Monday, July 9, 2018

6 Idea Starters and 4 Tips for Writing Devotionals

Missy Tippens

I recently finished writing over a dozen devotionals to fulfill a contract. I’d only written a couple of devotionals before, so this was stretching myself as a writer. I have to say that, though nervous, I really enjoyed the project! I thought I’d share with you tips on how I managed…things I learned in the process.

Of course, maybe I should preface this whole post by saying I haven’t received my edits back yet so haven’t had any feedback! But I will share my tips anyway. :)

One of the most difficult aspects to me was coming up with the ideas to start writing. Sometimes it took me days to come up with anything. Other times a spark would hit and I would sit down and write a whole devotional in one sitting. Here are some ways to get going:


1.       Start with current lessons. Jot ideas anytime you’re studying the Bible or your Sunday school class lessons. What is God teaching you right now? Using these thoughts will keep your writing fresh.

2.       Start from Inspiration. Do something creative to inspire you. Sherrinda Ketchersid’s beautiful painting and calligraphy inspired me when I saw some of her Bible journaling on Facebook. So I started journaling in a book I saw Robin Hatcher recommend: 100 Days of Bible Promises. While doing so, I got ideas for devotionals from the readings—which led me to think of various ways to tie them in with my theme.

3.       Start from Theme. Constantly think on the theme if you have one. The theme of my devotionals for Guideposts was “All God’s Creatures.” As I went about my daily activities I reflected on how God uses my pets and other animals in my life and what I have learned from them. Dig deeply. I had to think beyond my own dog and cat to how all types of animals have touched my life.

4.       Start by Sharing Yourself. Think about your life experiences and how things you’ve been through could help or inspire others or even give them a moment for tears or laughter.

5.       Start from Struggles. Share pain and joys and how God has used them in your life. Be open and honest about struggles. Make sure you don’t come across as trying to sound perfect.

6.       Start with Scripture. Pick a Bible verse/ passage you want to write about. Study the passage and see if God will show you something new. Try using a commentary. I started doing this when I worried I might misrepresent the verses I was using. I found some great info in The New Interpreter’s Bible One Volume Commentary.



1.  Get feedback. Consider asking someone who knows the Bible and theology to read over your work. My husband is a pastor and gave great feedback. Anytime I got stuck, he helped me brainstorm ideas. He also helped me locate potential applicable Bible verses when I couldn’t remember the exact location. Best of all, he was honest and told me a couple of the devotionals “aren’t quite ready to submit.” (Which was a nice way to say they weren’t as good as the others.) LOL

2.  Read other devotionals to figure out the style that appeals to you.

3.  Research the guidelines if you’re going to submit for publication. Find out what to include: Scripture, the devotional, faith step, poem, prayer, etc. Be aware of word count limits and preferred Bible version.

4.  Above all, pray for guidance and wisdom. One of my devotionals used James 1:5. Claim this verse!



Have any of you written devotionals? I’d love to hear your tips. Or if you’re a reader, what type devos appeal to you?

Today I’m offering to read one devotional (up to two pages long) for one winner! I’ll give any type of feedback you’d like or help you brainstorm ideas. If you’d like to enter, please let me know in the comments.

Oh! Today I’m also celebrating a novella release! It’s my first indie publishing done all on my own. (Please note, this novella previously appeared in the 2015 Seeker boxed set titled Coffee House Romances Contemporary Collection.)

Cover Design: Rogenna Brewer

Opposites attract in this novella-length inspirational romance, Home to Dahlia, Georgia, Series Book 1.

Willow Valentine is on a quest—granted, a crazy one. When her car breaks down in the middle of a 4th of July parade in the tiny town of Dahlia, Georgia, she can’t help but wonder if God was bringing her here all along. After the handsome Trent Meriwether comes to her aid, she’s tempted to believe God has. But she, like her dad, is the type to keep moving on. Can she truly avoid that Valentine itch and settle in this town, especially when she finds she’s quickly falling for Trent, a man with deep roots in Dahlia?

Trent has moved back to his hometown to make amends and support his family. Though his grandmother warns him the Valentines are drifters, he finds himself intrigued by Willow. She makes him laugh and feel hopeful for the first time in ages. But how can he look twice at someone so much younger, someone who could pick up and leave at any moment—even if she is like a ray of sunshine to his troubled soul?

Available now in e-book format. I hope to release it in print format soon. If you get a chance to read it, all reviews would be greatly appreciated!

