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by Diana Murray

My 13-year-old daughter must be an imposter. That’s the only explanation for her neatness and love of cleaning. How could she possibly be my offspring?

I sure wish I had some of her tidying tendencies. But even though I’m very messy (GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH is basically my autobiography), I do like to keep things in categories. Categories are important. Categories keep the chaos contained. My messy piles of papers are sorted by categories.

And my bookshelf is organized in categories like this:

  1. Humorous picture books
  2. Lyrical picture books
  3. Non-fiction picture books
  4. Early readers
  5. Chapter books
  6. Board books
  7. Novelty, game and joke books
  8. Signed books (can’t mix these treasures in with everything else!)

So you might imagine my horror, when my well-meaning, impressively talented and patient daughter began to rearrange my bookshelf…by color! *gasp*

Yes, it looked beautiful and Instagram-worthy. But I could not find anything! After all, I would never think to myself, Hmmm, I could really go for a “blue” book right about now.

Anyway, the point is, I like categories. One reason I like writing in rhyming metrical verse is that there is a lot of built-in structure. I find it comforting when compared to the cavernous open spaces of free verse and prose.

I sometimes feel the same way about inspiration. Although inspiration can come from many places, starting with something as simple as a title, at least for me, is a little less overwhelming than “sky’s the limit”. When I wrote SOMEDAY, MAYBE (illustrated by Jessica Gibson, Holt/Macmillan, March 2023), I began with the title. While stirring up ideas one day, I gave myself the task of coming up with a phrase that would begin a sentence. I imagined it would be a phrase that would repeat throughout the book. I mucked around with a list of different options and didn’t really love anything. But I kept coming back to that file anytime I was looking for inspiration for a new project. About a year or two later, something struck me about “Someday, maybe…”. I guess I just had to be in the right mood to be “feeling” it. I began to write “Someday, maybe cars will fly.” Finally, I liked the direction it was going in! I’ve always been a sci-fi fan so the rest of the manuscript sort of rolled out after that.

Back to categories. Have you ever noticed that there are different kinds of titles? I recently saw a fun post on Twitter called “Title Tryouts” (by Nancy Sanders, via @BrittanyPomales, via @jencowanwriter). I started thinking more about titles and decided to try to nail some down. You will notice that some of the categories overlap. Also, it’s important to remember that even though the title can be a starting point for inspiration, that doesn’t mean that you’re forcing it up. You just write down the title and then you see if it sparks something. The passion will come from a memory or an association. The title is just the jumping off point.

Remember how I mentioned the “novelty, jokes and games” section on my bookshelf? Well, sitting on that shelf is a small collection of Mad Libs. I used to love doing those as a kid and I continue to enjoy them. All you have to do is fill in the blanks, and voila! You can surprise yourself with your own unique story. The following exercise is a bit like a titles-only Mad Libs. For added inspiration, I’m also including examples of published books from me, Tara, and others.

Types of Titles
[fill in the blanks to make your own]

The Meta title:

a. The [_______] Book
b. This Book is [______]

Published Examples: I Thought This Was a Bear Book (by Tara); The Book of Rules; The Quiet Book; The Monster at the End of This Book; Don’t Push the Button; This Book Just Ate My Dog!; What Would You Do in a Book About You?; Snappsy the Alligator (Did Not Ask to Be in This Book)

 The Negation Title:

a. Don’t [_____]!
b. Never [verb] a [noun]!
c. No More [plural noun]!

Published Examples: Nope!; No, David!; You Don’t Want a Unicorn; It’s Not Hansel and Gretel; If You Ever Want To Bring a Piano to the Beach, DON’T!; I Will Never Not Ever Eat a Tomato; I Don’t Want to Be a Frog!; I Dare You Not to Yawn; Hey, You’re Not Santa!; I Ain’t Gonna Paint No More!; No Nibbling!; Not a Box

The Celebratory Title:

a. “Hooray for [_____]!”
b. “[______] Party!”
c. “Let’s go [____]!”

