It was a day like any other day.
They never saw it coming.
“Still no good.”
“NO!” I shouted as I irritably crumpled up every single piece of paper that I touched ink to. It was happening. My worst fear, writer’s block, had finally gotten the best of me. I couldn’t think of a single good idea. Something that hadn’t been written, something that hadn’t been done, something that was far from cliché. Maybe I shouldn’t have dropped out of college. Maybe I should’ve followed in my father’s footsteps and became a lawyer. Maybe I should be more like my brother, after all he had just recently been drafted into the NFL. My entire family was so proud and here I was, struggling to write just one novel. What a disappointment.
I couldn’t shut my brain off. That was the worst of it all. The endless plots and characters swirling about my mind mixed with my many many anxieties. It was suffocating to say the least. The mind of a writer is just as much of a curse as it is a blessing.
It must’ve been hours that I had been sitting there in that same chair, at that same desk, holding that same pen, in that same room, without a single idea. And that was every day since I had decided to drop out of college. Yes, I, a young, jobless, struggling writer; made the conscious decision to drop out of college just one semester shy of my bachelor’s degree because I had this insane idea that I should pursue my true passion. Lo and behold, there I was exactly three months later still struggling with the first damn sentence of what would be my debut novel.
The day I dropped out of school, the only thing my father had to say to me was, “Good luck being homeless” and a U-Haul truck was parked outside of our house the very next day. Apparently the extra rooms in his home were only for his successful sons, and at that moment I wasn’t one of them. I moved back in with my mom who went off to California to make her own dreams come true. She was understanding of the whole thing since she was once an aspiring actress and now actually starred in a daytime soap opera, so she’s a big believer in “dreams do come true.” I just wished I knew how to make my own dreams come true.
I was far from making it big which is why everyone wondered why I would dive head first into this writing thing without some sort of safety net. Well, I’m starting to wonder that same thing now too. It was definitely harder than I thought it would be. I thought that since I had this natural gift, writing a story worth reading would come easy for me. It did not. You can’t just pick up a pen and start writing or open a Word document and start typing, the ideas don’t come that simply. In order to write, one must be inspired and I, Timothy Stone, was definitely not inspired. By my fourth month of grueling writer’s block, my mother had finally had enough.
“Tim. Honey, you know I love you.” She started as she poked her head into my room. “But I swear to God if I walk passed your room one more time and see you sitting at your desk staring at a blank page I’m gonna lose it!”
“Mom it’s gonna come to me one of these days, I know it will!”
“Okay, we need to have a talk.” She replied sternly. She stepped into my room and leaned against the doorframe with her arms folded across her chest. She took a deep breath before she continued, “Look, there is no doubt in my mind that one of these days your big ‘ah-ha!’ moment will happen, but I do know it’s not gonna be in this room. You need to go out, get some fresh air, experience life and let your novel come to you. You’re twenty-two years old and you’re letting your youth slip away from you because you’re so wrapped up in becoming a bestselling author. You have plenty of time to worry about your future, but now is not it okay son?”
“You’re right mom, but–”
“Honestly Tim I’m not interested in whatever is about to come out of your mouth. You have no excuse as to why you shouldn’t just get out of this house. You’re my son so I have absolutely no problem with supporting you financially while you make your dreams come true, however, you’re not gonna sit around my house all day got it?”
“Good.” She quickly smiled at me and disappeared out of the door. “At least go to a goddamn coffee shop!” She yelled back as she walked away from my bedroom.
For my mother’s sake, I left the house that same day. But I didn’t go far. I drove down to Santa Monica beach, saw the pier, walked along the sand. It was uneventful and crowded. I tried to go to the aquarium, but as I saw the monstrous groups go in and out of those doors I decided against it and headed over to the outlet. I didn’t buy anything. After an hour I was headed home, except I couldn’t go home or my mother would throw a fit so I took her advice and went to a coffee shop. But it too was crowded so I had to go to another and another and another until I finally gave up and went back to the beach where I found an unoccupied area to sit down and write. Living practically in LA definitely wasn’t my cup of tea.
100 reasons why you shouldn’t move to California:
2. Tourists that are wannabe natives
4. Screw In-N-Out
If you ever want to drop everything else in your life to focus solely on your dreams, hear’s a word of advice: Don’t.
