The Concordia Publishing House Podcast

Devotional Writing with Deb Burma

July 21, 2020 Elizabeth Pittman Season 1 Episode 5
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Devotional Writing with Deb Burma
Chapters
The Concordia Publishing House Podcast
Devotional Writing with Deb Burma
Jul 21, 2020 Season 1 Episode 5
Elizabeth Pittman

This episode is for our listeners who like to write. Perhaps you’ve wanted to take your love of words and writing and put them to use to impact another’s life with the Gospel. Perhaps you’ve dabbled a bit in devotional writing, but want to learn more.

Today we are joined by guest Deb Burma. Deb will be our guide as we walk through a writers workshop, focused on devotional writing, with Deb Burma.

Show Notes Transcript

This episode is for our listeners who like to write. Perhaps you’ve wanted to take your love of words and writing and put them to use to impact another’s life with the Gospel. Perhaps you’ve dabbled a bit in devotional writing, but want to learn more.

Today we are joined by guest Deb Burma. Deb will be our guide as we walk through a writers workshop, focused on devotional writing, with Deb Burma.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Welcome to the Concordia Publishing House podcast. Where we consider everything in the life of Jesus Christ was the same yesterday, today and forever. I'm your host, Elizabeth Pittman. Today's episode is for our listeners who like to write, perhaps you've wanted to take your love of words and writing and put them to use to impact another's life with the gospel. Perhaps you've dabbled a bit in devotional writing, but you're really looking to learn more. Today we're going to be joined by our guest, Deb Burma. Deb is going to be our guide as we walk through a full writers workshop focused on devotional writing. Deb is a women's ministry leader, speaker, author of several Bible studies, and many, many devotions. Welcome Deb. We're glad to have you.

Deb Burma:

Well, thank you Elizabeth. This is really one of my greatest passions. I'm delighted I'm humbled. I'm honored to join you and to lead every listener in a workshop, that as we discuss what makes good devotional writing, storytelling, faith sharing devotional writing.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I think it's going to be a great, very useful episode for our listeners. It's very common. I know you've heard this a lot when you've been out traveling the country and speaking to groups, we hear this here at CPH often, how do we get started at writing? What do we do? I want to write devotions but where do I start? Before we get into the nuts and bolts of the craft, how has devotional writing impacted you?

Deb Burma:

That's a great question. I think that hits home in such a way. Isn't it true that so many things that we may find ourselves engaged in, even as I said earlier, passionate about begins in a place of how it resonated with us, how we were impacted by that. As a young adult, some of the earliest pieces of devotional literature that I began to take in that others shared with me, that developed a hunger for me to want to spend more time in God's word, it began with devotional writing. It was relatable, it was real. It spoke to me and I would even find myself saying, "Wow, I feel like that was written just for me today. Thank you God that you used that in connection with your word and centered on your word to help me, to aid me in my walk with you.

Deb Burma:

I was so impacted by others as they shared them with me, we use that as a starting place to walk together in God's word in richer Bible study. It began with devotions, it continues and is filled daily in my devotion time, in my walk, that gave me a hunger to want to share, to speak into others lives the way that the Lord used this genre of literature, this beautiful piece called devotional writing to speak to me.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It's incredible how devotions have the power in a short amount of space to really connect with a person's head and heart. When they're done well, they really do make a connection that leaves a person thinking on it well after they have finished the devotion. They're very relevant and relatable. If I want to get started writing a devotion, say, I've been thinking about this. Where do I start?

Deb Burma:

Where do you start? Oh, I think that's so good. I think for one thing, yes. You've asked yourself why. Why do I want to write a devotion? Maybe that heart cry or that nudge that you have starts with a place of, I love words. I believe I have a gift of communicating and I want to express that with my words. What can that look like? Maybe it's simply a heart cry of, I want to know how I can communicate this way to share God's love in Christ. Maybe something very right down to the nitty gritty is I've been asked to write a devotion for my church, for our newsletter, for my community Bible study group, and what have you.

Deb Burma:

I enjoy writing from a personal perspective. These are beautiful under lying thoughts, nudges. Wow. I mean, it's personal and it's unique for each person and what a beautiful gift to get to share God's love in Christ through words, and they're going to be unique to your story in the way that you share them. You're getting to write... When you write devotionally, you're writing what you know from story, from experience, from observation of life, from your unique perspective.

Deb Burma:

Maybe you start by... You're staring at this blank screen in front of you or this blank sheet of paper in front of you. Maybe this sounds obvious, but it's real. hey, start with prayer. Start with prayer and maybe your prayer is simply, God, I have this nudge, or I have this request of my pastor, or what have you. What truth do you want me to share? Maybe it's wide open. Maybe you've been given a topic, at least a general topic already, but ask God to work through His word, to work through your prayer time and your time of stillness before him that you would seek His lead, His specific direction. What does He want to reveal to your reader through His word.

Deb Burma:

Of course prayer is not just a starting place. So often, right in the middle of it, I am literally sitting in front of my computer when something comes and I'm lifting my hands in praise. I might even out loud be like, "Oh, thank you, Lord. That's it." When maybe I've been struggling with a piece or just seeking His direction and stopping to pray in the middle of it. So, yes Elizabeth, starting with prayer.

Elizabeth Pittman:

There is no better place to start. As you said, continue that prayer throughout the process. We move on from our beginning, we've got our blank piece of paper, we're thinking about our topic. Who are we writing for?

Deb Burma:

That is an excellent question. Before we even put words to paper, we thought of our audience, whether we could verbalize it that we have or not. We know maybe, at least in part who we desire that audience to be and it might be specifically members of our own church. Members of a Bible study group especially if this is something we're leading or helping facilitate or being asked to write for. Maybe it's broader than that but it's so important to know who your audience is and keep your audience right there in the front of your mind as you write because remember you're writing for them. That's going to impact the details of both what you say, and how you say it.