Published Examples: Unicorn Day and Mermaid Day (by me); Rah, Rah, Radishes!; Hooray for Hat!; The Great Big Poop Party; Where’s the Party?; Go, Girls, Go!

The One Word Title (often with an exclamation point):

a. [plural noun]!
b. [action verb]!
c. [adjective]!
d. [quiet word]

Published Examples: Bloop (by Tara); Nope!; Ducks!; Dude!; Square; Brave! Found; Stuck; Kaleidoscope

The Lyrical Musing Title (which often repeats throughout the book):

a. When You [verb]
b. Tomorrow is [____]
c. Once Upon a [____]
d. On a [adjective] Day
e. If I Had a [noun]

Published Examples: Someday, Maybe (by me); I Wish You More; This Could Be You!;  Wherever You Go; The Wonderful Things You Will Be; On The Night You Were Born; Once Upon Another Time; My Love For You; Whatever Comes Tomorrow

The Question or Instruction Title

a. How to [verb] a [noun]
b. Where’s My [noun]?
c. Can You [verb] a [noun]?
d. Who Do You [verb]?

Published Examples: Help Mom Work From Home! (by me); What Do You Do With an Idea?; Field Guide to the Grumpasaurus; How to Catch a Unicorn; How to Meet a Mermaid; Where’s the Party? Where’s My Butt?; Where is My Balloon?; How to Babysit a Grandma

The Popular Song or Fairytale with a Twist Title

a. Twinkle, Twinkle, Little [noun]
b. Hush Little [noun]
c. Rock-a-bye [noun]
d. Old MacDonald had a [noun]
e. The Three Little [plural noun]

Published Examples: Little Red Gliding Hood (by Tara); Mary Had a Little Glam; Cock-a-doodle-OOPS!; There Was an Old Dragon Who Swallowed a Knight; Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Car; Moldylocks and the Three Scares; It’s Not the Three Little Pigs; The Three Ninja Pigs; Hush, Little Monster; It’s Raining Bats and Frogs

The Unexpected or Opposite Word Pairing Title

a. [adjective], [opposite adjective]!
b. I Love [unpleasant plural noun]!

Published Examples: Love Stinks! (by me); Yummy Yucky; Goodbye, Friend! Hello, Friend!; Duck, Duck, Moose; Z Is for Moose; P is for Pterodactyl; Digestion the Musical; Good Night Baddies; Creepy Carrots; Mushroom Rain; Bad Apple’s Perfect Day; The Obstinate Pen; The Crab Ballet; I Got a Chicken for my Birthday; Animals in Pants; Vegetables in Underwear; Goodnight, Veggies (by me)

The Rhyming Title

a. [noun] in a [noun]!
b. [adjective] [noun that rhymes]

Published Examples: Doris the Bookasaurus (by me); Don’t Be Silly Miss Millie!; Sheep in a Jeep; The Cat in the Hat; Fancy Nancy; Here’s What you Do When You Can’t Find Your Shoe; How To Train Your Pet Brain; Wordy Birdy; Green as a Bean

The Alliterative Title

a. [adjective] [noun beginning with same letter]
b. [any holiday][noun beginning with same letter]

Published Examples: Sleepy Snuggles (by me); Creepy Carrots; Horton Hears a Who; Bee-Bim Bop!; Penguin and Pinecone; Battle of the Butts; The Bold, Brave Bunny; Sam’s Super Seats; Jabari Jumps; Larry’s Latkes; Normal Norman (by Tara)

The Onomatopoeia Title

a. [sound], [sound], [sound]!
b. [sound]!
c. [sound]?
d. The [sound adjective] [noun]

Published Examples: Boo! Hiss!; Bump in the Night!; Click, Clack, Moo: Cows That Type; Eek, You Reek!; Splish, Splash, Splat!