When the earthquake hit
“No! What the hell? No!” I had waded up and tossed to the side numerous pieces of paper with bad opening sentences before a stranger came up to me. I didn’t notice him at first, but when I finally looked up I could tell he had been watching me for a while. I looked at him awkwardly, he stared back at me.
“Can I help you?”
“Yes you may.” He smiled, but it wasn’t a warm smile. It was one of those “you should fear what’s coming next” type of smiles.
“Okay?” I prompted with confusion.
“I’m gonna need you to pick up all of this trash that’s now blowing about our beach. I know you’re probably from some garbage state that doesn’t care that they’re living in their own filth, but here in California we pick up after ourselves.”
“Yeah, I assumed as such when I saw that empty bag of Lays blow passed me.” I scoffed as I continued writing.
“Look, I asked you nicely to pick up your crumpled papers that you’re so carelessly throwing around our beach now I’m not gonna ask you again, so you either do it or I’ll make you do it.”
“Just back off meathead, I’m trying to write.”
I guess I could’ve chosen my words more wisely or maybe just did as I was told because before I knew it I was picking rocks out of my scraped-up body. I ended up picking up my garbage and throwing it away as well and then I limped back to my car. I don’t think that was what my mother had in mind when she told me to experience life, but I guess now I could say I had been in a fight. It wasn’t much of a fight however, considering I got my ass handed to me.
When I finally made it home I had only been out of the house for an hour and forty-five minutes. My mom took one look at me as I hobbled through the front door and immediately got the first aid kit. I sat down on the living room couch and she sat down next to me and cleaned all of my wounds, applying medicine and Band-Aids to the worst ones.
“What did you do?” She asked with an annoyed undertone.
“Mouthed off to the wrong guy at the beach and ended up face down in the sand.”
“Oh, you went down to the beach?”
“Did you see the pier?”
“Meet any cute girls?”
She wiped the last cut on my face with alcohol and I winced.
“Sorry.” She cooed.
“You think you’ll go back out again? Maybe meet some new people?”
“Looking like this?” I shot back.
“If anyone asks, all you have to say is, ‘you should see the other guy’ and no one will know you got your ass kicked.” She laughed.
“Thanks mom. Great advice.”
I started to get up to retreat to my room but she caught me by the hand.
“Okay, okay, I have real advice for you sit back down.”
“Sweetie, I’m happy you tried today. I really am, but don’t let one mishap stop you from going back out there again tomorrow. Put some tea tree oil on the ugliest scrapes and get out there again okay? I just want you to have the greatest experiences possible, especially living out here in California.”
“But Californians are the worst, mom.”
“I know, that’s why it pays to be an actress because I know how to act like I actually like these people. Don’t you think I’d rather be back in Michigan? But sometimes in order to accomplish our dreams, we must sacrifice our comfort zone. Do you understand what I’m getting at?”
“Good! Plus, a big city is the best place to network so once you start writing you’ll be able to pull an audience, so hop to it!”
I hugged her. “Thanks mom. I really needed that.”
“Yeah yeah. Anyway, I have a date to get to so try to stay out of trouble while I’m gone.” She got up and headed for the door. “Don’t wait up! Love you, bye.”
The door shut and I had the whole place to myself which gave me a wonderful idea. Since my mother wanted me to make friends so bad, what better way than to throw an epic party? Parties weren’t my thing, but she was right, I needed to experience life outside of my comfort zone. So I went back to the beach with generic flyers I made in ten seconds on my laptop and passed them around to strangers. There was no doubt in my mind that they would show up since my mom lived in a ritzy area.
By the time I got back home and it was time for my party, I realized I had planned terribly. I had passed out ten flyers and about one hundred people showed up. I had plenty of beer and snacks, but not enough patience to entertain. The start time was eight, but by nine I had retreated to my room. I sat at my desk once again, thinking I could write about that night, but the reality was that I hadn’t even done anything worth writing about. I hadn’t even talked to anybody, so I decided to get up and try. When I exited by bedroom however, I ended up colliding with the prettiest woman I had ever seen up close.
I was average at best and she was clearly out of my league, but I guess a few beers had us both feeling invincible. I took her to my room and we talked which lead to us making out and then the clothes started to come off. Everything after that was a blur. How was that for experiencing life?