Deb Burma:

Maybe it's going to be a broad age range or specific. Specific like a devotion written for youth, for children. As I said earlier, specifically maybe for your church. Is it specifically for men or women? What about the maturity level of your reader? Is it going to be written for those who are new to the faith? Is it more directly for the spiritually mature who are ready for a deeper read? Maybe your audience has to do with an area of interest. Is this devotion going to be specifically for athletes, for teachers, for parents, for retired community?

Deb Burma:

One thing to remember in every audience that every audience has in common, this may make it feel... These things for me at least, help me bring it down to what I know from, experience or from listening to others what's going to relate to them. When I know that audience and I know what it looks like, but you know what they all have in common, they all have a need and we are seeking to be used by God to speak into that need. Every single one of our audience members, if you will, is struggling with sin.

Deb Burma:

Every one of them has need of our Savior. Now that need is going to show up specifically addressing as you do to a particular audience. Your reader faces other problems too because we are sinners in a fallen world. Obstacles, concerns, cares, worries. We have that opportunity to speak into that. What does God's word have to say to the reader to meet that need, to address that problem? To, above all, provide the reassurance of salvation by God's grace through faith in Christ.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It's that truth that you're sharing that really gets at the heart of the purpose of the devotional writing, correct?

Deb Burma:

Amen. Absolutely. At the heart, what is your purpose, your central purpose? You are sharing truth, yes, as it relates through a story that you tell, an illustration, an experience. As it points to God's word of truth you're sharing the law. Yes, sometimes explicitly stated other times implied. Maybe it's through the sharing of a past failure or regret or something more broad like the sad state of something in the world around you or maybe it's about a struggle within you. It's personal, it's vulnerable, but your reader is going to see that you're real. They'll relate and they'll listen.

Deb Burma:

The law [inaudible 00:10:27] the sin, the sin of the world, the individual sin. It convicts and it shows us our need for a savior. That's why it's important that it's there. Reveals the need, why is the reader even engaged right now in this particular devotion? Because there's a need. Sharing truth of course, as we both already alluded to it doesn't stop there. It cannot stop there leaving the reader with only the law. You as the writer you get to give comfort, you get to give encouragement. Encouragement of the best kind, specific to the story and that connection to God's word and sharing your devotion.

Deb Burma:

I mean, you get to share the gospel. The good news that God loved us while we were still sinners, he reconciled himself to us through the death and resurrection of his son and now He moves in us through the Holy Spirit to respond to that. As I've said, Elizabeth, you're sharing truth. That's the law, the gospel and even moving forward from that, while the gospel is the central focus. Your purpose can also be what I call to elicit a response. How exciting is it giving that reader an opportunity to apply it? To apply to life what you have maybe already vulnerably and honestly shared.

Deb Burma:

You are moving the reader to certainly praise God, to confess their need for forgiveness, their need of a Savior. Maybe you move them to rejoice in a renewal that they're like, "I'm forgiven. I am made new." To thank God for what he's providing and yes maybe even for resolve. You have that opportunity through that in that eliciting a response to enable to strengthen that resolve by the power of the Holy Spirit. That the leader would desire to live a life of what... I love to call it active response to the gospel.

Deb Burma:

Exciting them and I love to use the word exhort. It's a funky word but it's stronger than encourage. Exhort means to encourage with a challenge. To exhort that reader in their walk with the Lord. Responding to God's message, growing in discipleship. The whole point in this Elizabeth is that we are pointing them to Christ as the power source. We're pointing them to Christ. He's the source of power for change to elicit that response. He provides the ability to apply God's word in a specific situation through a particular struggle, all by the power of the Holy Spirit.

Deb Burma:

In all of these, I think it's vital that we remember and at the center remember that it is by God's grace in Christ, given to us at the cross and the empty tomb with the knowledge that we are free. The power of the gospel frees us to live out that new life. That again, let me restate, that is the power source for change. A fellow author friend of mine, was speaking about devotional writing as well. I have loved how she simply said this. She said, the gospel alone motivates a godly life and Christian behavior. Keep that clear. The law convicts and condemns, the gospel motivates, the spirit empowers.

Deb Burma:

It's not about self motivation or trying harder but it's about seeking his strength, competent of His grace. Yes, his work in our lives. Is that incredible that we get to do that with devotion writing?

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well, it's amazing because it's so much more than cheap platitudes. When you keep your focus, as you've described, on the power of Christ and the gospel and the law and the Holy Spirit and the power that is there. You can see the difference in a devotion that is focused on that and has that as its central purpose versus a throw away... A platitude of, "Oh it's going to be okay." Type of meme that makes you go, "Oh, yeah." Like cotton candy, right? You're like, "Oh, that's nice but there's no substance here."

Deb Burma:

It looks big and pretty but there's no [inaudible 00:15:03] there.

Elizabeth Pittman:

The purpose and the focus of the devotion that you have just shared as we've been talking, gets to the heart of what really matters. There's a lot of substance there. There's also... We've covered that piece of it. Why we want to write devotional writing, what the purpose is but there's a flip side. Correct? We have to be strong writers if we're going to communicate our message in a way that communicates our purpose.

Deb Burma:

Absolutely.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I realized I said that in a very garbled way but that's why you're the writer and the communicator.

Deb Burma:

Yes. Well, and I think that's why we get into the nuts and bolts and I want to talk about... We're already there. We've started, we begun in prayer. We have an idea of what constitutes a strong devotion and its purpose, its point, why we're doing what we're doing. We need to get into the nuts and bolts. What makes a good devotion, where to continue for here now as we write, and then what makes strong writing on any level, can be employed and used right here in strong devotional writing.

Deb Burma:

I'd love to begin by saying now we're following what we've led into going to God's word, letting God's word guide you as you seek direction, as you begin writing. Looking at God's word, and we're going to start unpacking this in terms of strong writing. Going to God's word, it goes without saying studying it in a direction, a specific piece, a specific verse or passage. Study it, look at the context around it. Consider how you might be able to unpack it. Remember your audience through the story, through illustration, anecdote. Look at additional pieces if that would help you depending on the level of doubt, or even just the context to make sure that what you're speaking into is in line with what the scripture says there.