The Silly, Nonsense or Made-up Word Title

a. [made up word]
b. [silly/unique proper name]

Published Examples: The Thingity-Jig; Hogwash!; Nerp!; Du Iz Tak? Best Frints in the Whole Universe; My Name is Wakawakaloch; The Red Ear Blows Its Nose

The Character Title

a. [character name] the [adjective] [noun]
b. [adjective][rhyming name]

Published Examples: Bloop (by Tara); Ned the Knitting Pirate (by me); Grimelda the Very Messy Witch (by me); Doris the Bookasaurus (by me); Lady Pancake and Sir French Toast; Tiny T-Rex and the Impossible Hug; Henny; Fancy Nancy; Crankenstein; Stellaluna; The Adventures of Beekle: The Unimaginary Friend; Oona; Warren and Dragon; A History of Underwear with Professor Chicken; Groggle’s Monster Valentine (by me)

The Counting or Quantifying Title

a. One [adjective] [noun]
b. Too Many [plural noun]!
c. Ten Little [plural noun]
d. Too [adjective]!

Published Examples: Double the Dinosaurs (by me); One Snowy Day (by me); Five Fuzzy Chicks (by me); Dozens of Doughnuts; Millions of Cats; Counting Kisses; One Hundred Shoes; One Big Pair of Underwear

The Clever Wordplay or Pun Title

a. [literally any pun]

Published Examples: 7 Ate 9 (by Tara); The Monstore (by Tara), Happy Llamakkah!: A Hanukkah Story; Wondering Around; Pirasaurs; Hey, Hey, Hay!; The Friend Ship; Nerdycorn; Not Yeti; Kung Pow Chicken; Un-BEE-lievables; Shampoodle; Mice Skating; Brainstorm!

This is far from an exhaustive list. And as I mentioned, there is A LOT of crossover between the groups. Why not a #6 (question) #8 (unexpected) and #9 (rhyming) combo, for example: “How Do You Hug a Bug?” Or perhaps you’re tempted to get in touch with your inner 8-year-old and fill in “butt” or “burp” for all the blanks. Well guess what? I didn’t add it here, but there could honestly be a whole category just for titles that feature butts, burps, poop, underwear and farts! So go right ahead.

Are there any other categories you would add? Have I missed any of your favorite books? I’m sure I’ve left out some of my own and I’ll be kicking myself later. But hopefully, filling in these blanks and perusing the other existing titles will give your inspiration a jolt! Have fun! And feel free to use this as an excuse to procrastinate on your cleaning chores. I know I will!

Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children, including the bestselling UNICORN DAY series, an ILA/CBC Children’s Choice Book, a 2019 Goodreads Choice Finalist, and 2022 Amazon Best Book of the Year (UNICORN NIGHT board book edition). Some of her recent and forthcoming titles include LOVE STINKS! (Step-into-Reading/Random House), SOMEDAY, MAYBE (Holt/Macmillan), FIREHOUSE RAINBOW (Little Golden Books), and MERMAID DAY (Sourcebooks). She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her husband, two children, and a dancing dog. Visit her at and follow her on Twitter @DianaMWrites.

Diana is giving away a picture book critique.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm 2023 participant and you have commented only once on today’s blog post. ↓

Prizes will be distributed at the conclusion of Storystorm.

by Diana Murray, who picks the freshest ideas

Congratulations! You made it through Storystorm. Instead of simply waiting for ideas to come to you, you went out there and actively churned them up, sought them out, and grabbed them! An idea may just be a word or short phrase. It may not seem like much, but really, it’s the beginning of everything! An overwhelming thought. Which idea do you choose? How do you proceed?

