Equipping Writers for Success
The Writing Life
The Writing Life
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by Tatiana Claudy
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Regardless of its simple form, it is difficult to compose. The main reason is that you have to convey in 250 words or less these necessary elements: a spiritual lesson, its application to your life, a recommended reading from the Bible, a key scripture, and a prayer. Learning about specifics of meditations will increase your chances for publication.
Determine Your Kinds of Devotions. Meditations can be divided into four groups:
Decide what kinds of meditations fit you best. Maybe those that you enjoy reading?
Know Devotions DOs. Choose one idea for each meditation (think about a flower, not a bouquet) and give one concrete image. Try to implore your readers' senses. For instance, write about the smell of fresh baked bread and the sound of a church bell, the softness of a rose petal or the taste of a roasted marshmallow.
During her devotional writing workshop, Mary Lou Redding, a managing editor of The Upper Room devotional magazine, mentioned reading a devotion about a door knob. The image was so strong that she remembered the meditation as often as she opened a door.
Be honest and write from your deepest self. "...unzip your soul and expose your foibles," advises Patricia Lorenz, an author of several devotional books. Don't be afraid to present yourself in an unfavorable light because readers can profit from your negative experiences as well as from your positive ones.
Your meditation should have three part structure: a beginning, a middle (a story itself), and the end. Give a satisfying conclusion. Share with readers what you have learned from your mistakes, frustrations, or hardships.
Beware Devotions Pitfalls. Meditations are not testimonies, tributes to people, sermons, Bible teachings, journal entries, pieces of fine literature, autobiographical or biographical sketches.
Avoid trivial story ideas with obvious application (e.g., a rainbow as a sign from God) unless your manuscript has a unique angle or a twist. When analyzing my fifteen rejected pieces, I understood: Most of them lacked deepness and originality.
Don't explain your point to readers; let them discover it by themselves. Don't pretend to be a "Super Christian" with answers to all questions and solutions to all problems. Also, "If you're out only to make a buck or impress your fancy friends, forget it," warns Dan Wakefield, an award-winning journalist.
Choose Scriptures. Devotions usually have key verses. Bear in mind: Editors prefer less known ones. Read about 10-15 verses before and after your chosen passage. To clarify its meaning, use a Bible Commentary, such as Matthew Henry's Commentary on the Whole Bible (http://www.htmlbible.com/kjv30/henry) or the Amplified Bible (http://www.biblegateway.com/versions). Always identify the translation of the Bible that you used. Be careful if you base your meditation on a particular word because some Bible translations may omit it or substitute a different one.
Don't take a scripture from its context. Contradiction with the Bible will terminate spiritual value of your manuscript and damage your credibility as a writer.
Watch Your Language. Don't preach. Avoid words combinations like "you should" and "you need," "you have to" and "you must." Don't use Christian jargon and religious "buzzwords" (e.g., propitiation or sanctification). Write in the same way that you would talk with friends over a cup of coffee. On the other hand, don't use colloquial language. When writing on a sacred subject, your proper attitude should be reverence.
Apply to your meditations the secret of good writing and "strip every sentence to its cleanest components" (William Zinsser).
Think of Your Audience. The primary goal of devotions is bringing people closer to God, not scaring them away. Be sensitive. Don't hurt feelings of your readers but identify yourself with them.
Be careful writing for publications with international readership. Ask yourself: Does my story idea have global appeal? For instance, the editor of The Upper Room rejected my submission based on an episode from a Disney cartoon. Since her publication is distributed in about 100 countries, in some of them people may be unfamiliar with Disney's production. Still she published my manuscript about Chinese bamboo plant that is known around the world.
Remember: Your meditation should cause readers to think and apply your message into their daily lives. It should be a good story with a "takeaway." As Louise DuMont, an author of three devotional books, notes, "every publication wants a devotional that speaks to the heart of human beings."
This article may not be reprinted without the author's written permission.
Tatiana Claudy is a Christian freelance writer from Pleasant Lake, IN. Her devotions were published in The Secret Place and The Upper Room magazines, and Christian Families Online e-publication. She has written the introduction for the devotional book, Daily Strength for Daily Needs, by Mary Tileston.