Berries and Prolificness

This evening, I was blueberry picking. It’s been a good year for them and we have some friends with a really prolific patch (and by patch, I mean mile wide boggy lowland surrounding their house). We were picking away and our friend mentioned that she’s put away almost ten gallons of blueberries. Ten gallons. To give you perspective, last year, I went blueberry picking three days, dragging my kids up a hill and into the clouds every evening, and went into winter with about a half gallon of berries for my trouble. Ten gallons is more blueberries than I’ve ever heard of in a private freezer.

She goes out for an hour or two every day, filling her little yogurt bin, and then brings it all in, cleans it up, and pops it in the freezer. She brings in maybe a quart a day. But she goes at it every day.

It made me think of my own freezer. It’s actually looking pretty good this year and I think we’ll be well fed this winter. Husband and I had a fantastic year of salmon fishing. The raspberries are questionable, but the cranberries should be good. I might even sneak some strawberries out of the garden if the kids leave them alone long enough to ripen. The garden’s looking good, with plenty of potatoes, and I’m having the best tomato year I’ve ever had. And there’s been talk of my husband going out moose or caribou hunting with one of my brothers. We raised chickens in the spring and they’re all nestled snug in our freezer as well. Food’s pretty expensive in Alaska and I do what I can to stock up because winters can be pretty rough on the budget. (Yes, we have grocery stores in Alaska, but seriously, why spend money when you don’t have to? If a chunk of food springs up out of the ground, free as dirt, I will pull it up and feed it to my children. You have no idea how many weeds my family consumes.)

Husband and I were talking about all this on the way back from the blueberry patch and I thought of a parable. Writing books is like filling a freezer. If I try to do it all at once, it’s really daunting. But if I do it in little bits at a time, work at it just about daily and don’t give up until the frost sets in (and even after that for a few things), then pretty soon the freezer’s full. But if I wait until fall, the blueberries are wilted, the greens are gone, and I’m trying to butcher a thousand pound moose and trying to pick the cranberries and trying to can the garden and whatever else I have to do. And trying to do it all at the same time is completely crazy.

Earlier today, I passed the 50,000 word finish line on my Camp NaNoWriMo novel. I’m happy with myself, even though the book isn’t technically done. It seems like a lot, but it breaks down to about 1670 words a day. If I have an average of two hours a day in which to write, then I need to be able to push out around 850 words an hour. And I can do that, no problem. It gets even easier on those happy days when I have three hours to write.

But if I don’t write in a day? Oo, then it starts to get a little trickier. Because although I can write 850 in an hour, writing 1670 an hour is quite a bit harder. And 2000 an hour is nearly impossible. It’s better to break it up, to spread out the difference, but then if I miss another day? Oh, dear, I’m even further down. It can be hard to recover.

I have written nearly every day of my life for the last fifteen years. I assume I will continue to do so until I keel over dead as an old woman over some absurdly outdated protocomputer. What will I have accomplished by then? Because the little bit of writing at a time doesn’t just build up into a book. Over time, it can build up into books.

Steven King has written fifty-five books. Ursula K. LeGuin has written something over fifty as well. Terry Brooks has written a staggering twenty-three New York Times bestsellers alone; I don’t even know how many he’s written total. Do you think anyone busted all that out in a day? Or a year? Or even a decade?

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Writing is not easy. Sometimes you’re just too busy to squeeze it in. Sometimes the muse goes to bed early, the lazy strumpet. Sometimes your fingers have been broken because some massive horse of a woman from Reed University crushed your hand trying to get the wildly escaping rugby ball. (Yes, that has been an excuse. Typing with broken fingers HURTS and is in reality probably counterproductive.) But if you stick with writing, if you manage to eek out just a few words a day, and a few words the next day, and so forth, your little snowball will get bigger and bigger. And someday you too can look in the mirror and smile about your first book published, or your second, or your tenth. I know I plan to.

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