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This fall we moved back into my home town of Fairbanks, Alaska, and into a new house with a “wild” backyard. I put “wild” in quotes because this is essentially a neighborhood that most of the lower 48 would consider “on acreage.” But, the backyard has not been yarded out, and we found that there are a plethora of berries to be had in the fall: blueberries, raspberries, high-bush and low-bush cranberries, and rose hips. (There are also several chokecherry trees on our property. For more about my berry-picking adventures, check out my other blog here.)

1. Set attainable goals

If you don’t like big goals, like a gallon sized bag, then go for a snack size or quart. You reach your goal faster, but won’t get as far as fast. Still, you’ll make constant progress if you set any goal and meet it.

2. Sometimes you need a different perspective. Go downhill, or move some leaves around.

Read your chapters in reverse order. Read the entire novel backwards. Read it randomly. Read it with your eyes on a certain character or for your adverb use. Chances are, something new will stand out.

3. Sometimes you need to take a break. Working too long one day will just put you in danger of burnout for the next day. But know that your window of opportunity is small.

When I sit at a computer too long, my eyes glaze over, and I know it’s time for a breather. Getting up, using the bathroom, grabbing a cup of coffee, or simply changing subjects for a few minutes can renew my focus when I return.

4. Some berries can’t be salvaged. They have ripened too long and are rotten. Some berries will never ripen, and won’t fall off the vine. Let these ripen in your backyard and come back to them if you have the time.
*insert ideas for berries

Some ideas can’t shouldn’t be salvaged. They have sat too long and rotted, or you have hung onto them for far too long, yet they will not ripen and fall onto the page. Stew on these unripe ones, leave them in the back of your mind to ripen and come back later if you have the time. But learn to let go of the rotten ones and move on, for it does not do to dwell on a fruitless idea.

5. You can’t pick all the berries. Where there is one, there are a hundred more.

You can’t write all your ideas. But where you have one, you have a hundred more.

Mindmapping is a great place to come up with more ideas. It’s basically bubble brainstorming, you know where you start with one word in a bubble and draw lines off those to connect ideas to it? Yeah, it’s great for that.

6. Know when to quit. Sometimes you just have to throw in the towel and say enough.

Every author has a novel or short story or poem that they have abandoned. Not everything sees the light of day, and not everything is worth seeing the light of day.

7. Berry picking is back breaking work. Picking the berries is only the start. You then have to sort, rinse, and use the berries.

Although I’m a big proponent of NaNoWriMo, it encourages writing the words and coming back to edit later. But if you only ever write the words, and just keep writing, it may not have much merit. You must go back to the novel/poem/story/etc. and revise revise revise.

8. Tread carefully. You will step on some berries, you will drop some. But don’t worry–that’s okay. And the first berries you pick are in constant danger of being smashed.

Your first ideas are the ones that endure the most torture. They must withstand a lot more focus and review than any other idea.

9. You need a lot of berries for one recipe, so you can never pick too many berries.

You have to have a lot of ideas for one novel or short story. Not all those ideas will come to fruition, not all ideas will make it to the final draft. But those ideas are worth the time to pick and nurture, because they often lead to a better idea. But, on the flip side, you can never write too much. File those ideas away for another time.

10. Picking berries is a messy business. Don’t wear your best clothes.

Your writing, if you decide to share it with others, will be picked apart and criticized. You won’t please everyone, even if you become a best-selling author. Don’t worry about it. Dress for the hard work, because it is hard work.