I awoke the next morning hungover with the girl still lying next to me. I wasn’t sure what to do. Should I wake her up? Should I hide? Should I go back to sleep? But my hesitancy decided for me since as I was weighing my options, she began to stir. She opened her eyes slowly and looked over at me in a dazed manner.
“Shit.” She muttered. “I’m sorry, I must’ve passed out. I didn’t mean to overstay my welcome.” She sat upright and then stepped out of bed to begin dressing herself.
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Hey if you ever throw another party or whatever, call me.” She replied as she handed me her business card. “I had fun last night thanks! I’ll see you around.”
She grabbed her bag and left my room heading for the front door. I was stunned by how calmly she reacted to waking up next to me. She must’ve thought I was rich. I could hear her run into my mom on the way out and then the front door closed. I looked at the card she had handed me with her information on it; she worked for a publishing company, maybe my luck was just about to change.
“You took my advice…sort of!” My mother exclaimed as she came running into my room.
“Yeah, I guess you were right. Experiencing life is definitely what I needed to do. I actually feel clear headed.”
“Oh good! Well, I’m glad you had fun and even got laid, but now clean up my goddamn house what is the matter with you? Did you even ask to throw a party? No. You didn’t. Get up!”
She walked out of my room and I followed quickly behind her fumbling into my shirt.
“You said to experience life!” I retorted.
“Yeah, outside of my house Timothy!”
I knew my mother wasn’t really all that angry. She helped me clean up the mess my guests had made and even cooked me breakfast. As we ate she finally inquired about the only thing she seemed to care about. I dreaded having these conversations.
“So you hooked up with that little brunette that left our place this morning?”
“She was cute. Did you get her number?”
“Actually, yeah. She handed me her business card before she left and you’ll never guess what she does for a living.”
“What does she do?”
“She works for a publishing company. Isn’t that just great? It’s like all of the stars are starting to align for me.”
“That is a happy accident, but Tim please remember that you can’t use people to get where you want in life. If you like this girl, then go ahead and date her and casually bring up that you’re a writer; but if you only wanna see this girl again because you think it’ll bring you fame, then I’m not allowing you to. That’s not how you were raised.”
“Oh come on mom, everyone does it. That’s how the business works. Didn’t you say to network?”
“Yeah, make connections on a strictly business level not sleep with a girl and continue seeing her solely because you hope she’ll pass along your manuscript to her boss. You’re mixing business with pleasure.”
“I wouldn’t have it any other way. I should be able to have both.” I smirked as I scooped a forkful of eggs into my mouth.
“Okay Tim, but don’t say I didn’t warn you. You’re gonna ruin your reputation before you can even build one if you keep that attitude up. I could just see your headlines now, ‘sleazy writer sleeps his way into Hollywood.’ Is that really how you want to be known?”
“Well okay then. I’m glad we cleared this up.”
“Yeah.” I responded as I got up to take my plate to the sink. She was right, but I wasn’t going to tell her that. Instead, I returned to my room where I sunk back into my writer’s block. I must’ve wrote twenty opening lines before I realized that was my problem. I was focusing too much on the beginning and not enough on the plot. All I had to do was write and the rest would fall into place, so I began to type in a stream of consciousness manner. I titled my work The Road He Wrote and fictitiously transcribed my journey from Straight-A’s to A-list.
“Mom!” I shouted after I had typed out five pages with ease, “Come here!”
She came rushing in slightly out of breath. “What? What is it?”
“I did it!” I responded wide-eyed.
“Did what?” She walked over to me and took a look at my computer screen. “Oh! You wrote?”
“I finally beat my writer’s block. You were right, I did just need to get out of the house.”
“Well that’s great honey! I’m so proud.” She took a seat on my bed. “So are you going to read it to me?”
“No.” I responded. “It’s too much into it’s infancy. But I’d be happy to summarize it for you.”
“Let me hear it.”
“So, it’s a fictitious story about my life. Of me going from straight-A’s all throughout school to dropping out with nothing to show for my hard work, aside from debt, and eventually being paid my due diligence in the form of an A-list writer.” When I finished talking I was grinning from ear to ear. I was finally proud of myself once again.