***** 
Born and raised in Kentucky, Missy Tippens has lived in Georgia for the last 25+ years. She is a pastor's wife and mom of three who has worked as a microbiologist, teacher and stay-at-home mom. During that time, she also pursued writing. After more than ten years of working toward publication, Missy finally made her first sale of a novel in 2007. Her books have since been nominated for the Romance Writers of America RITA® , Booksellers Best, ACFW Carol Award, HOLT Medallion, Gayle Wilson Award of Excellence, Maggie Award, Beacon Contest and an RT Reviewer's Choice Award. She feels very blessed to be working at home in her dream job!

For news about upcoming books, be sure to sign up for Missy's quarterly newsletter at her website www.missytippens.com. You'll also find her at https://twitter.com/MissyTippens and http://www.facebook.com

62 comments:

  1. Here's some decaff coffee and tea for our late night visitors! I'll be late arriving tomorrow morning. I have an early dental appointment. I'll see y'all as soon as I get home!

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  2. Hi Missy:

    These are very good suggestions, however, I am not really certain what a devotional is. My best guess is that it is a form of adoration (cf. the Adoration of the Magi). Not exactly a prayer. Not a request. Perhaps not even a thank you.

    I tend to think a devotional is an expression of one's love of God.

    If this is the case, I think I would start with poetic ways of saying "I love you" to God.

    Perhaps the collection title would express something like, "Telling God How Much You Love Him".

    My mental theme song would be: "Have I told you lately that I love you?"

    My mental image would be a heart drawn on the beach with a wave coming in to wash it away. My devotional would be spiritual "Love Letters in the Sand".

    Love letters to God, direct from the heart, issued for the moment, gone with the next wave, but sent heavenward to ripple forever through eternity.

    How about that?

    Ideas:

    Think: what did it feel like to be madly in love for the first time?

    Create a feeling of ecstasy by loving God to the fullest and when that happens write poetry and give St.Teresa a run for the money!

    Vince

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    1. Vince, it sounds as if you've got a great idea! I'd say you should write it!

      Thanks for sharing your idea. When I think of devotionals, I think of someone sharing a story about what God has been showing them, and then tying it to God's Word from the Bible. Then maybe sharing a prayer or a word about how to live out that Bible verse. Something along those lines. There are many different styles! :)

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  3. I am in the beginning stages of writing 2 devotional books. The first is on Rejoicing in the Lord. The Lord prompted me to start this one.

    Then about 15 months ago I heard a sermon on But God. During the sermon God told me to write a devotional book on verses that have that phrase.

    I love writing these.

    Please enter me for the critique of a devotional.

    Hope your dentist appointment goes well.

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    1. Wilani, I love those ideas! And I love how you felt God leading you to write them. What a blessing they'll be to others!

      Thanks! I'm about to head out to my appointment soon. It's just a re-check on my new dental implant. And all seems well with it, so I think the appointment will go well.

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  4. Hi Missy! Devotionals are fun to write, but tough....since the word count is usually low! Sometimes it's hard to get the message condensed into so few words. I have had success placing devotions for children in Keys for Kids and Union Gospel Press take home papers. I still submit to adult markets, but haven't received a 'yes' yet. Tell us about the Guidepost devotion market. Guideposts does a great job with all of their publications. Congrats on the assignment!

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    1. Rose, I’ll check those out! I only found out about this opportunity through my agent. I don’t know if they ever have open submissions.

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  5. Great tips, Missy! Each year my church used to put together a Christmas devotional and I participated in that and enjoyed it--made me dig deep to condense it to fit the word count in a meaningful way. I like having a "devotional" to start my day out or end a day on a right note, drawing my thoughts to God through scripture and example. So neat that you're getting to participate in this!

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    1. Hey Glynna! Can you tell me more your church's Christmas devotional? Sounds amazing! What were the requirements? Word count limits? Topics? Thanks!

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    2. Hi, Sally! It's been quite a few years since they've done that so I don't remember a lot of details except they were daily for the advent season. I'm thinking we were given some guidelines around a "theme" -- maybe old Christmas hymns one year? Personal meaningful Christmas traditions another? All included an applicable scripture. Starting around Thanksgiving they were available for people to pick up after the church service.

      I have one in a box around here SOMEWHERE! They were done on 8 1/2 x 11 paper folded in half so the scripture and devotion fit a 5 1/2 wide and 8 1/2 tall page with a nice margin (don't remember the word count limit). They had a simple "cover" and were stapled in the middle with one of those saddle staplers.

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    3. This is an awesome idea and I would love to do something like this at my church.

