Category Archives: goals


Gem State Writers began on April 1, 2011. Since then, we have posted 572 blogs. Along the way, our members have been published, been successful in writing contests, and developed their craft.

As with much in life, things change.

As we devote more of our time to writing, the group has decided it’s time to retire Gem State Writers. We all want to making writing the best books we can a priority in our lives. We leave knowing GSW has helped us grow and learn about this time-honored profession. And we’ll miss all of you.

Our members share their thoughts below.

Stephanie Berget: When I was asked to be a contributor to Gem State Writers, I was so excited that this group of talented women considered me good enough to write alongside of them. I was also terribly nervous. I’d never blogged before, had really never written with any kind of deadline, and that scared the crap out of me.
Throughout the last year and a half or so, blogging at Gem State Writers has expanded my knowledge of writing craft, taught me to have the post ready whether I feel like it or not, and how to research topics. I’m thankful for that, but I’m more thankful to have had a great group of writers to learn from. I’m going to miss each and every one of you.

Peggy Staggs: In the short time the group was together, I learned a lot about my fellow bloggers. I’ve enjoyed everyone’s perspectives and techniques. Even when I sometimes struggled for ideas, I still looked forward to stretching my mental muscles. The good news is I have a ton (or at least a few pounds) of blog under my belt. The bad news is I will miss you all.

Janis McCurry: When Gem State Writers began I asked myself what interested me about writing. Language was the answer. I loved researching for the language blogs I wrote. The evolving of the language and the continual change intrigues me. I loved having deadlines to “keep me honest.” I loved getting to know my co-GSW-ers and learned something from every blog. Reader comments were delightful and insightful (how’s that for rhyming?). It was a great 2 ½ years and I don’t regret a minute. Thanks to all of you, both bloggers and readers.

Judy Keim: Blogs are considered a waste of time by a lot of people. In my opinion, some are; some are not.

If one is committed to write blogs to the detriment of writing stories, then it is a waste of time. If one thinks writing blogs is a sure way to get the attention of an editor or an agent, it is a waste of time. If one thinks you can sell a large number of books by blogging on a regular basis, it is, in my opinion, another waste of time. (There are other ways of promoting your work.)

On the other hand, if you are writing or participating in a blog to learn about others (both in your group and those who respond) it can be worthwhile. If you’re blogging as a means of sharing industry information or skills, it also can be valuable.

What I’ve learned by blogging with the Gem State Writers is that we have a group of talented, interesting, knowledgeable people whom I’ve gotten to know a little bit better. That’s been time well spent!

Mary Vine: I’ve enjoyed being a part of Gem State Writers, a shared effort to get our blogs out to the world. I will miss Neysa writing how important it is to go to conferences; I will miss Janis giving us a look at language and sharing about her travels; I really appreciate Peggy’s piece on The Bad Guy Tree for mystery writers; I enjoyed reading about Corina’s life near McCall; Lynn helped me understand trying to write with a tiring, busy schedule; I’ve gotten to know Judith through her move and writing journey; I’ve learned more about the rodeo from Stephanie; Through Jennifer I am reminded what it was like trying to write with children in my home; Meredith gave me a glimpse of living in a faraway place where one can meet up with a wild animal or nearly get snowed in; I’ve already missed MK and her individual pursuit of writing. Yes, every time someone has moved on to other writing pursuits, I regretted seeing them leave. Finally, cheers for Marsha who has stayed with us to the end, to inspire us in our writing, and to share her own journey.

Lynn Mapp: At the inception of Gem State Writers, we blogged every two weeks. I didn’t think I had that many blogs in me. What I learned during my time with the “Gems” is I actually had the ability to write two articles a month. It doesn’t sound earth-shattering, but it was for me.

I also had the opportunity to be with a group of women committed to writing and sharing their journey with other people on the same path.

Someone told me that my blogs tended to be of the “you can do it” nature. I am a cheerleader, a supporter, a believer. Thank you for allowing me to share my thoughts with you.

Neysa Jensen: I’ve enjoyed blogging about writing, specifically children’s writing. It helps me put things in perspective when I try to explain it to someone else. Anyone who would like to be with and learn from fellow writers is welcome to join our SCBWI events. You can find out more on

Corina Mallory: Thank you to everyone on this blog for letting me join your ranks. It’s been a real pleasure to read your work and get to know you better through your comments. I’ve learned a lot, not just about my fellow writers, but about myself. You’ve made me think about why I write the way I do, why I love some things and others leave me cold. You’ve helped me become a better writer. I’ll miss coming here and seeing your bright happy faces in your avatar photos and hearing what’s going on in your lives and what topics you’re finding interesting. But the internet is forever, right? We’ll always have pixels.


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One of the most creative tasks a writer pursues is finding time to write. Given that no two writers or life situations are exactly the same, it’s also an individualized pursuit. But here’s what works for me.

