by Pat Miller

It was the third week of January and I had asked my kindergarten students what special day was coming up on February 2. They guessed Valentine’s Day, Halloween, and Mother’s Day. So I gave them a hint. “It’s the day when a small, furry animal pops up out of its hole to tell the weather.”

The five year-olds were stumped. Suddenly, one boy pumped his arm and said, “I know! I know!” When I asked him which animal popped up, he replied with enthusiasm. “It’s the armadillo!”

Not surprising for a child from Texas where there are no groundhogs. I jotted the conversation in my idea book, but left it there for two years until I needed to write a book for credibility in my local SCBWI. After 33 rejections and two more years, Substitute Groundhog popped up out of its hiding place in my writer’s journal and went on to become a Junior Library Guild selection. It was reissued as an audio book, and was translated into French. Not bad for a “wrong” answer!

So, you’ve made it through November and jotted down a lot of ideas and sparks of stories. Perhaps you’ve even earned your PiBoIdMo 2011 badge of completion. So why this post on December 1? (There will be another tomorrow.)

First, let me ask if you know the story of Petunia. She was a goose who thought that carrying around a thick book under her wing was enough to make her smart. It wasn’t till she deciphered the word “dynamite” as “candy”, that the disastrous results blew open the book. Only then did Petunia realize that she had to begin the hard work of reading the book to become smarter.

For us it’s now time to begin the hard work of writing or illustrating the book. It’s not enough to be smug about the ideas we have tucked under the wing of our writing journals. Today is the perfect day to take the next step.

Turn back to your idea(s) from Day 1 and add something to it. Extrapolate a plot point. Describe the main character. Write down what could go wrong for the character. No need to fully flesh out the story—unless it insists you do so. Repeat the process on December 2nd with your second idea. In spite of the holiday busyness, keep going to your desk each day, fanning each spark a little more until one catches fire.

This is the process that will take your November ideas and carry them through to possibility. Mining your ideas each day will eventually lead you to gold. You never know what will pop up out of the ground until you dig for it. Good luck with your own armadillos!

Pat Miller is the author of  Squirrel’s New Year’s Resolution, Substitute Groundhog, We’re Going on a Book Hunt, Library Monkeys, and A Pet For Every Person. She and her husband live near Houston where the heat has finally broken but the drought persists. Her three adult children are still readers and are busy raising toddlers who also love books. Visit her Pat at