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    4. Glynna, I enjoyed taking part in our Advent devotional. I even wrote a poem for one!

      Sally, our church’s devo was themed around the lighting of the Advent candles. It was printed in 8-1/2 x 11 booklet format.

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  6. Congrats on the devotionals, Missy, AND the new novella. I LOVE that cover.

    I've never felt led to write any devotionals, though there are a few I enjoy. It just depends on their themes. My favorite is Jesus Calling.

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    1. Mindy, I’ve heard so many people who’ve loved that one! I own it but haven’t read it yet.

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    2. I love Jesus Calling too, Mindy! Each day's reading always hits home!

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  7. Missy, what a lovely project to be part of. I'm so happy for you. The thoughts of devotionals... the tones... the words and focus.... so much goes into saying so much with so little.

    I cannot believe I used the word "so" that many times. Possibly a record!

    Love this, Missy Tippens. Wonderful!

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    1. Ruthy, you were just SOOO excited this morning you couldn’t help it. ;) Maybe you’re high on sugar cookies. Hahaha

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  8. NATIONAL SUGAR COOKIE DAY!!!! Plus devotionals.

    I am so happy right now.

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  9. Missy! Awesome topic! What publisher are these devotionals through? Please let me know when it's available. I have started writing a devotional. I've got the title and a few entries. What were the guidelines you had to follow? Some state having to have an action item, or sections such as verse, what it's about, how it relates, etc. Thanks for sharing these tips!

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    1. Sally, this is through Guideposts. It’s supposed to release sometime in 2019. I’ll be sure to let y’all know!

      I don’t have the guidelines in front of me, but it was about 350 words max and included a Bible verse, main body, then any additional item like an action item or prayer. I think every publication is different. Hope this helps!

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  10. Great post, Missy. I have written quite a few devotionals or at least devotional type articles that have been published in different small Christian publications. I usually get an idea from something that happens in daily life and think about a spiritual application. I haven't written any lately, though. For example, one month I was looking at a photograph on my calendar everyday that was a desert type scene and I thought it was kind of boring. Then one day toward the end of the month, I happened to notice a mountain in the background that added a whole new element to the picture. That gave me an idea for a short devotional article.

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    1. I love the different perspective devotional idea!

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    2. Sandy, it sounds like you use a similar method as mine. I love how God can use everyday items to teach us! And it can be exciting to share those times with other people.

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  11. For the last few years, until recently, I wrote a monthly devotional for a website. I found that the devotionals that seemed to connect with others the best were the ones where I took a moment to realize what I needed to hear from God myself, then used that as inspiration.

    I like your list. For several years I journaled my way through the Bible and would meditate on a few verses each day. When I went back through my journal it often made great inspiration for a devotional. I don't remember why I stopped, but I need to get back to it.

    Great post. Thanks and congratulations on the release and the upcoming projects!!

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    1. Thanks, Glynis! And thanks for sharing what worked best to connect to readers in your devotional writing.

      I've missed several days lately in my Bible journal. I need to get started again, too!

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  12. Oh, Missy, I did this earlier in my writing career and loved it. Back when I was writing for Sunday School papers, remember them? Devotionals are a challenge because each magazine has a different format. Also, most of them have to be SHORT! But so worth it, for yourself and the reader. It's a real iron-sharpening-iron thing.

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    1. Kathy, I do remember those papers! I should have investigated potential publishing venues for devotionals for this post. Maybe I can do that for a future post.

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  13. This has inspired me to get back to Bible journaling. I keep a journal and I read the Bible, but they seldom overlap.
    Still enjoying summer in NH, went to a Jewish Food Festival on Sunday and ate my fill of blintzes and knishes, then drove around the NH Lakes Region. It was a great day to be out.
    Today doing some stuff in my secular job and continuing to polish the piece I'm shopping around at ACFW.
    Also working on my wardrobe for above, does anyone know what the weather is in Nashville in September?

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    1. Kathy, it sounds like you're staying busy as well as enjoying some fun times!

      Nashville will vary in September. It could be hot as blue blazes or pretty cool. You'll just have to check the weather forecast before you go. My guess for later in September is that it should be beautiful and starting to cool off. Maybe in 60's or even low 70's. I grew up just north of there in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Nashville was where we liked to go shopping. :)

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  14. Missy, good for you in branching out and writing devotionals. It's challenging to find the right tone sometimes. And how wonderful that your husband is such a great resource for doctrinal accuracy and helping you improve those ones that "weren't quite ready." :)

    I've never written a devotional, although some friends have recommended I take some of my blog posts and create a devotional book. I haven't made the time or had quite the courage to embark on that adventure.