Once upon a time, I mostly wrote when I had a two hour block of relaxed, quiet time where I was well-rested, devoid of any headache, and feeling particularly creative. I wrote steadily, but slowly.

Then I had kids.  Two little boys.  So much for being well-rested.  Or knowing if I had two hours or two minutes to write.  Surely my productivity would crash.  Finding time to write seemed more daunting than fixing gaping plot holes.

But I discovered that I wrote just fine in five-minute bursts.  Indeed, my sleep-deprived brain seemed to handle that best.  Throughout the day, I’d plot and outline the next scene in my head.  I left my Word document open on the computer at all times.  When I could, I’d add a few paragraphs.  Sometimes I’d get lucky with miraculously coinciding naps and write madly for an hour solid.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, when I began creatively adapting my writing time to suit my current life demands instead of waiting for a perfect moment, I wrote a lot more.  Kids never stay the same age for very long, and as they’ve grown, I’ve practiced adapting my time over and over.

My family’s about to go through another big shift.  This will be my last post as a Gem State Writer blogger; we’re headed out of the Gem State, for happy employment reasons.  I’m going to have a new schedule and a new routine.  Finding time to write will require new solutions.

But that doesn’t scare me.  Just like plotting or characterization or prose, finding time to write is one more way to flex my creative muscles…and sometimes practice patience.

How do you balance your life demands — work, family, and other — to make room for writing?

P.S. Thanks for having me here on the blog.  It’s been amazingly fun.


Posted by on July 18, 2013 in Family, goals, time management, Writing Faster


Writing Everyday

I was flipping through the June 2013 edition of Woman’s Day magazine the other day and saw a short article called, Team Support by Debbie Dehler. She says, “You don’t go from couch potato to completing a race in a day. It’s regularly setting small, realistic goals that gets you to the finish line.” Sure this is all about diet and exercise, but it also applies to other goals as well. In my case, writing goals.

This month I participated in NEW/100. As far as I know, NEW/100 started in a writing group I belong to. NEW means No Excuses Writing, and the 100 stands for at least 100 new words per day. At the end of the day (or when you can) the word count is posted on the loop with NEW/100 in the subject line so that those who aren’t interested can delete the email if they choose.

Yes, in NEW/100, others are expecting us to get our word count in, which gives us the motivation to get those 100 words done and posted. Being accountable to another has helped me start or continue my writing project and for me it’s starting small and continuing until I reach my goal. For me 100 words a day is doable. 100 words is better than writing nothing at all and the words add up. This month I totaled 7,045 new words.

I know that there are additional online supports out there as well. I’ve seen 100 words in 100 days and you can only miss one day. I’ve seen 200 and 500 words sites as well. I wouldn’t be surprised to see a 1k words a day competition.
One of these challenges just may work for you. Slow and steady wins the race.


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Out of the Closet and Back in the Saddle

So, last I blathered on at you I was getting ready for a trip to Chicago to see a bunch of old friends at my ten-year law school reunion. It was fun, it was exhausting, it was so incredibly different from my current life. I drank a French 75 at a rooftop bar and helped a friend herd her toddlers through a children’s museum. I remembered how insanely frustrating it is to sit in a taxi trying to turn off Michigan Ave as hordes of pedestrians ignore the “Don’t Walk” sign. I sat in the audience for a wide-ranging debate between two of the more well-known of my former professors. (The most well known was apparently too busy being President of the United States to show up. Priorities!) And, strangest and scariest of all, I told person after person that I’m writing a romance novel. I told friends. I told acquaintances. I told my Civ Pro professor! (Pretty sure the open bar encouraged that particular revelation.)

If you’ve been to a reunion you know what it’s like. A few people you’re currently close to, more people you used to be close to, and a whole heck of a lot of people you were never close to to begin with, all asking what you’re up to these days. I didn’t make a conscious decision to blab on and on about writing, but people seemed interested, and well, that’s what I’m up to these days. People were incredibly encouraging and wonderful and while it was scary, saying it over and over again – “I’m writing a book” – it was motivating. There is no way I can see these people again in five years and *still* not have finished a damn book. So, you know, I guess I have to finish the damn book.

I’ve always been the kind of person to hold my ambitions close. I don’t tell people my goals because that way nobody but me will know that I’ve failed when I don’t achieve them. But this whole writing gig … I tell everyone, hoping that the fear of public failure will keep me moving forward. I’ve had a few people say dismissive things about my genre, but not many. I’ve had more offers of help and more encouraging words than I can count. It’s really been wonderful.

For those of you who are unpublished, do you tell people you’re writing a book when they ask what you’re up to? For those of you who are published, did you hold that ambition tight until you’d reached a certain level of accomplishment? Is everyone braver than I am and just don’t think it’s a big deal to tell one’s old Civ Pro professor that one’s writing a romance novel? 


