Staying with it

red petal and brass potThe work this morning was meant to be tackling the division of a long outline for a side project I’ve been working with, on and off, for awhile now. It’s non-fiction, unrelated to anything I’ve done before, and it’s never easy to charge out there with beginner’s mind and agree to fall on my face if that’s what it takes.

And often, with writing or any other creative pursuit, there are 100 failures for every success. I much prefer success, but that’s just not how it works.

Sitting at my desk, I noticed this pink geranium petal that had fallen on to the cactus, like a little cap. Because there was that challenging task blinking on the screen, I naturally had to find the camera immediately and shoot a photo of it. It was a straightforward close-up, no big deal, but when I uploaded it to the computer, there were visible strands of long white hair (no doubt left by Leo the Cat who insists this is his window and doesn’t know why I insist on putting plants there). Well, and the pot was in focus but the petal was a little blurry.

So I shut another volley of shots, realizing I also loved the look of that brass pot. The light today is the diffuse snow light that makes for such peaceful shots, and it was quite enjoyable. I shot some intense close-ups, some farther back. Turned the pot this way and that, avoiding the shadow of the geranium and the boring lines of the window casing itself.

Sure I had something decent, I uploaded those, too.


None of them were quite right. The depth of field was wrong, or either the pot or the cactus or the petal were slightly grainy or out of focus or…something. I didn’t like any of them, but I was still eyeing the contrast of that vivid color with the green with the light and the lovely texture of the pot, thinking it was so great and I didn’t want to give up. I thought about giving up and uploading the one with the three strands of barely visible hair, knowing you would not mind–I am not a professional, after all, and the photos are for decoration and my own pleasure–but there was my camera. There was the shot, waiting for me to get it right.

I dumped the bad shots and tried again. Uploaded them again. One was decent, but not great.

By now, it’s been an hour of attention to one single photo and I’m feeling anxious that I should get my day started, do something real , but it was feeling like something I needed to do for my own satisfaction and really, it was only mid-morning, there was plenty of time to work afterwhile. I was committed to getting the shot.

It still took awhile. I finally captured several that were were worth looking at more closely in the photo editing program. I discarded a bunch more. Realized I loved some of the brass pot as much as I loved the petal, but the job at hand was the combination of petal and texture, color and light. The anxiety disappeared. I zoomed and cropped, swooping through the non-words of image, and forgot it was supposed to be a walking day and forgot the number of times I tried to get it right and failed.

Finally, I got this shot. I could have shot another round, and come even closer to my original idea, but this one pleased me greatly and I decided to stop here. Happily, I saved it, made a cup of tea, opened the word processing file and managed to knock out the outline in about twenty minutes flat. Is is a good outline? No. Not yet. But tomorrow, I’ll go after it again, and the day after that, and the day after that, and eventually, it will be a good one.

Sometimes, it’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking things should be right the first time through, or at least the third time through. Getting it right on the first try does happen–just often enough to create a Pavlovian desire to have it happen every time, but first draft great is an accident, not a regularity. I forget this over and over and over again. Luckily, there is often something like this photo, which I like a lot, to remind me that persistence can have a gigantic payoff.

5 thoughts on “Staying with it

  1. It’s a beautiful shot. Thanks for sharing it and the story of your morning.

  2. Wow, I needed that. I’m writing my first YA on a deadline and I have twisted myself up over it. Thank you.

  3. Thank you for such a beautiful entry. It was exactly what I needed to hear. Sometimes the call for perfectionism first time around is like an iron grip. Let it go. Let it flow. Play! I should put that on a sticky note over my computer.

    PS – you really nailed that photo!

  4. admin

    Yes, play, play, play!

    Eva, hope you kept up with relaxing. You can do it!

  5. Lara

    Reading this column cracked me up. I printed out the photo on March 30, and though for some reason only the left half printed, that’s the half with the petal cap, and it’s a great photo even spliced. I’ve had it on my desk in front of me for two months, reminding me of what beauty can be created when we don’t do what we’re “supposed” to be doing. Why do we always think we know what that is, anyway? Clearly, the only thing Barbara “should” have been doing that day was getting this moment on film. And sharing it. Thank you.

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