    Personally, I love the devotions that begin with a story that ties in with the theme of the devotion.

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    1. Jeanne, I asked my husband to read over them because I wasn't confident enough to trust myself! :) I didn't want to take Bible passages out of context trying to make them fit my message.

      You should try using some of your blog posts and compiling them! I think that's a great idea. It does take a bit more time that I had counted on. However, I think it'll get easier as I add more books. Since it was my first time I worried over every little thing.

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  15. Beautiful advice, Missy. Writing devotionals is a whole different challenge, isn't it?

    Hope your dentist appt went well!

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    1. The appointment went great, Erica! Thanks.

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  16. I love devotional books....so excited about yours. Keep us posted.
    My favorite is Jesus Calling, on my 5th year reading it daily. I also enjoy those by Max Lucado, David Jeremiah, Chuck Swindoll, but I really like to concentrate on one or two regularly.
    Also excited about your novella...since I am GA lady, I will be checking on that one!

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    1. Jackie, that's amazing that you've done the devotional for 5 years!

      I think you'll like my little fictional town. :) I've pieced together some of my favorite aspects of small towns I know in north Georgia.

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  17. Hi Missy! Thanks for the shout out. :) I love getting creative in my Bible while meditating on His word. It has brought the Bible to life in a way it never has before.

    Like Glynnis, one year our church did a booklet of devotions using scripture from the church calendar for Advent. Several members participated and it was a beautiful thing. I love hearing what others learned or thought about those scriptures.

    Sometimes I write a short devotional for my blog, but I've never tried to shop them around.

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    1. Sherrinda, maybe you can compile your blog posts and shop them or indie publish them. Goodness, you should put them together with your beautiful painting and calligraphy!! That would be a gorgeous volume that I would buy!

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  18. Hi Missy:

    This is a real eye-opener!

    I don't think I have an adequate understanding of what a devotional is. To me it has always been an action like conducting a romance with an inamorata. It seems that 'devotional' is also like 'romance' in the sense of being a genre. It's like a faith-lesson for others and as such a type of religious writing.

    This brings me back to my times with the nuns when they would often advise offering any pain you experience 'up to God' as a devotional, that is, an expression of acknowledging the suffering Christ experienced on the cross to redeem mankind. This was considered a lot better than swearing!

    What I most need is an example of an ideal devotional. Do you have one you can print here or link to? That would be very helpful.

    Vince

    BTW: The first thing I thought of when you mentioned going to the dentist was that if there were any pain, you could offer it up.

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    1. Vince, yes, it's non-fiction Christian writing--like you said, a sort of genre. It usually involves a Scripture and a lesson, and maybe a call to action.

      I found this wonderful example by Cynthia Ruchti on the Guideposts website: https://www.guideposts.org/faith-and-prayer/daily-devotions/devotions-for-women/streamline-your-spiritual-life

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    3. I tried to add an actual link and it failed--LIKE USUAL.

      Blogger does not like me to add links!

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  19. Missy, I've never written a devotional, but if I ever get the opportunity, I'll remember this post. I love how devotionals tie Scripture to everyday life so beautifully.

    The cover of your novella is adorable!! Perfect for that wonderful story underneath!

    Janet

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    1. Thank you, Janet! I remembered how much I enjoyed writing the novella as I was doing a last read-through. My daughter got a real kick out of me laughing at my own writing. :) But I had forgotten what happened! haha

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    2. If we hope to entertain others, it's always good if we can entertain ourselves. :-)

      Janet

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  20. Missy, congrats on going indie. Great cover on a wonderful story!

    Thanks for sharing your tips on writing for devotionals. I've written a few blog devotionals for a woman's group. Although short, they take time, inspiration and, as you mentioned, prayer.

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    1. Thanks, Debby! Yes, I was surprised at how long some of them took to write. I usually wrote them over a period of a day or two. Then I would let them sit and go back and re-read them for a few days to see how I felt about them then. Sometimes I made changes. And then, of course, I made changes my husband would suggest.

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  21. Hi Missy and everyone! I was so excited to see a post from Seekerville in my emails today. After a draught of several years, this made my day!
    A few years ago, I wrote a series of Advent devotions based on the theme of "The Gift of ..." and published them on my blog site. Every year I bring those devotions back up, "spruce" them up (no pun intended) and republish them. Although they've been published, I would like to enter the contest for you to critique one. Thanks so much!