First, Marinate!
I urge you to proceed slowly and let your ideas fully develop. While you’re going about your usual business of walking the dog, running errands, or even sleeping, your brain is actually hard at work, with creative juices flowing. Feel free to jot a few notes down to keep track of things, but don’t rush into committing to a story. This marination phase has already been happening all through Storystorm and there’s no need to stop the process quite yet. For example, my book “Unicorn Day” sprouted from the idea of dolphins having a party in the ocean. I got the seed of the idea while observing dolphins down in Florida. But I didn’t start writing as soon as I had the idea. I let the idea sit around in my mind for a few weeks. I kept thinking about how majestic dolphins seemed, as if they were unicorns of the sea. Eventually, “Dolphin Party” evolved into “Unicorn Day”. If I had started writing the story immediately, I may have never made that mental leap.

What’s fresh?
If you had to choose between limp, out-of-season asparagus and crisp zucchini fresh from the farm, which would you choose? Probably the latter. If there have been a million books about a particular idea lately (especially bestsellers), and it seems the topic has been done to death, maybe now is not the time. Maybe you put that idea aside, at least temporarily, and work on a “fresher” one instead. Aside from what other books are out there, it’s also a matter of what feels fresh to YOU. For example, when I was brainstorming “Goodnight” books, I had many ideas that seemed like they had been done quite often, but when I wrote “Goodnight, Veggies” on my list of options, it made me chuckle a bit to myself. I thought it sounded a little odd and unexpected. That’s why it stood out to me. It should be noted that “Goodnight” books in general have been done a million times. So I’m not saying you should rule out everything that’s already been done. I mean, chefs aren’t going to stop making spaghetti with tomato sauce. There’s a reason people like that dish. But chefs who want to get noticed will put a unique twist on this old favorite. And most importantly, choosing something that feels fresh to YOU will help keep YOU interested and having fun. When the writer is having fun, it comes across on the page.

What are you in the mood for?
How do you decide what to make for dinner? Often, it’s just about what you’re in the mood for. Perhaps you’ve been craving tacos all day long. Why fight it? It’s the same with ideas. There is often one idea that is constantly calling to you. If it’s constantly popping in your head, no matter how hard you try to wait or to think about another idea on your list, then that’s it. That’s the one you should go with. Tacos it is! And that’s another good reason to try to wait and marinate in the beginning. It makes it easier to notice which idea is screaming for your attention more than all the others. This also comes down to personal preferences and experiences. No matter how fresh it is, you probably aren’t going to cook with zucchini if zucchini just isn’t your thing. On the other hand…

Try something new
If you’ve been eating nothing but tacos day after day, maybe it’s time to expand your horizons. On cooking shows, the judges always praise the contestants who reach past their comfort zone. And I can see why. Even the best chefs are always growing and learning and trying new things, even if that means they’re taking more risks. Trying something new is another way to keep things fresh and fun for yourself. Do you have a non-fiction idea but that’s not what you usually write? Give it a shot. Never wrote a concept book? Maybe now’s the time. When I wrote HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, I specifically wrote it in second person because I had never tried that before and I thought it would be fun. So when you’re choosing an idea from your list, maybe you try something different. Zucchini pizza, anyone?

Once you’ve chosen your well-marinated main ingredient, the idea, it’s time to start cooking! Don’t forget to taste often, add spices as needed, and have some other tasters (i.e., critique partners) on hand, too. Enjoy!

I also want to take a moment to thank Tara. I have been a huge fan of Storystorm since it first began and I’m so grateful for the feast of inspiration!

Diana Murray is the author of over twenty books for children (board books, early readers, and picture books), both published and forthcoming. Her books include the National IndieBound Bestseller UNICORN DAY and its sequels, UNICORN NIGHT and UNICORN CHRISTMAS, as well as HELP MOM WORK FROM HOME!, GOODNIGHT VEGGIES, GROGGLE’S MONSTER VALENTINE, and PIZZA PIG. Diana’s poems have appeared in many children’s magazines and anthologies. She grew up in New York City and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two children, and a dancing dog. To learn more, you can visit her website at or follow her on Facebook, Instagram: @dianamurrayauthor, or Twitter: @DianaMWrites.

by Diana Murray

It seems only natural to start writing a story as soon as you know the beginning. But since the beginning and the ending need to be connected, doesn’t it make sense to figure out the ending first? That way you’ll know what you’re moving toward. But you often can’t work out the ending till you know the middle! I don’t mean every single thing that happens in between. But just that exact middle point. The middle can consist of a “black moment” before a final solution, or it can be some other big turn of events. Even in plotless, lyrical concept books, there is almost always an arc of some kind, and the middle needs to pop.

