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inspirationTV-Murrayby Diana Murray

Inspiration is everywhere. It’s just a matter of tuning into it. And in order to do that, you need to switch on that part of your brain that reminds you to evaluate funny or interesting or poignant experiences and ask, “Could this be inspiration for a book?” If you don’t stop to notice it, inspiration can pass you by. Of course it’s also helpful to record things right away so you won’t forget. Official PiBoIdMo journal anyone?

Here are a few ways you can tune into inspiration:

1. Look to Yourself


When I wrote GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH, I started with the character trait of being messy.

Unfortunately, that’s a trait I am intimately familiar with, so I know how frustrating it can be. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve walked around the house wearing one flip-flop, desperately trying to find the other one. Once I had my inspiration, I cranked it up by making the main character a witch. That made the potential for messiness even bigger and more interesting. If you think about your own traits, maybe even flaws, you can get a lot of ideas that way. For more on this you can read my post from last year: “Brewing Up a Character-Driven Story.” And by the way, I thought up this story during the first ever PiBoIdMo (I think that was in 2009?). It got me a SCBWI grant, an agent, and a two-book deal. Yeah. Tara, can I just give you a big hug right now??

2. Take a Hike

CityShapesCoverSmCITY SHAPES was inspired by the long “hikes” I used to take around the city, back when I lived in midtown Manhattan. I loved the way the neighborhoods changed and discovering surprises around every corner. If you go out and observe your environment, what will you find? Maybe you’ll see a greedy squirrel trying to claim all the birdseed in the feeder? Or a raccoon riding on an alligator? (Seriously. Google it.) Scan your surroundings and see if anything inspires you. For a more specific challenge, you can also take the idea of a concept book (colors, shapes, numbers, seasons, etc.) and put a unique spin on it, perhaps pulling from your environment.

3. Observe Kids

This is a no-brainer. Kids are funny, full of wonder, and often brilliant. Watch them. Take notes. My own kids’ antics are a constant source of inspiration.

4. Admire Art

When I wrote GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, I was inspired by an illustration. I was in-between projects at the time and my agent suggested that I look at a particular illustrator’s portfolio and see if anything caught my eye. Well, it did! And that’s when GROGGLE was born. And now that very same illustrator (the fabulous Bats Langley) is illustrating the book. So, if you ever get stuck, try browsing some portfolios online or head to a museum.

5. Watch TV

NedCoverSmDidn’t expect that one, did ya? Yep, literally watching TV can also lead you to inspiration. However, you need to watch actively, not passively. In other words, keep your inspiration sensor clicked on. You never know what might strike you. In fact, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE was inspired by an episode of Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations–a travel and food show with a smart and amusingly snarky host. The episode I saw was filmed in Sweden. There were these extreme snowboarders who were descended from Vikings, and one of their favorite activities was…you guessed it, knitting. They knit their own hats with pompoms on top and gifted one to the show’s host. Bourdain (kind of a tough, black-leather-clad New Yorker) was clearly not comfortable wearing the fuzzy, woolen hat. It was hilarious.


I was immediately inspired. Now, of course I’m not implying that you should COPY what you see on TV. I’m just saying, you can get a seed of inspiration and then make it your own. For more about mashing together opposing ideas, you can read my 2012 post, “Idea Mash-Up.”

I hope this helps you tune into inspiration…and RIP THE KNOB OFF! (Sorry, I just had to get that in there.) Now get ready to be introspective, explore your world, laugh with your kids (or someone else’s), browse illustrations, and binge watch your favorite shows on Netflix. And most of all…have fun!

DianaMurrayBioPhotoDiana grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana is the author of six forthcoming picture books. Her award-winning children’s poems have appeared in many magazines, including Highlights, HighFive, Hello and Spider.

For more information, please visit: or follow Diana on Twitter: @DianaMWrites.

