Meet Dianne Neal Matthews—wife, mother, grandmother, and Christian writer:
Dianne grew up in west Tennessee and received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and English from the University of Tennessee at Martin, where she met her husband, Richard, then went on to earn her master’s degree in education from the University of Memphis.
Since 1982 Dianne and Richard have made east central Illinois their home. They have three grown children, a five-year-old granddaughter, and are looking forward to their first grandson joining the family in early June.
After attending the Write-to-Publish conference in 1999, Dianne began writing professionally. Her publishing credits include newspaper features and op-ed columns, magazine articles, and devotionals for websites, church bulletins, and publications such as The Quiet Hour.
Tyndale House published her first book, The One Year on This Day, in 2005 and her second book, The One Year Women of the Bible, in 2007. She also contributed a story to the bestselling anthology, Classic Christmas: True Stories of Holiday Cheer and Goodwill (Adams Media, 2006).
Her awards include recognition by the Illinois Press Association and a Roaring Lambs Award from the Amy Foundation, and the Writer of the Year Award at the 2006 Write-to-Publish Conference for The One Year On This Day.
Besides writing, she speaks and teaches at conferences, is a 2006 CLASS graduate (Christian Leaders, Authors, and Speakers Services), a member of AWSA (Advanced Writers and Speakers Association), Christian Authors Network, Toastmasters International, and the online group, The Writers’ View.
Growing up, what were your dreams?
I wanted to travel, see other places, and learn how other cultures lived. At some point during my early teen years, I wanted to be any one of about fifty occupations—ranging from a lawyer to an auto mechanic (don’t ask me where that last one came from!).
When did you first realize you wanted to be a writer?
When I learned to use a pencil in first grade! (I didn’t attend kindergarten.) As a little girl, I loved to make up stories and share them. But as an adult, I didn’t have the courage to pursue creative writing. It was just a fantasy that I carried around until my mid-forties when I was asked to write articles for our church’s newsletter. That was enough to get me hooked.
Who/what encouraged, motivated, inspired you?
Our pastor at the time, David Jankowski, encouraged me to think about writing professionally and urged me to attend a writing seminar. Shortly after that, a brochure for the Write-to-Publish conference appeared in my mailbox. Despite my fears and doubts, I attended—and a new, wonderful world opened up to me. Now I try to attend every year if at all possible.
What do you think is the hardest aspect of (freelance) writing?
It’s tough to juggle all the business aspects of the freelance life—marketing/promotion, maintaining contact with editors, staying educated on the publishing industry, record-keeping, managing a website and online presence, etc. Sometimes it’s hard to find time to write! My biggest challenge is probably staying focused and disciplined when I don’t have a contract or deadline. I also have a hard time choosing which ideas to pursue and which ones to put on the shelf.
What are your writing goals?
I’m working on a proposal for a nonfiction book with chapters instead of short devotionals. I love to interview and tell other people’s stories, so I hope to do more of those articles. I also want to try my hand at fiction, but I find myself dealing with the same fears and doubts as when I first started writing.
Why do you write?
I write because I love words and communicating God’s truth. Most of all, I believe that God has called and prepared me for this.
What for you is the most satisfying aspect of freelance writing?
Feedback from readers who share how a specific devotional or article spoke to their personal need or situation and brought them comfort and encouragement.
When did you first break in?
When I attended my first conference in 1999, I’d never thought of writing devotionals. But I set up an appointment with the editor from Warner Press after she spoke on a panel. I showed her a one-page piece I’d written about a lesson from my cat and she said I might be a natural devotional writer. I applied and was accepted as a Master Writer for the company and got to submit ten devotionals each year for use on the back of church bulletins.
What advice do you have for struggling writers and beginning writers?
If you truly believe that God has called you to write, then never give up—no matter what happens. Ask for God’s guidance about every decision and project. Grab every opportunity to learn and to practice your craft. Be willing to set aside your own personal agenda so that you don’t miss what God has in store for you—which might be something you’ve never thought of before.
What do you feel is your greatest accomplishment as a writer?
Writing devotionals that relate Scriptures and spiritual principles to everyday life
What do you wish to accomplish through your writing?
Right now I’m in the process of evaluating my writing efforts to make sure I’m where God wants me to be. But my main goal is to find fresh, interesting approaches to show the relevance of God’s Word to contemporary life.
Current project: I am currently finishing a two-book contract for Baker Books—both one-year devotionals. Drawing Closer to God: 365 Meditations on Questions from Scripture will release this October. The second book (untitled at this point) moves through the Bible in chronological order and will be published in October 2011.
Who is your favorite writer?
I love classic literature so I’d have to include Charles Dickens, Thomas Hardy, Jane Austen, George Eliot. I also love Tolkien’s work. As for contemporary authors, two of my favorites are Frank Delaney and Stephen Lawhead. I especially admire C.S. Lewis for his ability to write effectively in a wide range of genres and for the way he communicated biblical truth so clearly.
What does it take to be successful as a writer?
A commitment to work hard and persevere even when nothing seems to be happening. A teachable spirit open to constructive criticism and a willingness to keep learning.
What do you want to be remembered for?
As a writer, I would like to be remembered as someone who was excited about God’s Word and who encouraged others by showing how the Scriptures relate to our life situations today.
Tell us about your book, The One Year Women of the Bible (Tyndale House Publishers, 2007)
What is it about?
The daily devotionals blend scenarios of contemporary women (mostly based on real women) with stories of biblical women, looking for life lessons that we can learn from them and apply to our own life. Even though our lifestyles may be different, women today face the same basic needs, desires, struggles, and problems that biblical women faced. We can learn a lot from these kindred spirits and their relationships with the God who never changes.
What inspired it?
Because there are so many more stories about men in the Bible, it’s sometimes easy to overlook the important roles that women played. God entrusted women with key assignments to carry out His work. In the New Testament, Jesus elevated women in ways that shocked a culture where the men thanked God in prayer that they were not born as women.
What do you hope readers will get out of it?
I hope that readers will gain a new appreciation for how highly God values women and how He shapes us in unique ways to carry out His purposes. God’s creation wasn’t complete until He created the first woman—the finishing touch. Now He longs to be intimately involved in the details of our life and looks forward to the day when he will claim us as his beloved bride.
Any special, memorable stories associated with it?
The reader feedback I’ve received is priceless. One of my favorite emails came from a woman who had changed churches and had been feeling spiritually alone and unable to serve the Lord. She didn’t intend to buy a daily devotional but came across my book. This woman related to the biblical women’s stories and began to journal, something she had given up. Now she plans to pass on the journal to her two daughters when they’re older. Another reminder of how many kindred spirits are out there in the world today—and in the Bible—waiting to be discovered.
Thank you, Dianne, for sharing with us. Click here to visit Dianne's website.
For a chance to receive a copy of Dianne's book, The One Year Women of the Bible, email firstname.lastname@example.org with "Dianne's book" in the subject line. The recipient's name will be posted May 13.