I know, I know. This challenge is all about creating ideas. Aren’t I putting the cart before the horse? Well, the thing is, once you catch an idea and write it down, it kind of takes on a life of its own. It will start sparking other similar ideas. It might branch off into something new or it might rustle up a distant memory. Your mind might ask questions about your idea, or posit possible story directions. Write everything down! I like to collect ALL those musings and nestle them right under the ideas in my file. Ideas always generate more ideas and questions generate more questions! Use that to your advantage.

Anyway, lots of people out there are successful “pantsers”, but I personally find that having a plan is the most efficient way for me to work. Here are the first few stages I typically go through, from idea to first draft. I’ll use “Unicorn Day” as an example (with actual snippets from my original idea file). As you can see, my ideas often begin with a title.

I have an idea. I write it down, but I don’t dive in yet.

Dolphin Party?

This idea came to me after watching dolphins swim around in Orlando. I was thinking about how majestic and almost magical they seem.

I have lots of other ideas throughout the weeks, both related and random. I write them down, but don’t go further than that yet. (Some of them suck. Some are OK. Some are fun, but not marketable. Some feel too common. I don’t assess that until later. For now, at the early idea stage, I enjoy being wild and free! No idea is shunned at this phase.)

Dolphin Daze, Dolphin Day, Five Diving Dolphins, Dolphin Princess, Unicorns of the Sea
Under where? Underwear! – wordplay? make refrain?

Loose Tooth Blues (song)

Worm Race

Monkey Party? They go “bananas”.

Unicorn Party? Unicorn Day?


If I find that thoughts keep popping up regarding one of the ideas in particular, I go back to it, and jot down some notes. Perhaps a turn of phrase or a plot point will keep bubbling up. When the same idea keeps nagging at me day after day, I know it’s time to go deeper.

Unicorn Party? Unicorn Day? Describe magical party. “Only three rules”. “Must have fabulous ‘do”?

But what happens??? Maybe a horse comes by and he’s sad. They give him a horn? “Unicorn party! Unicorn party! Everyone’s invited!” Chant of some kind?

Maybe they need someone sensible and horse is the sensible one?
Maybe ALL the unicorns are actually horses? Or the main one? That’s the surprise–fake horn all along?

…(my ramblings continue for several pages)

Once the story starts coming out, I write notes in this sort of crazy, conversational stream of consciousness. Usually, a week or two goes by. Then the answer finally pops out:

The horse sneaks in with a fake horn. Paper horn tied on with string. Nobody knows…until it falls off during celebration.

And that’s my middle. How do I know? It just feels right. And a different person might find a different “middle” even if they start with the exact same title. But anyway, now that I’ve found it, I know where I’m going with the story and I can start fleshing things out more. I often do a rough outline with page numbers before switching to verse. By this time, I’m usually chomping at the bit! I start writing at a galloping pace till I get my first draft down.

When I plan things like this, my initial draft comes out more polished and I tend to have fewer revisions after I’m done. And since I write in rhyme, that’s especially beneficial! Until I figure out that “middle” or that “twist” (and by extension, the ending) I don’t have much to go on, and I risk writing something that meanders or feels slight.

Here are a few other examples of “middles” in my books:

  • ONE SNOWY DAY (Sourcebooks): Two kids and a dog go on a snowy day adventure in this counting concept book. In the middle, the dog steals the snowman’s carrot nose.
  • GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Tegen/HarperCollins): A messy witch loses an ingredient she needs to make pickle pie. In the middle, she’s forced to use her broom to sweep instead of fly.
  • SUMMER COLOR (Little/Brown): In this color concept book, two kids go on a nature walk on a very hot summer day. In the middle, there is a sudden rainstorm, and a mad rush home.
  • PIZZA PIG (Step-into-Reading/RandomHouse): A pig serves all his customers the perfect animal-specific pizzas in his shop. In the middle, a shy turtle refuses to eat, no matter what he tries.