Message to Graduates (and everyone else)

It’s that time of year when people of all ages walk across the stage in cap and gown, ready to take the next step in their lives, whether it’s graduating up to first grade or getting a doctorate. My oldest daughter is graduating with a BA in History from Boise State in just a few weeks, so my mind is hyper focused on this transitional time.

There are some pieces of advice I’d like to pass on to graduates, but they really apply to everyone. They’re just kind of basic rules for living. I feel compelled to share these because so often, people don’t live by these rules and they are not the kind of people I want to be around. So here we go:

Rule #1:

Be nice to others. It’s pretty simple, but lost of many of us. Believe me, I have trouble with this one myself. People can be really irritating a lot of the time, so it’s tempting to want to lash out at them. But don’t. You never know what sort of position you’re going to be in during some future encounter with that person, and chances are they’ll remember if you weren’t nice. Even without such a self-serving reason, it’s just better for everyone if we could all abide by this simple rule. Treat others as you would like to be treated. This applies to small children, animals, coworkers, cashiers in training, and critique group partners.

The little unremembered acts of kindness and love are the best parts of a person’s life.

William Wordsworth 1770-1850, Poet

Rule #2:

Be generous. This is sort of an addendum to rule #1. Most of us have life pretty good. No, we’re probably not rich. I know I don’t drive fancy cars, but at least I have a car. And a home. And the things I need. There are so, so many people in this world, probably in our own neighborhoods, who don’t have a loving family, a warm home, a job, or a friend. Being generous doesn’t have to be monetary, although it certainly can be. It can also mean generous with one’s time and gifts.

Rule #3:

Be persistent. Nothing worth having comes easy, unless you won the lottery or something. Getting a book published requires persistence. So does getting a job. Finishing school. Making a relationship last. So many times in life, we feel like giving up. But you never know how close you might be to success, however you define that.

Don't give up--you're so close

Don’t give up–you’re so close

Rule #4:

Learn to listen. Most of us think we listen, but we don’t. And that’s to our detriment. Listen to the life around you. Nature. Thunder. City sounds. The soft breathing of others. A puppy padding across the floor. But also listen when others talk. I read somewhere recently that studies show most people plan what they will say in response when someone else is talking, rather than truly listening. Imagine how much better we’d be at communicating if we didn’t do that.

Rule #5:

Be yourself. This is a message I proclaim over and over to the young people of today. I feel like they are brainwashed to fit into some societal mold. My Baby Boomer generation was conditioned to break the rules and live in the moment. I think you could do worse. The best, most successful, and happiest people (and I’m not talking about the likes of Oprah, Bill Gates, Lady Gaga, or President Obama, although they may well fit into this category, but not because they’re rich or famous) are living their lives by their own standards and following their own hearts. This may not apply to their job, but it applies somewhere. Which brings me to. . .

Rule #6:

There is more to life than your job. Hopefully most of us find work in a field that fulfills us and makes us smile when we wake up in the morning. Even if that is you, there is still more out there in this world than your paid employment. And this means we’re all on equal footing in our non-job hours. So don’t waste them, you know, sitting in your parents’ basement playing video games. Get out in the world and DO something. Talk to people. Hear their stories. Go outside of yourself. Pay attention. Find a place that needs your gifts, and give them. Volunteer. Mentor. Play. Seek.

Rule #7:

Never stop learning. It’s tempting after graduating to act like you’ve learned what you need. But I’ve got news for you–you haven’t even started yet. And that’s a good thing. Just remember that you don’t know it all, and you’ll be okay. Sure, maybe you studied leper colonies in India for a semester, but don’t pretend you’re some sort of expert. About that or anything else. You’re not. Keep learning. About the lepers, but also about everything else. Life is one giant learning lab, full of things that you never knew you didn’t know. Hunger for it. And be humble about what you may or may not know. Nobody likes a smug, arrogant, know-it-all.

Rule #8:

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

George Eliot (1819 – 1880) English Novelist

Life doesn’t end at graduation or [insert age here]. It’s not like now that you’ve graduated you have to be some boring version of yourself who works 9-5 and settles down with a mortgage and a car loan. If you want those things, great. If not, then do something else. Which leads me to. . .

Rule #9:

Don’t be afraid. To try new things. To laugh at yourself. To do things other people say can’t be done. To make a fool out of yourself. To have to work harder than you ever have before. To be creative. To be daring. Stop worrying and start doing.

And finally. . .

Rule #10:

Be honest. Live with integrity. No matter what you do, this will make your life better in every way. You can make up for lack of learned skills, making mistakes, and inexperience by being a person others can rely on and trust. If you make a mistake and own up to it, you can learn from it and become a better person. If you don’t know something and honestly seek to learn it, you will. If, instead, you are not honest with others or yourself, you live in the dark. Your life becomes dark. Honesty brings you into the light, where you can see what you need to see.


