, and portions of the new Be Still and Let Your Nail Polish Dry: 365-Day Devotional Journal.

“Sometimes the Scripture verse inspires the story that opens the devotion, sometimes a story presses me to consider which Scripture passages best under-gird the principle,” she said, noting she carries around a notebook to record snippets of conversations, concepts and verses she finds while studying the Bible.

2. Make the Bible passage central–to the devotional and your life

If it’s a Christian devotional, the point should be to focus on God and Jesus.

“Writing devotions for any other reason than to communicate timeless truths that connect readers to the God of Truth, to His grace, mercy, love and hope will show in the end product,” Ruchti warned. “Knowing God’s Word–as an unending pursuit–is the key to writing meaningful devotions.”

“You need to have a love of God’s Word and have a habit of spending time in God’s Word,” said Tricia Goyer, who has written many devotionals over the years, including the recent  One Year of Amish Peace .  Twenty-five years of disciplined Bible study and prayer have enabled her to write with confidence that she understands God and his word.

“I couldn’t have written a devotional when I was a new Christian. I needed time to learn what God’s Word meant to me first.” Goyer emphasized her words need to reflect how she lives, and therefore the messages flow out of her spiritual life.

3. Pay attention to the themes–however it works for you.

Author Karen Whiting uses a spreadsheet to organize and develop the devotional books she writes. (Her devotionals include The One Year Devotions for Active Boys, My Princess Devotions and Stories of Faith and Courage from the Home Front). “I list the scripture, focus, and weekly themes,” she explained.  For the boys’ devotional her themes included “what boys like: lizards, bugs, fires, courage, and what they need like direction and character growth.”

Kathleen Y’Barbo wrote a year-long devotional that allowed her to target specific days and seasons. “I spread out the devotions so that, for example, I talked about the birth of Jesus, who Mary was, and the wise men for most of December.”

She wrote about thankfulness in the closing weeks of November, and “on days that were special to me, I chose a verse or devotional topic that fit the situation or person. It’s something a reader wouldn’t know but I know.”

4. It’s not as easy as it may seem

How do writers put together Christian devotionals? God, writing, Cynthia Ruchti, Karen Whiting, Tricia Goyer, Kathleen Y'BarboIt took Goyer six months to write 365 devotions for  her most recent devotional book. With ten Amish novels and novellas under her belt, she had a lot of Amish-information already inside, though she also reviewed old blog posts and photos. “These became the seeds of the ideas that grew into devotions,” she explained.

“You need to be both a sprinter and a long distance writer,” Whiting said. “You must write tight for each day (400 words max for adults; less for kids) yet be able to generate 365 ideas. Many authors die at halfway through the book.”

5. Be open to surprises

“Reader response has taught me that what I might consider less than my favorite may be just the devotion he or she needed on any given day,” Ruchti said.

Y’Barbo agreed:

“I would sit down thinking I knew what I was going to write only to have God give me an entirely new perspective on the verse. It was so cool to have that easy flow of writing between me and God . . . I learned much from the writing of this book!”

6. Love and prayer are at the heart of writing Christian devotionals

The secret for Whiting? “Love your audience and be enthusiastic as you write.”devotionals

“As I write the devotion, I keep in mind a solid takeaway for the reader . . . and often the reader most in need of the actionable takeaway is me,” Ruchti said.

Y’Barbo prayed over her list of verses, “except for a few specific choices, the process was very free-form and Spirit-led.” The key to it all?

“Direct and open communication with God. Period.”

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9 Comments

  1. This was great, Michelle. 🙂 Thanks for posting. It’s a help for both readers and writers of devotionals.

    Reply
    • Just remembered a morning in preschool where I had started the days by reading from an age appropriate devotional book. One young girl asked, “Are we going to do the morning commotional?”

      Reply
  2. Michelle Ule

     /  January 16, 2015

    Love it! Out of the mouth of babes . . .

    Reply
  3. Good info, Michelle. I forwarded this to several of my fellow writers.

    Reply
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