Enjoy this early idea phase and write down EVERYTHING, without self-critiquing. Just let the ideas frolic in your mind. Soon, you will see which ideas keep nagging at you, and once you get that middle figured out, you’re off to the races! And with all that planning, you’ll have the reins firmly in hand.

For those who don’t know, it was during the very first Storystorm (PiBoIdMo 2009) that I came up with the manuscript that got me my agent. Since signing with her in 2012, I have sold 15 picture books and 2 early readers.

Diana Murray is the author of over a dozen books for children, including GOODNIGHT VEGGIES (HMH, March 2020), a Jr. Library Guild Selection; and UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, 2019), a National Indiebound Bestseller. Both of these books will be coming out in board book editions this April. Diana grew up in NYC and still lives nearby with her firefighter husband, two children, and a smarty-pants cockatiel named Bean. Visit her at

Diana is giving away one of her signed books (of your choice).

Leave one comment below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below.

by Diana Murray

I recently found an old high school journal in my basement. In it are some real gems, such as quotes from my awesome 11th grade Creative Writing teacher, Mr. Zavatsky. He once said, “Don’t wait for flaming asteroids to fly down and sit on your tongue.” I thought that was a delightful way to put it! Basically, you don’t need to sit passively waiting for inspiration. Sure, sometimes inspiration hits out of the blue, but you can also go out there and seek it or actively drum it up. Here are just a few ways to do that, as well as some personal examples.

Recycle by Switching Genres:
A few years ago, I had a pun-filled, garden-themed short poem published in Highlights magazine. It was one of my favorites. I liked it so much, I thought, hey, maybe I can recycle this idea into a picture book. And that’s when I began to write  “Goodnight Veggies.” The new manuscript was also pun-filled and garden-themed, but it had all the elements one commonly finds in a picture book (story arc, take-away message, enough room left for illustrations, etc.). I’m happy to say it will be published by HMH in 2020, and illustrated by the amazing Zachariah OHora. I was recently reviewing rough illustrations and noticed that Zach placed the garden on an urban rooftop. I thought that was brilliant! So I took THAT idea and wrote another short poem about a child planting a garden on his roof. Double recycling! Yet another time, I took a short High Five poem that I wrote (“Four Fun Chicks”) and re-imagined it as a goodnight/counting concept book (FIVE FUZZY CHICKS, Imprint/Macmillan, 2020). Again, this meant starting from scratch and adding things like a climax, and giving thought to page turns and so on. It’s not just a matter of slapping a different label on it. But if you have favorites in one genre, see if you can rework them to fit into another.

Pop Out a Character:
You can take a secondary character in an existing work and give them their own story. What if the cat in my witch story had an adventure on his own? Or what if he had to adjust to a new pet in the household? Or what if the shy turtle in PIZZA PIG had her own story in which she had to overcome her shyness? You don’t have to approach this with “sequel” mentality. You can just pull on character traits that you’re already familiar with and create something completely new and different. When I was first looking at illustrations for my forthcoming book UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, June 2019), I was immediately drawn to a particular background character–an edgy, goth unicorn that the illustrator, Luke Flowers, imaginatively included toward the end. My kids commented on their love for the character, as well. I mean, come on. How cool would that be to give the goth-icorn his/her own story?! If only I had a knack for writing novels.

Look for Holes in Your List:
What don’t you have yet? Surely anyone can put their own unique twist on a pirate book or goodnight book or holiday book. Think of all the super common themes that you always see in books. If there’s a theme you haven’t considered yet, consider it! Bring your own perspective to it. While I’m not a knitter, I used to work in the fashion industry and that helped inform my unique take on a pirate book with NED THE KNITTING PIRATE. You can even take an idea you already have and apply one of these second themes to it. What would happen if you turned an existing idea into a goodnight book? Or what if you turned your characters into pirates? Or dinosaurs? How would that change the story?

