A Shell Apart


We made another international move recently. I gave myself permission to leave my site alone during that time and focus on the needful. We’re still clearing away the dust, but a few glimmers of time have given me space to write something that’s been on my heart.

We visited the beach near our house the night after we arrived. I still love looking for shells, so I combed the beach collecting dozens of pretty, white shells with maroon ribbings.

I soon had both hands full, but I continued to pick up any shell that caught my eye. As I went on, I became pickier–if the shell was cracked, incomplete, or looked too similar to ones I already had, I immediately passed. I left behind a beach-full of perfect, shiny shells. I just didn’t have room to add one more of the same kind of shell to my already full pile.

I kept my eye out, though, for a different kind of shell. Eventually, I found one. It wasn’t shiny or uniform like the others, it was irregular and matte, but it drew my attention because of that. I slid my overflowing shell pile into the crook of my t-shirt so I could pick it up.

I rubbed my thumb over it–rough, not smooth, and not the usual half-clam shape at all. Because of its asymmetry, I wasn’t sure it was a complete half until I felt the smoothness of the edges–then I turned it over and gasped.

Before I finish that thought, I’ll interject something more prosaic: I was, in fact, thinking about writing as I was hunting for shells. Agents and publishers hunt through a sea of lovely stories that meet the highest of standards, but don’t have room to add another like-mannered manuscript to an already over-loaded pile of shiny, maroon shells.

So when I stumbled upon this sort of seemingly bland, but distinct shell, I could see how an agent or editor might feel when a story stands out. I just had to examine this shell–it was so different from all the others. I shifted things around so I could pick it up. And blessedly, its oddities were even more intriguing up close: it’s curved but complete shape, rough but well-suited texture, and its matte but intense color. Then when I turned it over and found the whole underside coated with glorious mother-of-pearl, I was hooked, line and sinker into its unexpected beauty. You can bet that I made room for that shell.IMG_8053

It’s my favorite shell so far. I keep it by my bed to remind me that uniqueness matters, but if your story has that spark of something special–that mother-of-pearl coating–it will become a keeper.


10 thoughts on “A Shell Apart

  1. I love your analogy to writing. The perfect shell (or MS) depends on whose looking, on that day, at that moment.
    I’ve been to beaches with tons of cone shells and the simple, shiny lipid catches my eye. And other beaches full of clam and mussels shells, when a cone shell is the treasure of the day. Everything is timing and a sprinkling of luck. Thanks for a fun ad beautiful post.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Hello, Johnell, I well remember my strolls along the beach, collecting every pretty seashell that caught my eye. I held up the hem of my shirt to create a makeshift place to carry my treasures. Eventually, my shirt couldn’t hold anymore. I set out my shells along the shore and did the same as you did–I put back all the shells that looked alike or were cracked or chipped. I only kept the most perfect shells. You’re right to compare this process to the process an agent must go through upon receiving an ocean of manuscripts. Now, to write that manuscript that stands out among all the others…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Beach-combing is a good way to describe agents and editors reading through slush, though I doubt they retain the spirit of joyful anticipation as they go and keep going. But this endless plow makes discovering the one stand out in the pile even more dramatic.
    Real brilliance depends on being authentically different, not manufactured to be such. It is a rare thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. I love that. I love to collect shells too. I collect rocks, and in the fall I can’t help but to collect the brightly covered leaves the fall from the trees.

    A couple things I have realized:

    1. It is easy to get caught up in picking up the ones that look a like. We train our brain to see something and that is all we see. We need to shift our perspective and look for something different like you did when your hands were full. We need to tell ourselves something that will provide that shift so we have the freedom to see more.

    2. Even when we find that unique shell, rock, or leaf, it can easily dull and lose its beauty when it dries out. Shells and rocks are so pretty when they are wet, but dull as they dry. To keep them beautiful, we need to polish them and memorize their beauty so they will continue to shine.

    Liked by 1 person

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