Deb Burma:

Not trying to make this complicated but just for clarity. Ask yourself, what is God teaching us through this passage? Connecting that with story. Maybe as a special verse or passage jumps out at you. Story, life experience, observation that you've made comes to mind. You can ask yourself, how can I help my audience examine this verse, this passage and personally apply it to life? Looking at this and what this might look like, in connection I'm going to be long term-

Elizabeth Pittman:

No, that's fine.

Deb Burma:

... giving you a quick questionnaire, Elizabeth. As we unpack this with strong writing, and what makes a strong devotion and we weave them together. Let's look at those life experiences, those stories, those illustrations or observations, this all sounds good but let's put some meat on that. We're talking about creating a piece of writing that you can create like no one else can. Why? Because you're writing about something you know. I'll talk about this a little bit more again later and I can't stress it enough. That we're to write about what we know.

Deb Burma:

Are we going to struggle to write about something that I've not understood, experienced, learned about or witnessed myself? I may be able to research and lean into that, absolutely but that means I've experienced it because I've researched or leaned into it or listened or gained something from it. Thinking about this, what have you observed? What have you experienced, you are painting a picture for the reader, it's going to enhance your writing. Make your writing better, as they're able to go there with you.

Deb Burma:

You're also able to make it more relatable to the reader. You're personalizing it for the reader sometimes without even realizing it. You're seeking to engage both their intellect and their emotions. That real life story or experience or observation is going to be used powerfully, I can't overstate this to, to move you to God's word. Remember the center, at the heart of it is the aha that comes when we connect it with the word. They can then take that. It's not so much about your personal experience as allowing the reader to move from yours into theirs.

Deb Burma:

So, before I go any further, Elizabeth, I just want to read a brief devotion note. It's certainly not a perfect piece but it's one that I wrote for one of my published works to give you an idea of story. Maybe for everyone who is listening right now and leaning into what that might look like, this is just how real and everyday a story can be and how God can use that to connect to his word. So, scripture verse leading us into this devotion is from Isaiah 49, verses 15 and 16. When God says, "I will not forget you. Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands."

Deb Burma:

I titled the devotion, he knows your name. I stepped inside my favorite coffee shop the other day and two familiar voices called out together from behind the counter, "Deb." A warmth flowed into me as if I already taken my first sip of hot latte and I thought, "They never forget me." As I approached the counter, we began the friendly rapport we share each time I walk into their shop. Sometimes I'm grabbing a cup to go, other times I'm meeting a friend but that day I arrived at my favorite shop alone, ready to sit with my savior for a time of devotion, writing and prayer.

Deb Burma:

I've become what some would call a regular at this shop and when I arrived that day the Baristas not only knew my name, but they also knew my favorite flavor blend served up just the way I like it. "Let me guess." They said, "A half Z again today? Half raspberry and half white chocolate, half skim and half whole milk. A half shot of espresso, am I right?" I laughed and I nodded. We chatted a little while longer then I headed to my table and open my Bible.

Deb Burma:

As I began to read, they delivered my drink and the side of my cup read. "We love Deb." Encircled by a big heart. Once again, a warmth flowed through me, this time as I pondered the expressions of love printed on the cup and written across the pages before me. I paused to pray thanking God for the Baristas reminder that I am known. I am loved. While my Barista buddies know my name, label my cup with love and learn a little bit more about me, each time we meet, there is one who knows me completely.

Deb Burma:

See Psalm 139. He loves me with an everlasting love. See Jeremiah 31, verse three. He created me in His image. Check out Genesis 127, and he sent his son to the cross to save me from my sins. See, First Corinthians 15 verse three, He calls me his child. First john chapter three, verse one, and he will never forget me. Isaiah 49 verse 15. Even better than seeing my name handwritten on the side of a cup, is knowing my name is engraved on the palm of God's hand and so is yours. He loves you. He knows your name. Father God, you know my name. Thank you for expressing your everlasting love for me across the pages of scripture and at the cross of Christ my Savior. In His name, amen. So that's just a peek at one devotional piece.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Oh, but it hits on everything you've described and it leaves you... You're able to connect. The stories matter so much. I've talked with pastors who talk about writing their sermons. They know that if you need to bring a point home, you drop in a story. You'll recapture attention. You drop it in and not just a random story, it has to relate specifically to your message. But people's ears perk up at real stories.

Deb Burma:

They do. I think, as I've mentioned and I'll stress it again, the relatability. The vulnerability of the writer, of the pastor when he's speaking and sharing. Whether it's his personal story or secondhand, there is a leaning in, a listening. It's very easy to listen to story and when there's an aha tied to it, a relatable point, an oh, that makes me think of this. Then suddenly you've engaged them in a way that maybe hadn't prior to that. Story's powerful.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It absolutely is and their devotions have such a power to communicate that. I know when my children were young, there was a... We have a devotional book here called God Loves Mom's. God no... That's a Bible study. Godly Mom's written by Lenore Booth. I remember that one, page after page it felt like she was going through, she was describing the challenges and the joys and the frustrations I was having as a newish parent. It brought such comfort because her words communicated such hope and comfort. It stayed on the bedside for quite a while because I needed it at that time in my life. She knew her audience and she knew how to communicate the message.

Deb Burma:

Yes, she knew you picking it up, I need this as a mom. She wrote this for moms. She wrote it from hers and others personal experiences and through storytelling and always as appoints to Christ through God's word. Then that leaves us with the a sure and certain hope that goes beyond because after all, from the get go, it's never been about the writer.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Exactly, it's not about us.

Deb Burma:

But God using the writer and her story to communicate His truth. That what did you just say? That reassurance, that encouragement, what you hunger to hear at that time in your parenting walk. Absolutely. For each of you listening, consider as you think about story, your story, life experience. I'm going to just give you a few bullet points to think on here. Starting point because maybe you're sitting there going, oh boy, wow, I'm just... I can go out all kinds of places here or I'm going to have you zoom in. Could it be something that happened recently, a day in the life of even the mundane?