Have you tried a cumulative tale yet? A mirror tale? A circular story? A concept book? A fractured fairytale? Exhaust all possibilities! Go to the extreme. And don’t let your inner critic get involved at this point. Let your mind roam free, because even a bad idea could lead to a good idea in the end.

Many years ago, before I had an agent or any published books on the horizon, I had a book idea about a chef who was a cow. Her name was “Chef Moodette” and she made perfect dishes for everyone who came into her cafe. I kept wondering what the twist would be. Would a pair of human kids finally walk in? And she wouldn’t be able to figure out what they wanted? Did they want milkshakes? Ewwwww. No! I kept trying to make “Chef Moodette” work (I’m talking, over the course of a few years), but it was just terrible. I couldn’t get the ending right. But my work was not wasted. Years later I began to write PIZZA PIG and “Chef Moodette” jumped back into my mind. But this time, I finally figured out the ending (and lots of other issues)! So keep returning to your old manuscripts, folks. You never know when something will finally click. When you re-read your work, the stories simmer in the back of your brain, just waiting for the right moment to surface.

So don’t sit around waiting for “flaming asteroids” of inspiration. Get out there and wrangle them!

And in case anyone is interested, I’d like to note that I will be leading a detailed, online rhyming picture book workshop for the Highlights Foundation this fall. And here’s some fantastic news: Tara Lazar will be joining me on-site to lend her expertise! 

Diana Murray is the author of over a dozen books for children, including CITY SHAPES (Little, Brown, 2016), GRIMELDA THE VERY MESSY WITCH (Tegen Books/HarperCollins, 2016), NED THE KNITTING PIRATE (Roaring Brook/Macmillan, 2016), PIZZA PIG (Step-into-Reading/Random House, 2018), and UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, 2019). Her award-winning poems have appeared in magazines such as Highlights, High Five and Spider. Diana grew up in NYC and still lives nearby with her husband, two very messy children, and a motley crew of pets. Visit her at

Diana is giving away an advanced edition of UNICORN DAY (Sourcebooks, June 2019).

Simply leave ONE COMMENT below to enter.

You’re eligible to win if you’re a registered Storystorm participant and you have commented once below. Prizes will be given away at the conclusion of the event.

Good luck!


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!

DianaMurrayBioPhotoIn 2009, I was humming the rejection blues when I spotted Tara’s post on Verla Kay’s Blueboards. PiBoIdMo sounded like just the sort of creative kick in the pants that I needed. And boy, am I glad I took up the challenge, because it started an exciting chain of events.

One of my ideas led to a picture book manuscript for which I was awarded the SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant in 2010. I’m normally a pretty shy person, but after that, I would often catch myself singing “Zippity doo-da…” in public (much to the dismay of anyone within earshot).

When I emailed Tara to thank her, she invited me to share my story. Another exciting moment! And now, a few years and many revisions later, here I am with a sing-out-loud-worthy update. After signing with Brianne Johnson of Writers House, GRIMELDA, THE VERY MESSY WITCH—the manuscript I based on a 2009 PiBoIdMo idea—sold in a two-book deal to Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins. Plus, another manuscript, NED THE KNITTING PIRATE: A SALTY YARN, sold to Roaring Brook Press/Macmillan. Both are scheduled to be released in 2014. I hope my neighbors have industrial-strength ear plugs.

Speaking of singing, here’s a bit of inspiration to help you begin your own exciting chain of events.

If you’ve ever watched Glee, you’re probably familiar with the concept of the “mash-up”. This is when you take two different songs and smash them together to produce something new.


Bon Jovi and Usher? Who knew that could work?