Posted by on May 1, 2013 in celebrations, goals, inspiration


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Writing Fast & Baby Dragons

The first time I tried to write a novel, I was ten.  I rewrote those first eight chapters dozens of times.  It wasn’t working.  Maybe it would be more exciting if I added a baby dragon?  Alas, that way lay failure.

Sometimes I wondered what I was doing wrong.  Perhaps nothing?  Wasn’t writing a novel supposed to be a grueling, multi-year process?  After the baby dragon draft failed, I started another ill-fated revision.

Then I picked up a book on writing (time has unfortunately erased its title from my memory).  It suggested writing “literary experiment”, not a “novel.”  Novels are those perfect, polished things we see on gleaming bookstore shelves.  “Literary experiments” don’t have to be beautiful.

This kind of self-induced semantic trickery seemed useful.  So, I set the tortured novel aside and began a fresh “literary experiment”.  I came home from school and wrote, laying one page on top of another in my file folder.  I never looked back, never revised.  In less than a month, I’d finished.  The book on writing promised that “experiments” look remarkably like the first draft of a novel — and mine did.  Ten gold stars for self-induced trickery.

It wasn’t a good first draft.  I hate to say it, but despite opening the first chapter with combusting hair, even the final draft was significantly less than brilliant.  But the hours invested in that novel were anything but wasted.  I learned so much — about subplots, characters, endings, and that the solution to a sagging plot is not (usually) throwing in a baby dragon.  I learned about finishing what I started.

For the first time, I felt the success of a finished novel.  My novel.  Layered page after page, thick and real.  It will never be a masterpiece, but it was mine.  A part of me will always be proud about it, even though I’ve long retired it to the bottom drawer.

NaNoWriMo always makes me think about that first book, even though I’d never heard about NaNoWriMo when I wrote it.  Would I have finished if I’d been trying to write slow and careful, one perfect word after another?  Doubtful.  So November is an exciting month for me, thinking about all the pages that are being hammered out.  Thinking about all the novels people will have, tangible, ready for revision come December.

What about you?  Do you prefer a meticulous first draft, writing fast, or something in between?


Posted by on November 14, 2012 in goals, NaNoWriMo, Writer's block, writing motivation


Eight Ways to Rev Up Your Energy

There is nothing more exhausting than sitting all day torturing people, er, writing. So when your backside is numb and your brain feels like cotton, here are a few ways to get the blood flowing.

  1. Steps—it takes 10,000 steps a day to lose weight. My friend gave me a pedometer for Christmas. It’s a great way to keep track of your goal and give you a reason to get up and move. I pace when I’m on the phone. This is good and bad. If the other person on the line wants some information, it’s usually at the other end of the house. Good—get up and do a few laps up and down the hall or pace while you’re on the phone. Better—go outside and walk around the yard. Best—take a few turns around the block.
  2. Take a drink. No, not that kind. Cold water. If you think about it, what’s more refreshing than a drink of cold water? Keep a glass or insulated container handy.
  3. Change something. It can be anything that varies your routine. Do a few of those brain teaser puzzles. It will jar some of those dormant brain cells loose. Spend a minute and clean off the top of your desk. A neat environment is like a fresh start. Take your computer outside or to another room.
  4. Enjoy a few minutes of silence. Turn off the lights, the radio, music or TV. Now lean back or lie down and close your eyes. Starting with your toes, concentrate on relaxing and making your toes feel heavy. Imagine them melting into the ground. Work your way up to your head and shoulders. Keep your breathing steady and your mind focused on relaxation. It doesn’t take long and you’ll be ready to get back to work.
  5. Sit up straight. Your mother was right all those years ago when she used to yell at you to sit up. When you sit up straight, you increase your oxygen intake by as much as 30%. More oxygen in means more oxygen to your brain and that’s always helpful.
  6. Have a snack and get that blood sugar up. Some good choices are: blueberries, strawberries, cantaloupe, mango, citrus fruit, tomatoes, avocado, a dried fruit and nut mixture (never hurts to throw a little chocolate in the assortment), peanut butter on whole-wheat crackers, or low-fat yogurt. Don’t forget to stay hydrated.
  7. Light a eucalyptus, spearmint, or peppermint candle or rub on one of these essential oils. These are the scents that stimulate your brain. You might keep some other scents around to alter your mood to suit what you’re writing. After all, smell is the sense most closely linked to memory.
  8. Open a window and let in some fresh air. Take a few deep breaths and stretch. It will get the blood flowing and loosen those tight muscles.

It’s important to rev up your energy level if you want to stay fresh and keep those brilliant phrases spilling out on to the page.

What do you do to stay energized?


Posted by on February 28, 2012 in Blogs, goals, health, Idaho, writers