Deb Burma:

But perhaps even from this point forward, paying a little bit more attention to little pieces in your day, a conversation here, an observation there. A day in your life? Is it something to do with a family member or a friend, an everyday mishap? Oh, my goodness, when we can gently infuse a little humor into a little mishap or even the mayhem of a day in the life of, and certainly not making light of difficult situations. But the time when we trip all over ourselves or can really speak into that that helps somebody else say, "Oh, you get me. You've been there too. You've had that kind of day."

Deb Burma:

That's an area, certainly special memories, impactful words that you've received or given, something from a holiday. A unique experience, a mistake that you or someone else made and what we love to call, now that was a learning opportunity. How could your learning opportunity become someone else's? Become your potential readers opportunity? Yes, even the difficult stuff. As you're able, speaking into a struggle, a time of suffering. When I wrote about the loss of my little sister who struggled her entire life with severe special mental health needs. It was very healing for me to write and vulnerable and I've had many readers say that that really spoke to them.

Deb Burma:

Their loss, their hardship may have been very different but they felt like I understood on the level that they needed, because I spoke into my own loss. Milestone events, something simple that you've observed. These are all starting places, storytelling places. Maybe you want to do a little research, maybe your experience was part of a bigger experience. You're relating where you were when 911 happened. Maybe you will be bringing a little bit of a historical event or a current event into it. Maybe you will do a little research and add some hard data to make your point concrete, not always necessary, but if it adds to the story you're telling for the applicability for your readership, then by all means.

Deb Burma:

The point is your storyline is going to move to the deeper meaning behind it, what you're sharing through it as it progresses to the heart of the devotion because it in and of itself, isn't the heart of the devotion as I think we've already made clear. What makes a good devotion? We're going to go into that a little bit more. I have a few key points I want you to take away. I know when I'm listening to a podcast, I'm like, oh, okay, I want to remember that, but they're all muddled together. I'm going to be a little-

Elizabeth Pittman:

Get your pen and paper. Get your notes.

Deb Burma:

Okay, get your notes ready. What makes a good devotion? I've spoken into this but I'm going to say it again with this word, authenticity. Use real language. Be real, be honest. We're not into listening to somebody give their fancy fluff or pretentious words. Let the reader hear your voice. When you do that, you're establishing trust. You're enabling that reader to really listen. Remember we're writing what we know. It's something that matters to us. It's maybe what we've lived, experienced, is what we care about. It's what we're learning about. Share it.

Deb Burma:

First, what was that? Authenticity. Second, again, I'm repeating myself, but this is where the rubber meets the road and we're putting these down in written form. Second is an applicable theme. That the theme is applicable to the reader, it matters to your reader. Writers what are we doing? We're remembering who our audience is. This is for the reader. As God would use your humble efforts and his Almighty word to speak into the life of the reader.

Deb Burma:

In other words, you want for your reader to have a clear understanding. What is easy to be understood? Your subject is meaningful, and they're going to engage with it, it's going to hold their attention. Why? Again, because they can relate to it. It's speaking to their heart. They're going to be able to apply it to their life because of that relatability and maybe even see something in a new way. Yes, it might be a reminder and an encourager but it also might be a little bit of holding them accountable. Speaking into something they need help with.

Deb Burma:

It's about guiding, reassuring, encouraging. Eliciting a response as I mentioned earlier. Okay, time for a couple more. We have authenticity, applicable theme, then... Goodness, I'm repeating myself, but can I dare I? Yes, Christ centered. Is Christ the center of it? Have you pointed the reader to Christ? These are great questions to ask yourself as you're going. Have you gone beyond general what I call, "God talk" to weave the cross of Christ? To weave the salvation that he won for you on that cross in an integral way into the fabric of that devotion.

Deb Burma:

Along with being Christ centered, is it anchored in Scripture? Is it clearly based in Scripture? You don't want that to just be a throwaway sideline aspect. In other words, have you chosen an appropriate verse for your topic? Have you examined that context to know that it's fitting for the point you're trying to make? Again, not be labeling it, doesn't have to be hard. But again, because of our focal point that it is in quick review, about being authentic, applicable to the reader, Christ centered and anchored in Scripture.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Wow, you have...

Deb Burma:

[inaudible 00:32:42] for just a moment.

Elizabeth Pittman:

We'll let you take a breath. That's a lot. But it's important to have all of those pieces in place so that we are really helping our reader because at the end of the day, we do need to point them to Christ and that's the goal here.

Deb Burma:

Isn't that beautiful? Isn't that incredible? There is nothing better. Our purpose in this walk in our lives than to point someone else to Christ, to encourage a fellow believer in Christ, to bring someone to the gospel who maybe doesn't even know it.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It's important work and we all have our role to play in that. We've gone through the need for authenticity, to be applicable to our theme and focused on our readers, and above all Christ centered and anchored in Scripture. Now what?

Deb Burma:

Well, I have to go there. I am a details nut kind of, sort of. Listeners, you may be just leaning in going, but what about if you're like me? Here we go. What about the title? I mentioned the title to my devotion and it's very tempting and once in a while, this is true that you find your title first. I would more often say wait. Your title will become most clear to you when it follows the meat of the writing, so that you can say this is most what I want to say in such a way that I catch a potential reader who's maybe flipping through a devotion book, or scrolling through online options and that title catches their eye. You want it to intrigue them in such a way and yes, describing well but in as few words as possible so that they stop. So that your potential reader becomes your actual reader. That's the point. No pressure, but titles [inaudible 00:34:42]

Elizabeth Pittman:

Title is generally the most important piece in any type of writing. It's usually the last piece written so whether that's a blog post, devotion, press release, book, we spend a lot of time on book titles in this building.

Deb Burma:

Absolutely. Elizabeth, I've sat with your team in a zoom conference session where we're all just zooming in from across the board. Every person that's involved on the professional end of producing this book to say, this is so key we're devoting this session time to-

Elizabeth Pittman:

The title matters because as you said, it has to communicate the heart of the matter in a few number of words and you need to catch somebody, you need to catch their attention but you also have to be true to the content presented and be very clear. That's not always an easy process.

