Words for the Picking

In my backyard, the blueberries are ripening—plump and dark blue, bursting with flavor—so many on one bush they’re almost falling to the ground. But we have three bushes, and the other two have noripening berries, in fact they have no berries at all. It’s a mystery. All three bushes planted in a row. Why are there berries on one bush but not on the other two?

I know enough about gardening to know there must be a botanical answer: the soil is not acidic enough or the bushes are too shaded or they don’t get enough water or the bees got tired after buzzing around the first bush, or… some other unknown buried deep in the cells of the blueberry bush. But I also know enough to cover the one bush that does have berries—we draped it with netting—to keep those amazing blueberries to ourselves and away from the birds—and soon they’ll be ready for the picking.

As I’ve kept an eye on those berries, I’m thinking about something else, too—my writing. My current WIP is approaching 30,000 words, and most days (these days) the writing is easy, like the first blueberry bush, with lots of words—almost falling to the page in fact. But other days I can’t seem to write a word, and my pages are as barren as those two bushes void of berries.

I know enough about writing (and myself) to know that it could be I’m grumpy or didn’t get enough sleep or am allowing self doubt to creep in or my mind is wandering, or… something else buried deep in the cells of my brain. But just like the berries I cover to keep safe, I protect my words. I make writing a habit: I sit down every day, I reread what I’ve already written, I write as much as I can, and sometimes if that doesn’t work, I read.

And I wait, confident that like the blueberries, my words will grow and ripen, and soon be ready for the picking.

How is your writing going? Are your words there for the picking or do you sometimes feel barren of words?




  1. Hi Julia! Great post! I love the analogy. I find that when I try to force my words (a.k.a. deadlines or too much writing without a break) that’s when my words begin to break down. If I give myself plenty of time to write and space to breathe, the words come much more easily. I’m a fellow writer and a new follower via GFC. I have blogs too (click on my profile) if you’re interested in checking them out. I found you on twitter and look forward to your posts! 😀 Good luck with the words!

    • Glad you enjoyed the post and so glad you came by for a visit to my blog! Thank you! I know what you mean about the forced words vs. the freely flowing ones… but for me, if I force myself to write, I can often break past the inability and get into the zone! So glad to meet you, Liesel!

  2. Erika Robuck says:

    I connected to this post today. Last week I was on fire with revisions. Yesterday, nothing. I couldn’t even stand to open the document. I’ve been involved in the process long enough to understand that I must walk away and the words will come back when they’re ready, but it’s still jarring. Great post!

    • Argh! I hate that “can’t even stand to open the document” feeling. Just so frustrating and jarring, as you say. Glad you connected the post, and so happy for your comment, Erika!

  3. Marilyn says:

    I love this post. Your last line “And I wait, confident that like the blueberries, my words will grow and ripen…” Perfect picture of those days when there are no ripe blueberries!

    • I’m so happy you loved the post, Marilyn! It’s a frustrating and sad day when there are no ripe blueberries… but eventually things do change, don’t they!?

  4. Lovely metaphor, Julia. Yep – that’s the life of a writer. Some days the words are bountiful, sometimes barren…

    Your gardening question also reminded me of a situation I have on my planting shelves: All of the plants on the far southern shelf have croaked — this, after me being THE most diligent about watering them of any summer to date. The same plants on the north wall, getting the same amount of water, are thriving and healthy. Gardening will always be a mystery to me; good thing my MC in my WIP is a master gardener. Someone needs to be, because it certainly isn’t me.

    PS I agree with Erika above… “Couldn’t stand to open the document” regarding revisions. I had a MONTH of that, but FINALLY I have broken through the barrier to the blueberries on the other side!

    • Here’s to your well-deserved, hard-earned blueberries! May they be abundant!

      As for *your* gardening question, it reminds me of my African violets — that are never supposed to do well in full sun, yet mine thrive. I’ve always wanted to be a master gardener to try and fathom out these mysteries, so interesting. But I have other time consuming things to pursue… like writing and the keeping the “I can stand to open document” feelings at bay!

  5. Jody says:

    Everyone commenting here seems to understand that the natural rhythm of writing involves a time of lying fallow, our sabbatical, where we gather our strength and thoughts for another go-round.

