My daughter’s favorite activity during our recent vacation was collecting seashells along the shore. A true beachcomber like her mom, she was up at the crack of dawn because that’s when the best shells are available. Also like her mom, she also doesn’t realize that vacations are meant for sleeping in, hanging out by the sea or pool and not doing much of anything.
Another perfect morning dawned as the tide ebbed in and the sun’s rays stretched across horizon, staining the sky a bright blue. We had the beach pretty much to ourselves, except for the lone jogger playing tag with the sea. Strolling through the rocks and sand, we found all kinds of fascinating shells. Some whole, most not because of years of the pounding surf. Some still had creatures inside that we had to take back and toss into the sea when they stuck their black legs out and took a stroll along our condo balcony. My personal favorites were the corkscrew shells, but most of them were still occupied and had to be left behind. My daughter’s favorite was pretty much all of them.
“Look, Mommy. I found one.” My daughter holds up half a clamshell covered with some sort of black growth.
“No, Emily. That shell is broken. Let’s throw it back.”
“But I like it. I want to keep it.” Into the bucket it goes.
“Really, darling, we can’t keep all of them. See? It’s broken and not very pretty.” I pick up a shell, shake my head and for affect, look it over, show her the flaw and throw it back into the tide pool.
“Why not? We found them.”
Good point. Score one for the seven year old.
“Because its not perfect. We need to pick and chose the best ones.”
Good point, Score one for mom.
“I don’t care. I like them all.” She picks it back up and drops it into the bucket.
Okay, maybe I’ll find a use for it after all.
This conversation with my daughter got me to thinking about the perfect shell—and the perfect word. How many times have I struggled to find the right word? Said could be written as growled, or whispered, or muttered. It all depends on what feeling I’m trying to convey. I toss around a few more options and throw the ones back that don’t seem to fit, just like the shells that don’t fit my criteria for going into the bucket.
Picking the perfect word is as important as making sure I don’t find an unexpected guest on my patio later. I have to look inside and all around, hold the shell up to the light and run my fingers around the edges. In my manuscript I have to test out the word, and see how it flows in the context of the sentence. Does it convey what I really want to say? Is it pretty? Is it the perfect word to compliment my manuscript or the perfect shell to grace my bucket?
My daughter wants to be a writer when she grows up. I sincerely hope she figures out some day that there are differences in words and shells and that not all of them are as perfect as we sometimes think they are. Sometimes it might take a few tries to get it right, but in the end we will find the perfect word and the perfect shell.
What will I do with all the shells we collected? I plan on gluing them to a picture frame and putting a family photo from our vacation inside. What will I do with all the words that simply can’t be used? Throw them back for now and let the sea of sand and time mold them into something that can be used at a later date.