Deb Burma:

Exactly, because catchy is one thing, but misleading could be an accidental step that we take. That's so cute, and it's like, practically reads a popular meme right now. But then we get into the end we're like, wow, the reader would say that is bait and switch.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Exactly. That's why the title general comes last. Titles typically warrant some revision and some thought. We've got the title. Now, what?

Deb Burma:

Yes. You may have noticed also when I read my devotion, I wrapped it up with prayer briefly summing up the purpose of the devotion. Taking the reader to the Lord in prayer. The reader may continue on, the reader may have their own words they want to take to the Lord, absolutely wonderful but it gets them started. It really serves to summarize that devotion in a way that takes what has been written straight to God. The prayer is a beautiful piece that wraps it up.

Deb Burma:

Then there's the optional piece of a question. Some devotions and I find them really helpful. They pose that question, eliciting that response. You've heard me say that before, I think it's powerful. The readers moved to action again empowered by Christ. filled with the Holy Spirit, as the gospel motivates what a beautiful thing to be challenged. Not in a you monster heavy handed sort of way but in this beautiful freedom that the gospel produces that enables me to say, "Yes, Lord." That enables me, by that question or that challenge to be excited. To receive an opportunity to respond with what would very intentionally be an open ended question. You wouldn't want to say, did that make you happy or sad? Okay, that doesn't take them anywhere.

Elizabeth Pittman:

No yes no question.

Deb Burma:

You don't a yes and no answer. Yes. So open ended. Then finally, one little bullet piece before we move on Elizabeth is word count. That sounds so not like the beauty of what we're writing and yet it's so important. If you're writing for your church newsletter, they're going to want it to stay within a certain length for the website, for printed page. What kind of word count does that look like? Keeping your devotion within a targeted frame keeps it readable, that the reader can easily complete it. The idea is that that would sit in their mind and they ponder it throughout the day.

Deb Burma:

We'll talk a little bit more about that as we talk about what constitutes good creative writing employed into devotional writing. Those were my little wrap up details. I wanted to speak into the title, the prayer, that optional question and the beloved word count.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Beloved word count. I think to my kids when they're writing, like how many words and they're trying to get the exact minimum that they have to write to get it done. But it's important, each word can pack... When the words are chosen carefully, they can communicate powerful messages in a short space. That's one of the beauties of devotions I think. We're transitioning into the real nuts and bolts of writing if I'm hearing you correctly.

Deb Burma:

Yes, and this is intriguing.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Should I be feeling the fear that I felt with my high school English teacher right about now? Because I'm imagining a red pen coming out over my work while I'm forced to stand and look over the shoulder.

Deb Burma:

Yes, the red pen, well, let it be said, oh, that was a perfect transition because we are as writers, both writer and first editor of our own work. But I think it's important that right now we set the red pen aside. Take your red pen-

Elizabeth Pittman:

Oh thank you.

Deb Burma:

[inaudible 00:39:57] today. Well, okay, maybe in a little bit but not to start. That is to say, especially as you've contemplated through what we've discussed already today, Prayerfully considered, guiding into what your audience is going to be, going to God's word. You have subject matter in mind, you have stories to tell. Oh, boy, that sounds overwhelming. Do I immediately put this into final form and a devotion? Well I would consider that you first take a step back and let's talk starting with free writing.

Deb Burma:

Now, that may not sound like we're talking devotional writing but we absolutely are. Bear with me, whether it be devotional or even a few other related genres. Free writing is vital to finding your voice and using your voice. What do I mean by this? Well, it's something that a lot of writing instructors and authors who are instructing this work that it is that they encourage you to start in this even without a focus. That would be why journaling is helpful and just or whether you know in days gone by, maybe you were one who kept a diary. Maybe you did not.

Deb Burma:

But writing freely is what's on your heart. What's on your mind, your stream of consciousness if you will. Don't stop, don't erase, don't delete, you're not editing. The red pen has been thrown away for the moment. Let your juices flow.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Ann Handley, who is well known for her writing, teaching, she's written several books and does a lot of speaking about good writing, calls it the ugly first draft.

Deb Burma:

Nice.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Putting it out there it's the ugly first draft because it has to come out onto paper first before we can begin the refining process.

Deb Burma:

Yes, and that is because it's if you're recalling a memory, pieces come into play so you're just... I've had several fellow writers say they can hardly keep up via pen or via keystroke because the thoughts are coming back and the memories are coming back. You may find later that some of those are peripheral enough that they need to be just plain edited out because they don't speak to the topic at hand. Maybe you have a few bunny trails here and there. But it matters to you.

Deb Burma:

If it matters enough to you that it's in your stream of consciousness that you're writing it down, just get it out, that ugly first draft. Love it. I love that phrase. Beginning with an anonymous quote says this, free writing is an exercise that helps you set your writers voice free so that you don't feel trapped into I must sound formal. My English teacher said it needed to come across precisely like this. We want readers to hear your voice.

Deb Burma:

I started by saying without focus. Now I'm going to move a little bit tighter writing freely with focus. Now choose a topic. We've alluded to that already, right? Giving you ideas to think about. Experiences, mayhem and mishaps, memories. Choose a topic. You're continuing with that same idea where you're letting the words come, you're not stopping knowing that you're going to fine tune, tighten and edit it later but now you're getting your thoughts down. I want to share one brief example and that was when I was taking a writer's class a number of years ago. We were told to go home and we had to even set a timer that we would free write for a certain length of time. A fairly lengthy piece of time like 45 minutes without setting your pen down and just go and go and go.

Deb Burma:

My focal topic was my little sister, the one I mentioned already, the one who passed away a few years ago. I wanted to just start writing about childhood with her. When her epilepsy took this turn and how my parents coped with that. I found myself bawling as I was letting all of this flow onto pages. When my timer went off and I picked up my pen, I realized I had handwritten 13 pages.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Wow.

Deb Burma:

Handwriting is sprawled and vague but it was something then that years later, I read it aloud to my mom and dad. It was never put to publish but it was a... It really helped me on the front end of learning what it was to be that kind of writer to again set my writers voice free. I'm going to say again, something I've mentioned earlier, but now as we think about what constitutes just good strong writing period, even with the free writing reminder that you are writing about what you know. You're sharing of yourself, use your voice.