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    1. Edwina, it's so good to see you!!

      I love the idea of bringing back your gift devotionals each year at Advent! I plan to take part in our church's Advent booklet again. I was surprised at how much fun I had writing poetry. Of course, I was a wreck having someone else read it! I did send it to the Seekers by email first just to make sure I wouldn't embarrass myself. haha

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    2. Missy, You write beautifully and would never embarrass yourself!

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  22. Congratulations, Missy, on publishing your first Indie. I've written devos in the past. Being honest and showing your vulnerability is so important. I think you've covered everything in your suggestions here.

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    1. Thanks, Pat Jeanne! I appreciate you reading the post. That's great advice to show vulnerability.

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  23. Hi Missy:

    Today was a learning experience!

    Your link was successful. And did you know I fell in love with Cynthia Ruchti's first book,"They Almost Always Come Home," when it debuted? I was so impressed with a first novel written in both first and third person. What a risk! I thought it was like Ruth writing about romance and hospice.

    This devotional was a great choice for me to read. I've been inspired to try my hand. It's not long. :)

    ****

    "Therefore I say unto you, Be not anxious for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on." Matthew 6:25 American Standard Version (ASV)


    I remember hearing the priest quote the above and thinking at the time, "That's fine for you to say. The Church takes care of all your needs and you've got an inside track on getting into heaven in the next life".

    After all, why buy insurance? Why plan ahead at all? As a philosopher, I am always ready to argue anything.

    But on second thought, the quote above does not say 'don't plan ahead' or 'don't buy insurance,' it says, 'don't be anxious about those things.'

    Because if you are anxious about your every need, then isn't that a sign of a lack of faith? Do you trust in God or not? Are you anxious to the degree that you are living a life less than God has planned for you?

    Yes, think about the birds of the field: they employ warning squeaks to set the whole flock to flight if any one bird spots a predator and while in the air, birds fly in formation to make them look bigger and a harder target to attack by flying predators.

    God wants us to plan and take precautions but he does not want us to obsess over our fears. He wants us to trust in Him and His mercy.

    Faith Step: Put your faith in action. Take reasonable precautions but then trust in God and be anxious no more.

    Vince

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    1. Vince...

      That's EXCELLENT!! You learn quickly, and I do believe you've found your next calling!

      Write a collection of devotionals!

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  24. Great ideas, Missy. When I was getting ready to have my book published last year, I set up my website/blog, not knowing exactly what I wanted to post about, but that I needed to put something out there in cyberspace. Over the last year, I like to think I have discovered my groove most weeks ... and a lot of times what I meant to be just a story about my family or sharing of something I had been thinking on seems to turn into more of a devotional. It was a pleasant surprise. I love being able to tie God in to almost everything I post. And a lot of times I see the situation I was writing about more clearly afterwards. :-)

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  25. Thanks for sharing, Missy.

    Yes, I've written devotionals. It started in a bit unusual way ... I received a contract with Ellie Claire/Worthy Publishing to write some, and the only ones I'd written at that point was the one I submitted! I ended up having ten devotionals published in a collection by them last year, and I'm currently working on my own book, which I started during NaNoWriMo last year. (Sadly, it's been put aside the past few months due to other deadlines, but I'm slowly getting back to it.)

    I'd love to be entered in the contest, if it's not too late. Congrats on the novella release!

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  26. Hi Missy, I just now learned that you were born and raised in my home state of Kentucky! Thanks for sharing these great tips. I have often thought that I would like to write devotions so I will definitely keep this post! Blessings!

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  27. I'll have to remember this. I'm considering writing devotionals, myself.

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  28. I'm a day late, but loved your post, Missy! Great tips and suggestions---another one for my Keeper File. :) For years I've wanted to write a devotion for The Upper Room, but never have even attempted. *sigh* Your post has inspired me to write and submit (either to The Upper Room or someone else!). Thanks so much for sharing with us, and CONGRATS on your indie release! I plan to order this right away.
    Hugs, Patti Jo

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    1. P.S. Okay, just ordered Missy's book! :) How I love my Kindle! ;)

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  29. I love these tips, Missy! I just bought a slim journal to keep in my purse, and I'm going to jot ideas down as they come to me. Thanks!! And congrats (love the cover of your new novella!)!

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  30. Thank you for your tips, Missy!

    I would love to be entered in your devotional review drawing. I drafted one for "The Upper Room" and feedback would be greatly appreciated.

    Congratulations on finishing your own contract commitment!

    May God bless you and all of Seekerville!

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