Overlooking the Obvious


You never know what you’ll find when you keep looking. During my visit to Vancouver Island last week I went beachcombing. I was hoping to find sea glass —  bits of broken glass reshaped and frosted by the weathering of salt water and sand.  Thanks to the efforts of my companions I came home with several pieces.

There were other treasures, too: an assortment of shells, attractive stones and driftwood fragments to add to my small collection at home. I also discovered a piece of branching coralline algae, or coral seaweed.

Dr. J. Floor Anthoni, in his article, The intertidal rocky shore, says,

“Coralline algae could well be the most amazing plants in the sea, as they are found from the shallowest rock pool to deeper than any plant can grow; from the cold temperate seas to the warm tropical coral reefs where they are perhaps the most important reef builders.” With deposits of calcium carbonate around their cell walls they can be found encrusted on rocks or as “articulated” branching plants.

(Click photo to enlarge)

This little piece, like the sea glass and shells, isn’t uncommon on our coastal beaches, but it was “a find” for me… one I almost missed. The delicate white branches were easy to overlook among the rocks where the waves had left it, because I was focused entirely on searching for coloured glass. Now that I have it, I think it may become the dominant feature of my whole collection.

Here comes the inevitable writing analogy. (You knew there’d be one, didn’t you?)

During my last two weeks of ms revisions I’ve been bent on streamlining passages, cutting superfluous words and unnecessary scenes. I’ve removed an entire sub-plot, and deleted a chapter. (I hasten to qualify ‘removed’ and ‘deleted’ by saying I paste any significant sections into a blank document to save, just in case I change my mind.)

As I slashed away, I almost … but not quite … did the clichéd toss-the-baby-out-with-the-bathwater thing. I axed a gem. Well, perhaps not precious words by someone else’s standards, but a small scene that, when stripped of unessentials, stood out as the ideal way to show an aspect of the protagonist’s character that otherwise would have gone unnoticed. Fortunately, I realized what I’d done and was able to retrieve the treasure.

In both cases, on the beach and in my manuscript, I learned that it’s possible to become too focused on one thing and thus miss something else more important.

Has this ever happened to you? Have you worked through a revision only to feel you’ve lost something valuable en route? How can you ensure it doesn’t happen again?



7 thoughts on “Overlooking the Obvious

  1. Judith Robl says:

    You are always so lucid, so pointed, and so right. I often miss what is right under my nose. Perhaps that’s why my fiction is written in spurts and jerks. I need the perspective that laying something aside for a time can give.

    Love the spidery asymmetry of your coralline algae.

  2. Of course, I once again thank you for your loving attention to nature and the muse.

    The ONLY way to ensure you never lose a gem? Never delete ANYTHING … and I do mean NEVER. Instead, I create a separate note word document, or a draft word document and when I am editing, revising, cutting and such … I take all the passages I am removing, copy, cut and paste them into a separate document and if I change my mind and want to use them later … they are there. If I decide a character or scene was better in another story … they are there. Save it all and now and again you can refer to your note documents and mine for treasures 🙂

  3. Katt says:

    I love this post. It reminded me of one time I was so focused on word count that I just kept writing…whatever came to me. When I started editing I couldn’t believe all the “stuff” I had to cut. It stung to delete parts of the manuscript that I thought were beautifully penned! I pasted them into another file, “just in case”. I have been able to use some of those plots, but others will probably always remain in the Just In Case file…… love your pictures!

  4. I’ve been too quick to highlight and delete in most of my writing and then I scratch my head and try to remember “how did I say that?”. I appreciate all the wisdom that has been posted and now realize I musn’t be so hasty.

    I always love your photos… and beautiful beach collection!

  5. I think you can’t always prevent it because like many things in life, we don’t know what we really have until it’s gone. Like hindsight–it’s 20/20 perfect clarity after the fact. Great post–thanks for sharing.

  6. Laura Best says:

    Usually if I remove anything, especially something substantial, I save it in another file. Often times I don’t end up using it but I would certainly grieve it if I couldn’t find it later. I also find that sometimes, as I develop the story more, a scene or subplot that I thought didn’t belong ends up being VERY important. I’d rather be safe than sorry.

  7. careann says:

    Good morning, everyone! I’m obviously not the only one who saves passages in a separate document, “just in case”. I wonder if it’s because we fear we won’t be able to remember them later, as Brooke mentions, or if it’s because we’re writers and we can’t bear to throw out any of the hard-won words we’ve accumulated! 😀

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