Trying to make it perfect… or, revision frustration


The perfect shot shouldn’t have been all that difficult. I followed the striking black and yellow Tiger Swallowtail butterfly around the yard, sneaking up with camera in hand whenever he fluttered within range and settled on a plant. But I barely had a chance to locate him in the viewfinder before he skittered away again… always a little too fast for me, even with my new zoom lens. I snapped more failed shots than I like to admit, until finally I gave up and traded the camera for a book.

A few minutes later movement yanked my attention from the page. There was the butterfly, flitting from blossom to blossom on a rhododendron bush almost within arm’s reach. Afraid to let him out of my sight, I grabbed the camera from the patio table and leaned over to capture the photo. He obliged me by remaining still long enough to capture my perfect shot… except, when I uploaded it onto the computer I discovered the exasperating truth – it wasn’t perfect at all. The photo was fine; this time it was the butterfly that was flawed.


So often my writing disappoints me in a similar way. I try for the perfect words, sometimes struggling until I fling myself out of the chair in frustration. It’s after a break when I’ve cleared my mind and returned to face the page with resignation that words surprise me. They slip effortlessly onto the page, and I finish the session with a glow of satisfaction. It’s finally perfect.

The glow lasts until the scrutiny of revision, or someone’s critique, when the flaws are discovered. It was almost right, but not quite. Not perfect after all.

It’s at that moment I’m tempted to discard the whole thing.  Perseverance is hard. When all the effort proves ineffective, persistence seems futile. In such moments I remember the butterflies.

The next day they were back, and one hovered over that same rhododendron. I watched as he floated lightly onto a blossom and stayed there, wings outstretched. He stayed while I stepped into my shoes, stayed while I found the camera, stayed when I opened the patio door and stayed as I cautiously approached. It was as if he were urging me not to give up but try again. I tried, and this time was rewarded.

Every successful writer I know says, “Never give up.”


“Such things were written in the Scriptures long ago to teach us.
And the Scriptures give us hope and encouragement
as we wait patiently for God’s promises to be fulfilled.”
Romans 15:4 NLT

Published by Carol

A freelance writer of fiction and non-fiction living on the West Coast of Canada.

18 thoughts on “Trying to make it perfect… or, revision frustration

  1. What a beautiful analogy. your first photo looks just like most of my nature photos — off-center and lighted at the wrong angle. Somehow, I love your flawed butterfly. He takes my heart as I wonder what happened to the right wing. And still he carries God’s beautiful colors. Interesting post. Lovely pics.

  2. Don’t shoot me, but I like the imperfect butterfly best. He needs more love, I guess!

    You are an excellent photographer, Carol! And I love the analogy you drew from this lovely moment.

  3. I love this post, but probably not for the reason you may be thinking. I love it because in your mind the shot wasn’t perfect—however, I couldn’t see that—I thought all three of them were beautiful. I’m also learning the same is true of our writing. What is “perfect” to one editor is “out of focus” or the lighting is wrong, or it’s not perfectly centered. So I am constantly reminding myself—what works for one publisher won’t work for another—-so just keep trying!
    LOVE this post! You ROCK!

  4. Morning m’friend…Yes, you are sooo right about the writing…but can you imagine the effort that butterfly must have endured with the damage to its wing. . .Therein we can clearly understand how WE can perservere with C3pt. . .
    courage passion patience persistence and talent.

  5. Good morning to everyone. Analogies can only be taken so far, and I’m glad you’re seeing beauty in the imperfection, too. Oh, and Earlene (mE), I like your “C3pt” formula — I think I need it posted over my computer!

  6. Absolutely stunning. And it just goes to show that never giving up pays off. Beautiful photo. I love how your words express so much more than just the words. Awesome, Carol.

  7. Another wonderful post Carol. Nothing is perfect not even a beautiful butterfly. We strive for perfection but it is unattainable. After many, many revisions, there are still some mistakes in my first book and when I visited an elementary school, a student pointed one out to me. I simply said, “Very good. I left a few mistakes in just to see if you would catch them.” My daughter, the potter says, “Things don’t have to be perfect, things have to get done.” Having said that, I certainly am guilty of ‘procastination by perfection’. (BTW I have rewritten this 4 times already)

  8. Carol, I’ve tried taking a shot or two of butterflies to no avail. Those are gorgeous!! You’re right about waiting a bit and coming back to a WIP.

  9. Love the photos, Carol. Butterflies are difficult subjects but you’ve captured their beauty with these pictures. Just goes to show that patience and perseverance pays off!

  10. Thanks, everyone. I appreciate reading all your comments. Darlene, that’s a great response! John Grisham has a good one in the ‘author notes’ at the end of one of his novels, that basically says he hates research so knows there will be a few errors so don’t bother writing to point them out. 🙂

  11. Sometimes we strive too hard to hold that image, of what we consider perfection, too close. We are usually our own worse critics. Would we even recognize perfection if we saw it?

    Love the photos, Carol.

  12. Thanks Susan, and Lou… and Laura, you may be right about not being able to recognize perfection in writing. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen perfection. I’m usually muttering about not being sure my writing is even very good, let alone perfect!

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