    Nice post. Of course, being of a metaphysical bent myself, I always look to the natural world for messages coming to me from my soul, spirit guides, or angels. I think this is a message, truth be told.

    • Yes, gathering our strength and thoughts for the next go-round is so important. And I agree — there are many messages from the natural world. Thank you so much for your comment and for your visit to my blog, Jody, nice to meet you!

  6. Oh, I get these moments too, Julia. Think you know this as I’ve blogged about this in the past too. Very frustrating when it happens, but I think acceptance is key, and you are right, sometimes we just have to do something else and the words always come in the end. Love the pic by the way. We have blackcurrants and strawberries galore from the allotment at the moment – yummy!

    • Thanks for your support, Abi — it really is so encouraging to know that we all go through the ebbs and flows. Glad you liked the pic! I am SOOO jealous of blackcurrants and strawberries. Delicious!

  7. Gorgeous photo! Those blueberries look so tasty and I love thinking of them as words ready to pluck from the bush.

    No berries here this year. My raspberries fizzled in early spring for no reason I could find. Fingers crossed that they’re just dormant for a year. As for writing, I have lots of ups and downs, but my magic cure is a pen. If the words aren’t coming as I type, I get out my notebook and start scribbling. Usually, that gets my brain back in gear. The worst days, though, are the ones when I can’t even bring myself try. Fingers crossed that I won’t have too many of those this summer.

    • I’m glad you like the photo, Shary! I hate those worst days — they can be so demoralizing, I agree — so interesting that the pen cures your writing downtime, but it doesn’t completely surprise me because writing by hand always feels like I’m physically connecting with the words. (p.s. sorry about your raspberries, just like writing lapses, I’ll keep my fingers crossed that it’s temporary!)

  8. This is a much nicer analogy than the phrase that keeps going through my mind of “crash and burn.” I was feeling this pretty hard, but after having some time to think, I realized that maybe if I go back to the start and work on some revisions and re-reading now, it will spur some ideas for where I am at 56K. At least, that’s what I’ll try for now. That, and stopping to take a break for more research. Thanks for reminding me I’m not alone in this. (I like shary’s idea of using a pen– I too, like a plain, old notebook to write questions for myself). Blueberries help your memory, so maybe a handful of those would help, too!

    • HAHAHA. I have those “crash and burn” feelings too, don’t worry! I completely understand the feeling of going back and taking a look at earlier parts — that actually works well for me, too. I like your research idea too. As for blueberries helping memory — you’re so right! I forgot all about that 🙂

  9. Christy says:

    Oh yes, this is a timely post. Not only do I have a barren blueberry bush next to all the loaded bushes, but I need a serious motivation infusion. Not even the BS backup system is working today. 🙁 Sigh.

    • “Not even the BS backup system working today…” hahaha, I am VERY familiar with that system 🙂 Thanks so much for your comment, Christy, and I hope you get your necessary motivation infusion. I know that feeling well, too.

  10. Oh I absolutely LOVE this post, Julia! What beautiful, visual imagery. I can almost taste those ripening blueberries. And the metaphor is so apt. We have days where the story bush is heavily laden and bursting with word fruit.
    And those barren days too.
    The wisdom to be gentle and patient with yourself is only achieved through long practice and experience (that’s its gift!), which teaches trust and faith in the eventual fulfillment of slowly ripening words.

    • I’m so glad you like it Cynthia, thank you! I wish I could send you a pint of blueberries — or better yet, that you could be here to pick them with me! And we could harvest some words, too! I love how you say this: “the wisdom ot be gentle and patient with yourself…. trust and faith in the eventual fulfillment of slowly ripening words.” EXACTLY. A beautiful addition to the post!

  11. I absolutely love that you have blueberries in your backyard; they’re my favorite fruit, along with oranges. And it’s definitely interesting/strange that one bushel quickened and the others didn’t. You definitely hit upon the best way to keep the “blueberries of the mind” ripening though! It just takes ideas and dedication. I think your strategy is perfect.