Deb Burma:

A little repetitious reminder though, what are your sources of inspiration? We talked about that earlier, whether it's family or friends a day in the life of you and so on. Also look for fabulous realities, where it's not always about that story from our past. Keep your eyes open, keep your ears open. Something that's poignant or funny, quirky, or inconsistent. I'm seeing them all around me right now as we're reminded to wear our masks everywhere during the pandemic. Then I walk into a store where it says wear your mask and the person stocking the shelves has pulled theirs down below because they just can't deal with it anymore. I'm like, what are you like in contrast?

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well, this culture today is giving us plenty of opportunities to stop and ponder our role as Christians in this world and how we should be conducting ourselves and treating others as though there is a lot of rich content to be mined right now.

Deb Burma:

Absolutely. In something as simple as when we see an inconsistency, we may be quick to judge to say whoa back up, showing some grace. What is the backdrop? We don't know maybe that person's situation or day, the grumpy person in line at the grocery store in front of us. What's their backdrop? How do we show them Grace? How do we represent Christ well in that situation? Looking for those fabulous realities. Contrasts that I saw. I was visiting Yellowstone National Park right after fire had just devastated an area and talk about speaking into death and blackness and darkness and it looked like no life could come out of that.

Deb Burma:

Upon closer inspection, already, almost immediately, sprouts of new life were coming up in the midst of this bleak black area of death in the forest. That I was so reminded immediately of the new life we have, how Christ brings light into darkness and we were once dead and now made a live in Christ. Wow. This is the fabulous reality that we can spot in our daily living. Free writing, keep a journal, record your prayers, preserve memories, share events, experiences, observations and so on. These are going to help you in your writing that turns into devotion pieces.

Deb Burma:

I can tell you that I have gone back to my journaling which was very free writing and in countless places. Something from that has taken me to a devotion I've written and even published today. I can't say enough how important that is. Try journal prompts. If you're really still struggling, Google search the phrase, writing journal prompts or Christian journal writing prompts. Those are both specific phrases that I have googled and found great sources. They'll be like, top 50 ideas and they're just fun to get you writing, to journal a little more.

Elizabeth Pittman:

The key is, if you're going to write you need to write and it's not simply, oh, time to write a devotion. If you really want to move into being a writer, it needs to be a part of your fabric and part of your daily routine. Correct?

Deb Burma:

Yes, absolutely. One of my favorite writing classes I've taken was under the instruction of Dr. Jean Fryer herself an author and editor. Expert on the topic of writing if I may say. She had this great, profound statement she gave us every day during our class when she would let us loose to write. She would say, I could teach you all day long. But at the end of the day, ready for it, here's her really big profound phrase. Writers write.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Wise words.

Deb Burma:

She's like, if you are really stuck, and it needs to be your grocery list, go to it. But put words to paper. My editor Peggy Katie told me, dad, just write a little bit every day. If you're stuck in a stuck place with a piece you're tasked with writing, just write something. Write a little bit every day. Keep your voice real and keep writing. The Last piece, if you will to this is going to be a series of bullet points. If you're a pen and paper person, it's time for that again. I really want to get to a few nuts and bolts, because the nuts and bolts are where it's at and they will actually help free that writer's voice and clarify that writer's voice when you take that ugly first draft, as Elizabeth called it, and move it into a piece that is fine tuned and ready for the reader.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Let's do it.

Deb Burma:

Let's do it. Okay. All right. I've said it already, but it goes in this bullet point list so we're going to start right here. Ready? Number one, write as you would talk using your voice. Your words in print should reflect your voice. The best thing I can hear... Well, okay. The best thing I can hear is that God used any piece of my writing for His glory, certainly. But when it comes to just observation of writing, I love to hear a reader say, Deb... Somebody who actually knows me or has heard me speak, can say, I totally heard you in that.

Elizabeth Pittman:

You do that very well I have to say. It is neat. Having had the opportunity to get to know quite a few authors, I so appreciate when I pick up their books being able to hear their voices. Because the words are powerful anyway, but when you know the person behind them and you can hear their voice coming through, it just adds a layer of encouragement to it, I suppose. But your voice comes through very clearly.

Deb Burma:

Thank you. I think about times when I've been discouraged and have thought, is there anything new under the sun? I don't have something to say that an author hasn't already said in some manner. Then I'm reminded by encouragers, but Deb your voice says it in a way that may speak into somebody's life. Again, you're using your story in your voice to communicate God's truth. It's very important to just use your voice and it's actually easier than trying to use someone else's voice or formalizing your language.

Deb Burma:

Now that is balanced with, that doesn't mean we're to be lazy or poor in our grammar. There is a balance. That took me a little bit but that was number one. Right? Write using your voice. Number two, avoid the use of flowery words or what we might call "impressive words". We are not writing to impress the reader. No one's impressed when they don't understand what you're trying to say because you've used way too many words and it's not your voice.

Deb Burma:

Here is a great one that the author of a book I highly recommend called Telling Writing. I'll mention this at the very end. It's old, but it has been so used across writing circles that it means writing what you know. It's Telling Writing by Ken McCrory. He has some great examples. This was one that was printed in his book. You're trying to communicate a simple message about country music. Okay? It's about country music and your friends not liking it, ready? Country music might be said to have certain qualities which render it in a disagreeable light to a clear majority of my peers. Okay. I can tell that Elizabeth is even in her silence groaning at this. Here's really what you're trying to say. Most of my friends don't like country music.

Elizabeth Pittman:

That's so much more clear.

Deb Burma:

Yeah. That's... There's the voice. I wanted to do an example so that we would put something concrete onto this.

Elizabeth Pittman:

There's a time and a place for very formal "impressive language". A devotion where you are trying to connect head and heart is not that place.

Deb Burma:

Absolutely.

Elizabeth Pittman:

It's very, very clear.

