Marilynn Griffith on Writing Rituals

Thanks so much to Angela for raising this topic. I’m a little shy about answering because my process doesn’t always follow a linear pattern. There aren’t any things I do every time except write down as much as I can when someone interesting shows up and starts talking or to find a pen and run for a corner when my brain starts playing the,”That’s what actually happened, but what if…” game. That said, here are some things that seem to be standard.

Sort of.

1) Verses. My best ideas come to me in church. The Shades of Style series was inspired by Isaiah 61 and Rhythms of Grace comes from Matthew 11:28 in The Message. Certain things in the Word just jump out during my prayer and Bible Study (and even in service!). Without Jesus, I wouldn’t have anything to tell. He’s the author and finisher of everything (even the little people running around in my head).

2) Voices. I’m a dialogue person and I hear my characters more than see them. Often they start talking when I’m running or in church or folding clothes. It may be just one line like Grace from my latest novel (Flowers danced the day I died). That novel began as a short story of two boys, black and white, who are much more alike than different. Next thing I knew they were grown up, had friends and then…there was Grace. When she started talking, everyone else was quiet, waiting patiently, nodding and pushing her to the front. Other times, like with Made of Honor, I have a plot and a person that I’m working on separately and God pushes me to put them together. Always though there’s talking. Usually food too. Good smelling food.

3) Visuals. I’m a lover of images. They’re second only to words for me and sometimes they convey something that words can’t, something that urges me to write something that expresses the same emotion. Sometimes it can be a picture of family or friends where something is off or someone is missing and I start wondering, “What’s wrong? What happened between this picture and that one?” Or, me being me, it can be as simple as a beautiful flower in someone’s yard when I’m walking that suddenly ends up in the hair of a woman I’ve never seen, a woman who will one day find a seat in my soul, cross her legs and tell me a story.

4) Literature. I love poetry. It sings to me in octaves music can’t (and that’s saying a lot because I LOVE music!). A good poem can leave me so full that I get a knowing smile and put it in my notebook thinking, “There’s a book in that.” Books are the same way. I’m always reading and often a great book can put me in such a state of glee that nothing I read for a few days can take root. I get sort of numb, satisfied but sad. In these times, I find that snippets of stories come to me easily, often on the edges of the morning. A great memoir or historical book really gets me going too.

5) Senses. A just-perfect smell or a new color can give me a whole chapter easy! LOL The thing is it can’t be just any smell or any color, it has to be something delightful and unexpected, something ridiculous yet beautiful. I got thousands of words out of a bar of lemon lavender soap once. I’m weird. My daughter knows the colors that make me retreat to my room wide-eyed so she will pick something up that no one can fit from from the clearance rack or send me pictures by email. Her homecoming dress last year spawned at least three book ideas.

5) Travel. Before I start a new book (or after I finish one) I like to go on a trip. It doesn’t have to be far, just ripe for people-watching. I don’t base my characters on anyone, but I see people who wear the clothes a character would wear or laugh like they laugh. I also like to recreate the feeling I had in a certain place or with certain people. And did I mention food?

Outside of that, it’s touch and go. I have seven children, two of which are teenage girls, so it’s rarely quiet around. I’ve tried to write away from home but I’m clumsy and forget things so that doesn’t work too well either. Usually once the above inspiration is over and it’s time for the perspiration to begin, I like to have some Bible study and prayer followed by some music (gospel, jazz, rap, classical, whatever I’m feeling that day) and the requisite dancing around my house. I take a walk if I haven’t already, procrastinate for a few more minutes, think about reading email and then lunge toward the chair like a madwoman where I stay for a few hours. I eat lunch, clean house, do email, taxi children, cook dinner, check homework and settle down to read through the day’s pages in the evening. Sometimes.

Other times the book is hot and fluid and I just keep going until the end. I don’t do Maas (though I own it). I’ll have a friend read through my manuscript and maybe my oldest daughter but in the beginning I had several critique partners and groups.

In short, I guess my ritual is that I have no ritual! LOL I have Jesus and talking people, dishes, laundry and a happy herd and somehow every now and then I miraculously finish a manuscript. My only true ritual is having a breakdown on about page 175. Oh, and the soap sniffing, off-key singing and bad dancing. There’s always that…

Marilynn Griffith is a wife to a deacon, mom to a tribe and the author of eight novels. Her upcoming Rhythms of Grace (Revell, August 2008) looks at race and faith through the eyes of a group of friends tied together by the beat of a drum and an old woman’s words. Visit her at .