    • I have to admit that it’s wonderful to be able to go out in the backyard and pick blueberries off the bush — wish I could ship you some, Mahesh! My strategy for keeping the words ripening is perfect as long as I apply it. Definitely a matter of ideas and dedication, I agree!

  12. That’s great news on the newest WIP! What’s the status with the previous one? Betas and what not?

  13. Loved the blueberry analogy and the photo of the plump and ripening berries on the bush!

    This morning I was drawing a blank. First I tried writing about something practical. That got me a page of handwritten stuff, and that was fine in itself, but it had not helped me reach the flow state I was hoping for.

    I decided to try the impulse I’d had to begin with but which I had ignored as being too open-ended. When I tried it, it was amazing what came through!

    Acknowledging my intuition and acting on it was the key. Maybe that won’t always work, but it was a great reminder.

    P.S. Congrats on the 30,000 (Maggie?) words. How exciting!

    • That is a great reminder about acting on intuition — I definitely will remember that next time (maybe this morning!) when I’m feeling stuck. It’s always good to have as many things as possible to try to make the words flow. (p.s. Yes! Maggie!! It’s very exciting!)

  14. I love blueberries! It must be amazing to pick them fresh from your backyard.

    I’ve been stuck on my WIP for a while. I decided to try to spark some inspiration by doing some research. One of my characters does bonsai as a hobby so I went to the local botanic garden to look at their lovely collection of bonsai. I took lots of photos and notes and I’m hoping to be able to use some of the information in my story.

    Congrats on being so far along on your WIP!

    • It’s so wonderful to have the blueberries, it’s true, although this morning I’m battling the birds for them! Argh! I’m glad you mentioned research as a way to spark writing — that really does help me, too. In fact there’s research I need to do for this book, but I’m waiting for someone to call me back (an expert), and I’m wondering if that’s partly why it’s hard to progress at times? That is so cool about the bonsai!

  15. Emma Pass says:

    I have many more hard-to-come-by-words days than flowing-words days – I liken them to trying to push porridge through muslin! But the work seems to get done anyhow, and when I do have a good day, I enjoy it all the more. Great post, Julia – best of luck with the new book, and I hope we get to hear some good news about WIP #1 soon!

    • Haha, I love that vision… pushing porridge through muslin. Such a vivid and accurate description! It is true that the hard days make us appreciate the good days all the more — glad to hear you have those days too. (thank you for your well wishes to WIP#1, keeping fingers crossed!)

  16. Hi Julia! What a lovely post. I think all writers feel both of these ways sometimes. Why some days we feel spilling with words and ideas while other we feel completely dried up… I don’t know. It’s all just part of the deal, I guess. We just have to keep coming back so we’re ready when those blueberries are. Man, I’m jealous of those! =)

    • I’m glad you enjoyed it, Annie! “It’s all part of the deal…” I love that so simple but so true statement! Exactly. p.s. wish I could share the blueberries with you!

  17. Lisa Ahn says:

    I love the metaphor, and the way you offer such gentle acceptance — write everyday, and acknowledge that some days the words will be sparse. And you’ve reminded me to water our neglected tomatoes as well.

    • I may sound gentle in my post, but there are times I feel like shrieking at my computer (maybe at myself, too!). As for neglected vegetables… don’t get me started on my vegetable garden and how weedy it’s become. Now that’s a whole other blog post!

  18. Not so much barren for words as I am barren for time! Late nights with the family turn into late mornings for Mom. I have found the best time for my fiction writing is in the early morning but rarely have I seen the sun peek over the horizon. I’m frustrated but I know I will be wishing the summer back as soon as the kids head off to school. Maybe. 😉

    Until then, enjoy the harvest of your words dear Julia! May you always be fruitful!!! 🙂 xo

    • Barren for time… yes, that will happen to moms in the summer time, no question! And those late nights, too. Summertime is such a paradox, isn’t it? But then when it’s over, we so wish it were back, I agree. You are such a supportive writer friend, thank you for your fruitful wishes! 🙂 xox back!

  19. Ann says:

    Sorry to hear about your two barren bushes. I kind of liken it to cooking….there are days that I can’t stop cooking, so much creative energy is flowing. Other days – if you want to eat – you better be dialing reservations….cuz ain’t nothin’ comin’ out of my kitchen!