Deb Burma:

Certainly not to take away at all from academic writing, and points of purpose that do lend themselves to that. But that's not the genre we're looking at here. So, yes. Okay. Third, focus on finding strong verbs. Oh, Elizabeth, you've entered your English high school teachers class now. We're going to start talking about parts of speech and diagramming sentences or maybe not.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Oh you are taking me back to some nightmares.

Deb Burma:

But strong verbs, the verb is the action word and the stronger our verb, the less need for too many words to describe the situation. The strong verb defines the action all by itself. What are you trying to say? Some of my listeners or readers know that I love chocolate and candy. I'm going to use that. I'm going to be eating a piece of candy but what would be better than just-

Elizabeth Pittman:

Are you going to share?

Deb Burma:

Well, I can't.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Anyway.

Deb Burma:

Pretend listeners that you have this piece of candy in your hand. I can say I'm going to eat a piece of candy, but what could be a stronger verb? I've simply done a synonym or thesaurus check. What do I see? Taste, nibble, sample, bite, gobble, wolf, savor, munch, chomp, devour. Now, again, stay within your voice. Is it a word you would use or might use in this setting, but how much more closely the strong verb defined what you're trying to say? Okay, I'm very quickly moving now from number three, strong verbs to number four. Precise nouns. This is the subject or the object of what we're speaking of. This is candy, right? We're going to chop, devour or savor candy. Is it just candy Elizabeth?

Elizabeth Pittman:

No.

Deb Burma:

What's more specific. Was it a chocolate truffle? A cheery cordial, a jelly bean, a peppermint patty. Now, my salivary glands are starting to flow and they weren't so much just when I said candy. Strong verb, precise noun. Next, and this is going to be one more time of parts of the sentence, and that is avoiding excessive adjectives and adverbs. When you're using precise nouns and strong verbs, you won't need as many of them and it will tighten or shorten your sentence in a powerful way.

Deb Burma:

The most overused adverbs to give you an idea of what I'm talking about are, ready for this laundry list? Very, really, actually, probably, definitely, somewhat, extremely, pretty, kind of, rather. That doesn't mean you never use them. But if the more precise verb and noun combination is used, you won't have much need of them.

Elizabeth Pittman:

So we should definitely pay really very close attention to making sure we have tight nouns and verbs.

Deb Burma:

Beautiful. Yes. That brings us to point number six and this wraps up what we've been talking about in the past few and that is write tight. My writing instructors have just really landed on this again and again. That it's the single most effective way if we were to just call out one way to improve our tightening writing. Yes. My daughter, she's a great novice writer as well. When I was working on this presentation and thinking about teaching writing, she said, "Mom, just tell them to fun size it."

Elizabeth Pittman:

That's a good way of thinking about it.

Deb Burma:

Nice. Fun size it because just too many words can make it look cluttered. You don't want that central idea to become difficult to focus on because of unimportant words getting in the way. CS Lewis, we can always glean and lean into what he has to say, right? Think about what he means when he says this. I would have written less if I'd had more time. Tightening is one of the last things you'll do to improve your writing. Of course, less time means less time to tighten and that's what he was getting to but I think that's powerful.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well relating this to some current events. I was reading some of the backstory. Disney+ recently released Hamilton. It's been on continuous play in many homes.

Deb Burma:

Oh, yes.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I was reading some of the background and Lin Manuel Miranda, the author of the musical, talked about how there were times where he was trying to communicate a big message. He'd said if I could get it down to four lines, I next tried to get it into two. He was constantly tightening to make... Using just a couple of words allude to big picture issues.

Deb Burma:

Yes.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Again, it's the writing tight. You really hone it in and it takes time to do that.

Deb Burma:

It does. CS Lewis, written tighter if he'd had more time.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Exactly. Sometime you have a deadline.

Deb Burma:

Yes and that's what editors are for. Even if your piece isn't going to be professionally edited, let a second set of eyes look at it. In fact, that's one of the points I would have made a personal point to, to not forget to say. So I'll probably repeat myself as we wrap up in a bit here to have another set of eyes take a look at it. One more thought about tightening is to just give you a couple of examples. This doesn't mean we throw out all adjectives and adverbs.

Deb Burma:

I'm a personal fan of both but tightening might be something as simple as this. You've tried to define and said, you're talking about a small amount of items. Instead of saying a small amount of, what could you say? You could say few. Maybe you could number it. You could say three and how much more that's going to stick with the reader one word versus four. Instead of the phrase at the present time. I'm going to quiz you, Elizabeth. What might we say instead of at the present time? We could say?

Elizabeth Pittman:

Now.

Deb Burma:

Exactly. Sometimes that's what tightening looks like. Instead of something being redundant, it's shiny in appearance. We can just say it's shiny. How hard is that. Wrapping up our last few things that are bullet points if you will on good strong writing, is remember to be logically progressing from idea to idea. That progression, removing what becomes the bunny trail or something that is peripheral to your central point that will help tighten it as well, that logical flow.

Deb Burma:

You're letting your story, that experience or word picture, you're letting that progress, your storytelling that grabs the reader's attention, you're taking that as you're taking the reader with you and flowing into the aha. The aha of God's truth. The aha, the heart of the devotion, our need for forgiveness, our need for a savior, God's grace in Christ, and then our response to His grace. That's number seven.

Deb Burma:

Number eight, simply avoid churchy words or explain them. Sometimes we can't avoid a word that may be we just need to be sensitive to words that may be specific to fellow believers in our midst or to those who are maybe more learned in the word. Think about your language. Could it be easily explained or understood by your next door neighbor? Provided your next door neighbor is not a pastor or something, right? Okay?

Elizabeth Pittman:

Exactly.

Deb Burma:

Meaning really for anyone.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Well, it also goes to don't assume that your reader knows what you know.

Deb Burma:

Yes. Do not assume that. Start from a ground point that at the same time respects your reader, letting them draw logical conclusions or aha's from it. Wonderful showing respect to your reader, but respecting them enough to know that they may not know what you know. That doesn't mean you're dumbing it down. It doesn't mean you're simplifying it for them but you are speaking into the audience that you wanted to go with in the first place. If that audience may include new believers or pre Christians, as I like to say, those who don't yet know Christ, be mindful of that. Absolutely in that language. Churchy words.