PrizeDetails (2)

NedToteDiana is giving away a NED THE KNITTING PIRATE tote bag with grey/white mosaic trim (product details), and special sneak preview editions (unbound F&G’s) of GRIMELDA: THE VERY MESSY WITCH and CITY SHAPES nearly a year before they appear in stores!

Leave a comment below to enter. One comment per person, please.

These prizes will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You will be eligible for these prizes if:

  • You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  • You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  • You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge.

Good luck, everyone!

DianaMurrayBioPhotoby Diana Murray

Picture books are as varied as the potions in a witch’s cupboard. Some are spicy and bubbly, while others are mellow and sweet. So which kinds of stories are editors and agents clamoring for? Well, their tastes are just as varied. But one thing that seems to be on everyone’s wish list is this: character-driven stories. A few examples include FANCY NANCY by Jane O’Connor, LLAMA LLAMA RED PAJAMA by Anna Dewdney, PINKALICIOUS by Elizabeth Kann, RUSSELL THE SHEEP by Rob Scotton, SKIPPYJON JONES by Judy Schachner, PETE THE CAT by Eric Litwin, LADYBUG GIRL by David Soman and Jacky Davis, MAX AND RUBY by Rosemary Wells, and SCAREDY SQUIRREL by Mélanie Watt. As you can see, character-driven books have great series potential and overall marketing potential. When readers fall in love with a character, they want to read more about him/her, and it’s fun to visualize what other sorts of situations the character may get into.

This doesn’t mean that character-driven stories are the only kinds that sell or do well in the marketplace. Nor does it mean that writers should focus primarily on pleasing editors or following trends. The best writing comes from the heart! But with that in mind, if you want to explore the possibilities of a character-driven story, here is one quick and easy recipe for brewing up a strong concept. Two ingredients are all you need!

  • Personality Trait
  • Conflicting Goal

I recommend you start off with a list of your own personality traits. This will make it easy for you to feel an emotional connection with (and understanding of) the trait.

My list might look something like this:

  • introverted
  • joker
  • nerdy
  • perfectionist
  • quiet
  • creative
  • analytical
  • messy
  • quirky
  • worrier


Pick one trait (or several, if you’re feeling bold!). Next, choose a goal. Not just any goal, but specifically a goal that is in opposition to the trait you selected. When I wrote GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, I chose the trait of being “messy” and made the goal “to find an item the character desperately wants/needs.” Or let’s say, for example, I choose “quiet”, then perhaps the goal would be to sing on stage, or speak out against something, or win an international yodeling contest. Sprinkle the goal in with your trait and–POOF! Instant conflict. And the conflict is intrinsically related to the essence of the main character. Adding conflict to a story is one way of encouraging readers to keep turning the pages. They’ll want to find out what happens next! Now, how will your character attempt to reach that goal or face that problem in his/her own unique way?

Feel that story bubbling to life? Now all you have to do is write (and revise, and revise) the rest. Of course, that’s the hard part. But a little inspiration magic can go a long way!


Diana Murray is the author of several forthcoming picture books including, CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, Spring 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN (Roaring Brook Press, Winter 2016), and GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH, plus a sequel (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, Summer 2016, 2017). Diana is the recipient of two SCBWI Magazine Merit Awards (2013 and 2014) and an Honor (2013) for poetry. She also won the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Work-In-Progress Grant for a picture book text. Diana is represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. She was raised in New York City and currently lives in a nearby suburb with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. Diana’s character GRIMELDA was brewed up during the first official PiBoIdMo, back in 2009! You can read more about that experience here.

For more information and news, you can visit or follow Diana on twitter: @DianaMWrites.


Diana is giving away a picture book critique!

This prize will be given away at the conclusion of PiBoIdMo. You are eligible for this prize if:

  1. You have registered for PiBoIdMo.
  2. You have commented ONCE ONLY on today’s post.
  3. You have completed the PiBoIdMo challenge. (You will have to sign the PiBoIdMo Pledge at the end of the event.)

Good luck, everyone!

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