“I love it! But it doesn’t sound so fictitious to me.” My mother grinned as she stood to hug me and plant a kiss on the top of my head. “Make sure to add in how your dad kicked you to the curb and your mother so graciously took you in.” She laughed as she exited my room.
“Will do!” I called after her as I went back to typing.
By the end of the day I had written about thirty pages. I marveled my own work, smiling at my screen, feeling proud of myself for the first time since I dropped out of school. I was close to reaching my goal I could feel it. Perhaps, I wasn’t such a failure after all.
It was that on top of the world feeling that allowed me to muster up the courage to give the girl I had slept with a call. From her business card, I discovered that her name was Josie and only then realized she didn’t know mine. I called anyway. She didn’t answer, so I left a short message on her voicemail and anxiously awaited her to call me back. My on top of the world feeling dispersed just as quickly as it had arrived all because I had decided to call a girl who may not have even liked me.
I sat there in front of my computer screen with my phone face up next to my keyboard, just staring at it for some time. I waited for it to light up and tell me Josie was calling me back. It took exactly twenty-two minutes before my phone lit up with a text from her. All the text said was: Sorry, I missed your call Tim. Remind me again who you are exactly?
It was a stake to my confidence. My ego suddenly deflated and I felt small all over again. She didn’t even have any idea of who I was though I specifically remember telling her in my message that we had met at my party just the other night. She had just given her card to me that morning. I put my head down on my desk in defeat, somehow accidentally deleting all my work in the process. My computer made a sort of dinging sound which alerted me all my unsaved work was gone. I stared at my blank screen in horror. My phone lit up again as I stared blankly at a blank screen. This time Josie was calling me.
“Hey.” I tried to answer calmly.
“Hi Tim, it’s Josie. Sorry, I’m a ditz I just remembered who you are. I left your house this morning duh. Again, sorry. Is this a bad time?” She spoke rapidly.
“Oh, yeah, that’s fine. Just glad you remembered. Actually, you kind of caught me in a time of crisis. I was writing something on my computer and I hadn’t gotten the chance to save it yet and it looks like I’ve managed to accidentally delete everything and now it’s gone forever so.”
“Oh man.” She let out a breath. “That’s rough.”
“Yeah, tell me about it.”
“You know,” She continued smoothly, “I work for a publishing company so I’m pretty good with computers. I’ve seen problems similar to this if you want me to come over and try to help you out?”
“Yeah!” I exclaimed, “Yeah, that would be great!”
“Okay, I’ll be over in hmm I don’t know an hour maybe?”
“Sounds good! I’ll see you then.”
I hung up the phone and that good feeling I originally had returned. Even though I had lost my work, I felt like Josie would be able to recover it. I leaned back in my chair staring at my blank screen waiting for her to ring the doorbell. I didn’t know what to do in the meantime.
My mom popped in after a few minutes to tell me she was going to a cast party. She blew me a kiss and then was gone. I wished my life was like hers. Not even for the fame or for the fortune, but for the sheer satisfaction that I was doing what I loved and knew everything would be okay. If I couldn’t get my work back, I knew I’d have to go back to school. Do something else. Maybe it was all a sign.
I wrote out a list of alternative career paths I could try out just in case it all fell through. It was something I should have done a long time ago if I was being honest with myself. As I started to make my list, I realized there was absolutely nothing I would rather be doing. Even as an alternative, I couldn’t bear to think about a life where I didn’t end up as a writer. I was a writer. There were no other options. I had to make it work, otherwise I’d always despise the work I was doing. I put down my pencil, refusing to make such a list, and went back to anxiously staring at my computer screen. I was screwed.
Luckily, the doorbell finally rang and I rushed to get it.
“Hey!” Josie said as I opened the door and motioned for her to come in.
“Hey again!” I responded as I closed the door behind her.
She gave me an awkward hug when I turned back toward her and I just kind of smiled. She smiled back. I proceeded down the hallway back toward my room and she followed close behind me.
“So, here’s my problem.” I announced when we got to my room. I gestured to my computer with my now nonexistent word document.
“I got this.” She assured me and sat down before my computer. There were a few clicks and then she typed something in and suddenly my word document was back up on my screen, all thirty pages. She hit save and that was that.