    • It’s exactly like cooking, Ann! I know what you mean! I love cooking, too, and some days it’s such a joy, but others? It’s just one more chore…. (p.s. I’ve been following your canning-palooza on Instagram. Impressive!! And such beautiful photos, as always, LOVE them!!)

    • Ann says:

      You are SO sweet! I’m having a blast with it! I hope to make tomato sauce and SALSA next week!

  20. Meg E. Cox says:

    Thanks so much for this post, Julia. For me, blueberries are new-beginnings food: Years ago when I was pregnant and couldn’t eat much, I pretty much subsisted on blueberry pancakes. I was on a blueberry kick again when I launched my website and blog last month. Blueberries were also central to one of my first published articles. So now you’ve given me a new association with blueberries: care well for what I’ve begun.

    • I’m glad you enjoyed the post, Meg! I love that blueberries are a theme in your life with such wonderful associations; that’s very cool! I’m so happy you visited my blog — and especially that you left a comment. So nice to meet you!

  21. CMSmith says:

    Nice post, Julia. Your blueberries look amazing. I have a Yarrow plant that has one solitary bloom. I’ve thought about photographing it. Why only one? It’s a mystery.

    Maybe with time the other plants will come around.

    I admire your discipline with writing. I really, really, need to learn to do that myself. Spinning my wheels here.

    • The blueberries LOOKED amazing (now they’re gone, sadly the birds got at least half….) And I am envious of your yarrow plant. All of ours bit the dust last winter, a combination of a groundhog and not enough snow, I think — although another mystery (aren’t there so many in gardening?). Sorry about the spinning wheels — sending writing support your way 🙂

  22. kidstuph says:

    thank you Julia, you spoke right into where I am right now. I had every intention of hitting my weekly goal tonight (only 1300 words away), but I am an emotional basket case. I know I have to protect what I have, and give myself space to “normalize” so I can get back to it. I still have one more day to hit my goal, so I’m not stressing (and I may get there tonight still). In any case, your words are very inspiring to me.


    • I’m so glad my words inspired you! And believe me, I definitely know how those weeks go… it’s what inspired this post. As you say, you need to protect what you have and give yourself lots of space and lots of encouragement. I hope that you’re satsified with your progress and things become more normalized. (p.s. Nice to see you! 🙂

  23. Leah says:

    Sounds like your WIP is really coming along! And so encouraging that it comes so easily. Those blueberries look so good too. We were supposed to go blueberry picking this summer, but the berry place is out of berries for the season. Maybe next year!

    • This week is definitely a good week for the WIP, yay! As for coming easily…some days… but some days it is pure torture! 🙂 Sorry your berry place was out of berries for the season, here’s to next year!

  24. OMG, I’m obsessed with blueberries! I wish I had a garden so I could grow a fresh batch of my own.

    I love how you talk about our words as things that need to be protected. They are like budding fruit, needing water and nourishment, but we also have to be careful not to overwater or pick them too soon. Like you, I write every day, but there are times when I can recognize that I’m getting burnt out (not blocked, but exhausted) and so I feed my creativity in new ways. Right now, since I’m kind of in between WIPs, I’m letting myself rest. I’m reading every day, jotting down ideas for my next WIP, and getting myself ready for the next “season.”

    • I love the descriptions of words you used in your comment, beautiful! I agree with you — those exhausted times call for other creative activities, and I’ve had those times as well. And it’s very cool that you call it getting ready for the “next season”… of blueberries…and words! (p.s. done with your other WIP? Exciting!!)

  25. These berries look wonderful! Makes me think of my grandparents’ garden in Winslow, ME.
    When I have a slow day when the words aren’t coming, I try to remember what Madeleine L’Engle said about inspiration coming _when_ we are working, not when we’re not! Then I just _keep writing_…

    • So happy to give you good memories of your grandparents’ garden in Winslow! As for Madeleine L’Engle, that’s one smart writer! And I’m with you, when the words aren’t coming, I just keep going… thank you so much for your comment, and thank you especially for your visit to my blog! Nice to meet you!