21 thoughts on “Marilynn Griffith on Writing Rituals

  1. Good post Marilynn. Conversations come to me too. That’s funny, I can be driving down the street and a conversation will start. I have to grab something to write on.

  2. I don’t hear people but little things– a memory, an image, an incident–will trigger a storyline, usually the beginning of a story.

    Yours sounds like a fun, sensual, vivid world in which to live, Marilynn!

  3. Mary,

    This is great! Variety is a good thing which explains your awesome roster of characters from your books.

    I experienced “the voice” from the main character in my current WIP. She showed up out of nowhere in a journal entry over two years ago. It took me two years to write about her and she has way more personality than I ever will have. LOL!

  4. Hey everyone! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! I hope one of you wins a free book. As for the voices and the variety, that’s just how it is sometimes. “The voice” can take years for me too, Ty! And Patricia, incidents definitely work the same. I think smells are my incidents.

    happy pages to you all (reading and writing)

  5. Wow Marilynn you find inspiration in places I would never dream of like that bar of soap.

    I like you will get an idea while in church or when driving down a busy highway, or the worse place in the shower, because I will start talking aloud trying to memorize it, so I can write it down when I come out the shower.

    Thanks for sharing new ways to either relax before writing or getting an idea.

    Much success to you.

  6. Hi Marilynn! I miss you! It was fun to read your post. I have been getting back into poetry myself–I just realized how much I missed it and how much it speaks to my soul! Email me, friend!

  7. Hey Melissa! Nice to “see” you. I’m off to bed, but I will shoot you an email in the AM. Thanks for coming over. Hope you win a book!

    much love,

  8. I relate strongly with your voices point, Marilynn. I do “hear” when I’m writing. I think that’s why I rarely talk about a work-in-progress. It’s as though there’ll be too many voices.

    Thanks for spending time with us today. We enjoyed having you and look forward to giving away one of your books on Friday.

    Thanks to you commenters, too. You can continue to comment on Marilynn’s and Vanessa’s posts until Friday and have your comments considered in the drawing for free books.

    Stay tuned. Our guest for tomorrow is Kristin Billerbeck.

  9. Thank you Marilynn for sharing your process. Angela, thank you for giving us the different perspectives from a diverse group of authors. It’s really encouraging material.

    A lot of my story ideas were developed in my nighttime dreams and a few came from writing a character name on paper and having a certain feeling about who that person is and I get excited about exploring that character’s life.

  10. It was nice to read from an author that she “has no ritual”. Just let God do the work! That is always the best way to do things. Thank you Mrs. Griffith
    for your books, I laugh, cry and always have a great read!!
    God bless,

  11. Thanks everyone for stopping by!

    I definitely think it’s possible to talk the life out of a story. I have friends who need to talk it out to get excited though. I’m with you on the white noise. I often just have to write anyway.

    I didn’t mention dreams, but they do play a big part, especially in Rhythms of Grace. At one point, I had a notebook and pen under my bed!

    Don’t think me too spiritual. It’s more like I just dive in and it splashes on the canvas in different colors each time. Everytime I try to creat a ritual, it never seems to work out so I just go with it. LOL Thank you so much for reading my books.

    Hi Josie!


  12. Thanks for sharings and my characters talks to me also. It happens when I least expects it. I could be sitting at work and I have to write it down or if I’m slept sometimes I wake up and have to run to the computer.

    Take care

  13. Thank you for saying you have no ritual and for sharing that small things and even odd things are sometimes your inspiration. Aside from God, my inspiration is sometimes a ‘conversation in my head’ that starts at the kitchen sink or when I am cleaning off my ‘always cluttered’ desk.

    I just need to write more of those conversations down before they are stolen by the devil.

  14. Thanks so much for this interview. Very inspiring! I would love to win this book! Love and prayers Melody

  15. Mary,

    You were supposed to utter the words which would give me perfect clarity to finish something!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Oh, and don’t give me no lip about writing in 7 minutes. Ha ha.

  16. A big thanks from me to you for participating, Marilynn! I’ll have to have you over again since you’re such a great guest.

    Now don’t be said if I tell all my other guests the same thing! πŸ™‚

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