Deb Burma:

Number nine. Stay consistent with your tense and your person. This may feel peripheral but I think again, we want to hold their attention. If you're talking about past events, stay there unless or until it's time to talk about that from a present perspective. Just be mindful of that. Or if you're in first person or third person, stay there. Just a logical point to make as we're pulling in these final details. So, Elizabeth, you need to check your basics. This is simply English teacher talking again here, spelling, punctuation, grammar. If this isn't going to be edited other than perhaps looked at by another person, I have literally sent raw copy to my church secretary to print in the church bulletin or newsletter, et cetera.

Deb Burma:

She may not catch something. I may not catch it. If we haven't been careful, a big stumbling block to another person with a detailed eye is, "Oh my word. There's a typo here." That can immediately discredit what you've written without intending it to.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Absolutely and spell check and grammar check on the computer are great, but they don't always replace human beings. I had a teacher once encourage us to... Actually this was in law school and we were having a class on legal writing which I'm convinced killed any creative writing skills that I may have had. She encouraged us to at the point that we were ready, review it reading backwards from the last sentence up to the front, because it forces your brain to think about it differently.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I think with devotional writing, it's short enough that you can read backwards. I still do this with some things where you start at the bottom and you read up because it really... You become very used to your own words and you can easily miss those. You might have the word to, T-O where you really need T-O-O.

Deb Burma:

Yes.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Spell check is not going to catch that and if you have been so conditioned to the content that you're working with, you have to force your brain to look at it from a different point of view in order to catch those things.

Deb Burma:

I love that tool because I'll think, wow, I think I'm a details person. How did I miss that? Well it's what I wrote. I'm less likely to see it just looking straight through it again. It is important and I'll get to that in a second here. Well, I'm just going to say it now. Step away from it and then revisit your work. That might also help you notice those errors. Review it, let someone else look over it. Someone whose opinion you trust. Ask for honest feedback. Help support. Rework it until you've refined it, but there's a point where you need to stop.

Deb Burma:

Also with what you're writing itself, stop when it's complete. Don't be labored or feel you have to expand any further than what makes the point you're trying to make. Again, let the point make the point. That gives respect to your reader. Just as not talking over their head gives them respect. Allow them to discern and respond. There's that beautiful teachability that is so gentle that the reader may not even realize they've just learned something.

Deb Burma:

Other times it will grab them and they'll be like, I never looked at it that way or I didn't even know that about this passage and so on. That really actually... I don't know but I continued to number them but that takes us all the way to 12 steps. If we can call them steps.

Elizabeth Pittman:

I think we can call them steps and I think they are all critical to good writing. Whether we are writing devotions, or emails or presentations. I think good writing skills are so valuable across the board. Especially when we're trying to communicate the good news of the gospel. We need to be very clear and not let unforced errors detract from our message.

Deb Burma:

Yes. So important. Absolutely. At the end of the day trust God to work through each word. Each piece of what this has looked like from the free writing and the topics that are unique to you because of your life experience, because of your observations from your vantage point as you share from a very authentic place. Trust God to use his word to speak powerfully for you to keep the point the point and effectively communicate the most important.

Deb Burma:

I mean, no pressure, but the most important thing a person will ever hear or read. Maybe they've heard it before. No one can hear it too much. The fresh perspective you give it may take someone who's slumbering along in their faith walk and give them a fresh aha. The reminder they needed on a given day. We're in a difficult time right now where... Perhaps unprecedented ways for some folks they're finding themselves in places of isolation. I certainly have received a wealth of communication from people around the country saying I'm digging into or looking for devotional literature, Bible study literature, faith based anything that I can cling to and trust because I need to hear a good word right now.

Deb Burma:

That is always true for the believer. For the one who's searching, I would say that right now is a very powerful time for that. Some folks are rising up and writing something they maybe never thought they would be writing or putting words to pen. This is such a timely time for us to be encouraged. I pray that this time that we've had together will empower you. Will [inaudible 01:10:05] encourage, empower, instruct you in such a way to say, I can do this. I can do this. God has given me a voice and He's given me story. Of course, He's given me His Word. He's going to connect those in such a way that it speaks into the life of someone else.

Elizabeth Pittman:

Thank you very much for the intentionality and the time that you've taken to lead us through this workshop essentially today on writing. It's more than just words on paper, it's how we approach it. It's staying true to our purpose which is to point people to Christ, knowing who our audience is and doing it in a way that is authentic and applicable and with good grammar.

Elizabeth Pittman:

With all that, there's a lot... When you look at a short devotion and most devotions are a couple hundred words a page, it looks simple but as you've shared with us through this exercise, a lot goes into it. A lot of care and thought and prayer in order to achieve the goals of devotional writing. Very grateful for you taking the time to share what you know and what you have practiced throughout your career with our listeners today.

Deb Burma:

Thank you. Just again excited to share. I pray for you, whoever is hearing this and receiving this in a way that is helpful. I pray it's helpful for you that you would be encouraged. Writers write and you have a story to share. [inaudible 01:11:53], amen.

Elizabeth Pittman:

God will absolutely use you. Thanks to our guest, Deb Burma, for being with us today. If you would like to learn more about Deb or connect with her, you can find her online at DebBurma.com where you can learn more about her writing and her speaking and the work that she has done. As always, even if you're not a professional writer, pick up a devotional, read it. Take time to think about how it's speaking into your life. If you're so inspired, put pen to paper, even if it's just for you personally because it will add to your personal devotional life. Deb, thanks so much for teaching us. I'm going to now get over my fear of my high school English teacher-

Deb Burma:

[inaudible 01:12:44].

Elizabeth Pittman:

... and the red pen. This is good. Thanks everyone for joining us and we'll catch you next time. Thank you for joining us on this episode of The Concordia Publishing House podcast. I pray that this time was valuable to your walk with Christ. We'd love to connect with listeners on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter at Concordia Pub. Visit cph.org for more resources to grow deeper in the Gospel.