“Wow” I blurted out, “how’d you do that?”
“Magic!” She piped.
“That was so fast. Thank you!”
Her eyes darted over my work as she scrolled down, clearly reading what I had written. I started to feel a little self-conscious since no one had ever read my work before, especially not something so unfinished. I wanted to stop her, I wanted to slam my laptop shut and tell her that she was invading my privacy, that she didn’t even ask. I wanted to, but instead I just stood there beside her staring at her staring at my screen and scrolling. It seemed like an eternity before she reached my first page break and stopped to look over at me.
“Why didn’t you tell me you were a writer?”
“I would’ve eventually I guess. I didn’t really want to just bring it up at random. It felt wrong since you know…how we met, and the fact that you work for a publishing company.”
“Huh. A guy with manners.” She smirked, “Well, this is actually really good. I mean, I know it’s part factual, but still this could be something that could work! My boss would probably love this! Would you mind if I showed this to him? I could potentially get you a publishing deal.”
“You would do that for me?”
“Sure! I know we don’t know each other, so I guess this is a little weird, but you’re a phenomenal writer. I would love to pitch your work to my boss.”
“Josie, that’s so nice of you. Yes, I’d love that. Thank you so much.”
“Well, don’t thank me yet.” She said as she rose from the chair, “I haven’t gotten you a deal just yet.”
I just smiled at her and she smiled back at me before she started heading for the door. I followed her down the hall and to my front door. She started to open it and then stopped to turn and look at me.
“So, just shoot me an email with that document attached and I’ll see what I can do.”
She started to turn back around before I abruptly blurted out, “Josie, one more thing.”
“I was wondering if we could go out on a date some time?” The question rolled out before I had time to stop it. It’s funny how one thing going right could make a person feel invincible.
She smiled and kind of laughed before saying anything.
“How about when I get an answer from my boss we’ll discuss it over coffee.”
“It’s a date then.” I responded.
“See you then, Tim.” She smiled again and turned back towards the door. She opened it and then she was gone.
It was on June 3rd that I received a text from Josie informing me that she was looking forward to our date that Saturday. I replied to her under the assumption that she had heard back from her boss about my story, and she cunningly didn’t let on about whether it was a hit or a miss. I grinned with every word I typed back in response to hers. She never even hinted one way or the other. I had no idea if her news was good or bad, but I was more interested in the fact that I had a date with this girl anyway. She continued teasing me throughout the duration of our conversation, and we talked for hours. About everything. And just before she told me goodnight, she sent me the address to the coffee shop I was supposed to meet her at the next morning. 11am, Saturday morning; I would be there.
I went to sleep especially giddy that night. I had overcome my writer’s block and I had a date with a girl way out of my league. Not only that, but there was a chance that I’d be signing a contract with a major publishing company. Perhaps soon, I could finally deem myself a success instead of failure. I laid back in my bed with a big grin on my face as I clutched my phone to my chest. I fell asleep just like that.
When I woke up in the morning it was ten and my phone was dead from it being off the charger all night. I had only an hour to get ready, charge my phone, and get to the coffee shop on the other side of town. I started to panic a little thinking about how there was no way I’d make it there on time. It was a sign. A negative one. I quickly hooked my phone up to my charger and rushed into the bathroom to shower. I could hear my mother in the kitchen stirring her morning coffee as I stepped into the shower. I did a hasty soap, rinse, dry, and then moved on to brushing my teeth and shaving. When I had finished, I practically ran from the bathroom to my room to get dressed. I checked my phone: 10:40am. 57% charged. I wasn’t going to make it by eleven, that was for sure, but I tried anyway. I threw my clothes from my drawer trying to find my black pair of jeans which were of course at the bottom of the pile. Then, I went to my closet to find my red and black flannel. I buttoned the last button, grabbed my not fully charged phone, car keys, wallet, and raced toward the door. My hand was on the knob with ten minutes to make it to the coffee shop. I turned it and pulled it open which alerted my mother to stop me.
“Tim where are you going so early?”
“You remember that girl that left here that morning after I threw a party? I have literally ten minutes before I’m late to meet her at a coffee shop across town so please no questions I will explain everything when I get home okay mom? Love you, bye!” I fired rapidly before disappearing out of the door.