And it can work with writing as well. The great thing about mash-ups is that they can give your story an immediate sense of conflict. And when you mix concepts that don’t normally go together, you can potentially create something unexpected and fresh. You can also create something really weird, like “Trucks at the Ballet” or “Pet Rock for President!”. But remember, one person’s weird is another person’s unique, funny, and/or intriguing. It’s all about execution (well, and also personal preference). In order to nail the execution, it helps if the idea is something you relate to. Something you connect with on a personal level. That will give you the passion you need to see it through.

By the way, when I posted on Tara’s blog in 2010, I mentioned one of my “bad” ideas about a do-everything hat. I believe it was called “Mabel’s Amazing Hat”. Well, I ended up giving that idea a sporty twist. The new title is “Automatic Baseball Hat” and I recently sold it as a poem to Highlights magazine. So you can even make your bad ideas work for you! And I’m not so sure there’s such a thing as a bad idea at all.

Now get out there and mash it up!

Diana Murray is a picture book author and poet represented by Brianne Johnson at Writers House. She lives in New York City with her husband, two very messy children, and a goldfish named Pickle. For more information, visit her website or follow her on Twitter @DianaMWrites.

More PiBoIdMo success stories! Many thanks to Mindy Alyse Weiss for pulling these stories together.

I hope when YOU have a success to share, you’ll contact me. I love to hear how your ideas went from pencil-scribble to published! And I don’t define “success” just as being pubbed. Win a grant, a contest, secure an agent–anything goes. So here goes…

1. Amy Dixon

Being married to a relentless distance runner means that every November, there is a marathon on the schedule. Lucky for me, November is also Picture Book Idea Month, and I had long been lamenting the lack of picture books about running. Looking back at my spreadsheet for 2010, the entry for November 5th says, “Marathon Mouse. Story of a mouse who lives in NYC right under the start line (Verrazano bridge)  and decides that it is his life’s dream to particpate in the NYC marathon.” That’s it. The beginnings of a story. Flash forward to August 2011, where I received one of the best e-mails of my life. A lovely editor at Sky Pony Press likes Marathon Mouse and wants to publish it! The story could end there, and would still be a dream-come-true. But I decided to contact an agent I had recently queried with a different story and tell her of my offer. After a flurry of e-mails and phone calls, I signed with Karen Grencik of Red Fox Literary. In the course of one day, I had gone from struggling picture book writer, to agented and soon-to-be-published! So keep your eyes peeled in Fall 2012 for a picture book titled, MARATHON MOUSE. It’s by me. And it happened in part because I took on the challenge of coming up with 30 ideas in 30 days!

I also have a longer version of the story on my blog, but it doesn’t mention PiBoIdMo:

2. Diana Murray

Diana Murray was thrilled to receive the 2010 SCBWI Barbara Karlin Grant for her rhyming picture book manuscript about a witch. She came up with a few different versions of the idea during the first PiBoIdMo. You can read more about her experience here: Diana will always be grateful to Tara for starting an event that helped her streamline her writing process. And now, she’s ready for another month of fun and inspiration!

Diana’s website:

3. Rebecca Colby

This year, Rebecca participated in her third PiBoIdMo. Following a picture book workshop last year that challenged her to alter a well-known fairytale, she decided to generate a few ideas for fractured fairy tales. She found the inspiration she needed from Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen’s guest post on Day 29 that recommended participants do just that–transform “something old into something new.”

The result was an idea for a Cinderella story with monsters entitled MONSTERELLA.

Rebecca says, “I fell in love with the idea of a fairy godmonster who magics a spider into a monster truck.” Rebecca wrote the manuscript soon after and it went on to win the 2011 SCBWI Barbara Karlin grant.

Before writing for children, Rebecca inspected pantyhose,worked for a Russian comedian, taught English in Taiwan, and traveled the world as a tour director. She currently works as a librarian. Born in America, Rebecca now lives in England with her husband and two daughters. More information about Rebecca and her writing can be found at her website:

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