On Defining Success, One Coffee-fueled Morning at a Time by Sara Sha

Eventually the cogs start gripping and the smoke starts billowing and words lay out in lines…

I don’t know yet if I fancy myself as a writer, but I do know I am a lover of words, and like others with this affliction, I look for strategies to feed my passion.

Arthur Miller, author of Tropic of Cancer, had what he called a “Daily Program” that went something like this:

  • Mornings: Write if you can, otherwise do some organizing and research.
  • Afternoons: Focus on a section of work, no distractions, no interruptions.
  • Evenings: Live. Bike, go to cafes, go to museums, sketch in streets, write small things if in the mood.

This makes me think I simply don’t have time to be a writer. My “Daily Program” looks something like this:

In the morning, get up ridiculously early, feed the cat, do a little yoga, then settle in with my pen or my laptop and my mug of coffee and start calling the muse. Eventually the cogs start gripping and the smoke starts billowing and words lay out in lines and strikeouts and dot dot dots. And then I feel the anxiety and disappointment as I look at the clock and realize it’s time to get presentable for work, so I wade through the words pooled on the floor, choke on phrases clouding the air, and head upstairs.

I continue to jot down notes on a pad I keep in the bathroom, I talk to my windshield on my drive to work, I tell Siri to jot down a few more ideas or revisions in the parking lot before I head in and transform into a hopefully functioning, useful human being.

My evenings are the mundane, the chopping, the roasting, the dishes, catching up on emails and other correspondence, then reading something delicious until the page blurs, something that often happens in a matter of minutes.

I am sometimes frustrated with the choices I’ve made in life that have cramped a writing lifestyle — changing college majors when life made me tired, settling down with a fun, supportive soul mate rather than a sugar daddy, deciding that health insurance and a 401k were worth the trade-off of having less time to run through the tall grasses of literary fields, chasing and capturing words with a net, examining each one in the palm of my hand.

Still, I write yet hesitate to label myself as a writer. I feel that in order to wear that label, I need some kind of success. But then that depends on how I define success. Have I lost myself in a powerful wave of description and alliteration? Have I entertained myself by reading my poem out loud, then decided that was so fun I’d read it again? Have I had trouble sleeping because I’ve done a terrible thing to a character? Has the thought of a beautifully turned sentence helped me through a dull day at work?

I have to tell myself this is enough for now, the satisfaction of lovingly, slowly, sloppily bringing a story to life one frantic coffee-fueled morning at a time, anticipating it will eventually find a home somewhere, sometime.

Meanwhile, I wear my writing like discreet fancy underpants or a snarky hidden tattoo, my secret alter ego that only I enjoy for now.

Sara Sha is a lifelong Minnesota resident and a recent Duluth transplant. Besides writing, she enjoys historical research and wandering through the woods and rocky areas of Northeastern Minnesota with her husband. She also spends a lot of time staring over the waters of Lake Superior, and she’s not sure why.

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