This is the first of a series of guest posts by writer friends I’ve asked to share the story of how they got started writing for publication. The guinea pig is Dianne Neal Matthews, whom I met in 2002 at Write to Publish Conference near Chicago. It was one of those “God-incidences.” She is originally from Ripley, Tennessee, about an hour’s drive from my home in Union City. She’s lived all over the USA since then, and I’ve cheered her on as she got her work published. Here’s her story.
I started daydreaming about being a writer in first grade, when I learned the joys a chunky pencil and lined tablet can bring. (At that time, there was no public kindergarten in my area.) I loved to make up stories and share them. In third grade my teacher saved a few minutes at the end of the day if someone told her I had written a new one. But as an adult, I didn’t have the confidence or courage to pursue creative writing.
Even though I minored in English in college, the idea of taking a creative writing course terrified me. What if I couldn’t come up with ideas to write about? How could I risk having work critiqued in class? I probably didn’t have any real talent anyway. So my creative writing was done in my head. It was safer that way. The years slipped by while I enjoyed fantasizing about being a writer but doing nothing to pursue that dream.
In the late 1990s, I began writing articles for my church newsletter. Our pastor urged me to think about attending a writing seminar to pursue wider publication. Weeks later, a brochure landed in my mailbox. After much prayer, I set out for the Write-to-Publish conference with no idea what to expect, asking God to show me if He had called me to write (but halfway expecting to be asked to leave). I took along two pieces of writing that had made it from my head to paper: a personal experience article and a one-page piece about a spiritual insight from my cat.
Encouraged by positive feedback on my article, I scheduled a meeting to show the Warner Press editor the short piece about my cat. “I think you may be a natural devotion writer,” she said. That appointment led to my being accepted to write devotionals for the backs of church bulletins, submitting ten pieces once a year.
The second year at Write-to-Publish, I sold a personal experience article to Focus on the Family magazine, which earned the New Writer of the Year award the following June. A Sunday School take-home paper published a couple of short articles. I began writing for my hometown newspaper, doing feature articles and profiles. So what if the circulation was very small and the pay was fifty cents an inch? I was actually writing now, not just fantasizing about it.
After a few years, I found the courage to discuss book ideas with publishers. In 2005 Tyndale House published my first one-year devotional book, based on holidays and historical events (which led to me being handed the Writer of the Year award in 2006). After I turned that manuscript in, Tyndale asked if I would be interested in writing The One Year Women of the Bible. (Yes, please!) I attended Write-to-Publish for eleven years until I moved away from the area. All the major milestones of my writing stem from that conference, including signing with my agent, Chip McGregor.
Since then I’ve published two more daily devotional books, both published by Baker Books: Drawing Closer to God: 365 Meditations on Questions in the Bible and Designed for Devotion: A 365-Day Journey from Genesis to Revelation (which won a 2013 Selah Award). My stories and essays have been featured in several compilation books. I write devotions on a regular basis for The Quiet Hour and have been a contributing writer for Guideposts’ Mornings with Jesus since the 2013 edition. My articles and devotions have also appeared in LIVE, The Christian Communicator, Focus on the Family periodicals, and Guideposts magazine. I enjoy writing guest posts for bloggers and content for websites including More to Life and CBN.com.
I don’t know where my writing journey will take me in the future, but for now I feel incredibly blessed. I thank God each time I get a note from a reader sharing how a daily devotional gave needed encouragement, helped them think about Scripture in a fresh way, or mirrored the circumstances in their own life. I also remember the Bible verse that came to my mind during that first writers’ conference and has stayed firmly planted there ever since:
“Now all glory to God, who is able, through his mighty power at work within us, to accomplish infinitely more than we might ask or think.” Ephesians 3:20 (NLT)
Bio: Besides writing, Dianne Neal Matthews enjoys teaching at writers’ conferences and leading Bible studies. She is a CLASS graduate and a member of Christian Authors Network. She and her husband, Richard, have been married forty-three years and currently live in southwest Louisiana, too far away from their three children and three adorable grandchildren. Dianne’s latest project was collaborating with bestselling author Ron L. Deal on Daily Encouragement for Smart Stepfamilies, to be released by Bethany House in March 2018. To learn more, please visit www.DianneNealMatthews.com or connect with Dianne through Facebook or Twitter.
Readers, where are you on your writing journey? Please share in the comments and tell us about your experience. Newsletter recipients, click on the title of the article to go to the site and scroll down to Leave a Reply.