Posted by: Kathleen Mix | July 17, 2014

Sanibel Treasure

I recently returned from a trip to Sanibel Island, Florida. Sanibel is known for its abundance of seashells, and shell seekers come from all over the world to scour the white sand beaches, hoping to find a treasure grown by a gastropod or a bivalve.
I have a huge collection made up of the shells I’ve found during sailing trips to the Bahamas, Caribbean, and South America. But like most shell seekers, I never stop looking for one more: one more variation, one more species, one more that’s prettier or larger. And when I find a special shell, I feel like I’ve won the lottery.
Shell collecting is done while walking the beach bent over in a distinctive stoop. To find collectable shells, you must focus on the small area directly in front of your eyes. You can’t stare longingly at the horizon, watch the gulls swoop, or splash or swim in the waves. Shell seeking is a pastime requiring intense concentration: the blocking out of the beach to see individual grains of sand. You need to be focused enough to spot a ripple or crater in the sand, observant enough to spot a shell tangled in a pile of seaweed, and patient enough to sift through thousands of broken shells to find one perfect specimen.
Shell collecting involves hard work, but is well worth the effort. And in my mind, shell collecting is a lot like editing fiction.
After a manuscript’s big revisions are finished, a writer trying to do a final edit needs focus. We can’t be easily distracted from our task by daydreams of the cover we might eventually have or the line of readers who might want a signed copy. We need to slowly walk from sentence to sentence, seeing beyond the type on the page to the meaning hidden behind, and considering the implications of each phrase. We must spend hours picking through hundreds of almost-right words to finally locate the perfect specimens.
If we do these things with tireless resolve, we’ll be rewarded with a better book. A book we’ll be proud to show any reader who comes near.
Maybe I learned to edit by seeking shells. Maybe I learned how to find shells by editing.
Much like the question of the chicken and the egg, I’m not sure which came first. But that matters little to my shell collection and backlist. What makes me happy is that they both continue to grow.

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Responses

  1. Excellent post Kathleen. I love the comparison.

    Like


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