The door didn’t reopen as I got into my car which was a good sign I wasn’t in any trouble for leaving so abruptly. I put my car in reverse and backed out of the driveway to head to the coffee shop. My navigation informed me I was about ten minutes out, but I was determined to make it in seven minutes or less. I sped the whole way there praying no cops would pull me over as I did so. I couldn’t afford to be late nor to pay a speeding ticket as I was currently unemployed.
I made it to the coffee shop at exactly eleven, but by the time I parked and walked in the door it was 11:02 which was still wonderfully on time. I walked in and there she was sitting at a table awaiting my arrival. She waved to me as I walked towards her, and then she stood to give me a hug. It wasn’t awkward this time. She looked beautiful in her long-sleeved floral romper, her sandals, and brown sunglasses that she had pushed on to the top of her head. I couldn’t stop smiling at her as I sat across from her that day.
“I hope you don’t mind that I already ordered for you. I just got here a little early. They should be calling out my name soon.”
“No that’s fine.” I replied, though I felt a little guilty that she had paid for me. “I’ve never been here anyway so I wouldn’t know what to order.”
“Well, I hope you like what I got you. It’s my favorite.”
“So, I’m sorry, but it’s killing me. What did your boss think?”
A smile crawled across her face as she stared back at me. One of the baristas called out her name and she just put one finger up, still smiling, as if to tell me “hold that thought.” I did, as she got up to retrieve our drinks. She walked back toward me with both drinks in hand and set one in front of me and handed me a straw. She sat back down, put a straw in her drink, and took a sip before speaking again.
“Okay, I think I’ve made you wait long enough.” She laughed a little.
“Yeah! It must be bad news huh?”
“Nope.” She took another sip of her drink. “He loved it!”
“What?” I asked in disbelief, almost spitting out the coffee I had in my mouth.
“Yeah, he loved it! The only thing, and don’t get mad okay? He wants to change a few things.” She reached into her bag and pulled out a bunch of papers I assumed to be my manuscript, and handed it to me. “He made comments all over it so you can read through it and tell me what you think.”
I flipped through the pages seeing red pen all over all of it. Every page, no, every sentence had a suggestion. A comment. I continued flipping through rapidly as Josie finished off her drink. I could tell she was watching me angrily look over my work. I got to the last page and flung it onto to the table with frustration.
“Are you serious?” I asked her.
“Yes, that’s what he wants from it.”
“What he wants is to change everything, but keep the central idea. That’s not even my story anymore.”
“I know, but think about it; you’ll be a published author. He really wants you to sign with us. He said you write well and have a lot of potential. At least think about it, Tim?”
She grabbed my hand and held it across the table as she gave me that same smile. I found her charm had worn off and the only thing I felt was that I was being conned. I shook my head at her.
“No. No, I don’t need to think about this. I’m not gonna sign with you guys to publish a story that is no longer my story. I just can’t sell out like that.”
“I understand.” She shrugged, “We should probably call it a day then, I have to get to work.”
“Yeah.” I responded and we both got up and walked to the door. I opened the door for her and she said a quick goodbye before walking away. I watched her walk away with a puzzled expression on my face before I headed to my car. I guessed I wouldn’t be hearing from her again.
A week later as I was working again on the novel I had turned down a contract for I decided to take a break and surf the internet. I was a little burned out from my determination to finish my book to prove to Josie and her publishing company that my story could be a success as is. I didn’t need to sell out to sell books I thought to myself. I browsed through a few books on Amazon for a bit of inspiration before one caught my eye. It was a novel titled Write On by Josie McNam. My heart sunk as I clicked on the synopsis hoping to every deity this wasn’t what I thought it was. I read the blurb: The story of a young woman’s journey from college dropout to bestselling author. Jesse starts to rethink her rash decision to drop out of school when writer’s block hits her and her dream of becoming an author comes crashing down, but a change of scenery and a few chance encounters start to turn her life around.
I stared at the new release for a while in utter disbelief. It was my novel. She had stolen it.
I let out an aggravated scream and then threw my word document into the trash. I couldn’t publish it now. It wasn’t my story anymore. But that’s when an idea popped into my head. I opened a new word document, titled it The Con Artist, and began writing.