Timmy was a writer. Timmy was also an old friend of mine. He’d majored in creative writing and was a starving artist who spent his time jumping from one cheap motel room to another desperately trying to write a best-selling story.
Timmy was a good guy. He was also interesting to talk to. He knew about the greats, the era-defining writers, the geniuses behind the words. He also knew about the modern writers and could easily identify the few that were actually good.
We’d sit together and discuss literature and poetry and art and music. Then we’d read some of our works to each other. Timmy always liked the things I wrote even when I thought they were complete shit. He’d read me some verses he wrote or a small short story he thought of on the bus and I’d give him my honest opinion about it.
‘It’s good,’ I’d tell him often, ‘but to me it feels a bit forced. It’s like you’re trying too hard to convince us of the tragedy of this character instead of simply showing us and letting us get there ourselves.’
Timmy would nod every time and say things like ‘oh, you’re right’ and ‘I never thought about it that way’ but would come back each time with a similar story that seemed a bit forcée.
One time Timmy came over to my apartment. He had phoned me earlier telling me he had big news. When he entered he froze for a moment and stared at everything. ‘What have you done to the place?’
He was of course referring to the fact that everything had been covered with sticky notes. Small, yellow sticky notes with lines written on them everywhere. On the bedroom walls, on the tables, on the bedside lamp, on the closet door, on the bathroom mirror, on the fridge, on the kitchen counter. Endless notes in every imaginable corner of the apartment.
‘Those are my drafts,’ I told him in a proud voice.
‘Why are they scattered everywhere?’
‘Because every time I get an idea for something to write about I just put it down on one of these notes…sometimes it’s a couple of verses or a small paragraph or even a piece of flash fiction. Inspiration can be a tricky thing and you’re never quite sure when it’ll strike.’
‘But why don’t you put them down in something more…consistent?’ he said. ‘Like a book for example.’
‘I’m not ready for any kind of book yet. Now, what was that big thing you wanted to talk to me about?’
‘Well,’ he let out a small chuckle, ‘as it turns out I’ve written a book myself. A novel in fact. Inspired by the short stories I’ve read to you over the past weeks. It’s more of a compilation of them really, bit in the end I’ve managed to arrange them in a rather structured and chronological manner.’
Then, strutting about in the room, shoulders back, eyebrows raised, he added confidently, ‘I’m very proud of my work.’
‘Uh huh. Listen, don’t you think you rushed this a bit? I mean, are you sure you’re ready for a novel now? Once it’s out there in the open world you can’t take it back and fix it like you do with your stories.’
‘Relax man, I’m sure about this. I even brought you a copy so that you can read it.’
‘How can you be so sure? How do you know it isn’t complete shit?’
‘I just know.’
He handed me the book. He wanted to sign it for me. I insisted it wasn’t necessary but there was no use fighting him. He was blinded by the imminent success he thought his book would garner. He signed my copy and even added a personal dedication for me. Then he left to advertise his new product to the world.
I sat down with a glass of wine. I started reading the book. I spent the evening reading it and finally finished it.
It was complete shit.
How could Timmy not see how bad this book is? I thought. He was always such a good judge of literary work. Well, at least he was with other people’s work. When it came to his own pieces of writing, he’d let the idea of fame and global recognition get to him. He wanted to write a book so badly that he’d convinced himself he had a good story in him to tell. But anyone – anyone who read his book could see that it was poor. It lacked real structure, it lacked verve, it lacked soul. It was a lacking book and a poor culmination of his efforts and travails.
I put the copy on a small table next to me and finished my wine. I thought about Timmy’s words again. I thought about his encouragements for me to write a book. Did he really think I was ready to take on such a task?
Then I looked around me and saw the sticky notes that filled my apartment. Thousands and thousands of lines and thoughts scattered around in every room and on every piece of furniture. This was the proof that I needed – the proof that I was not yet ready to take on such a daunting challenge. It was the proof that I was still gathering my thoughts and finding my voice in different places.
But then I took another look at Timmy’s book and thought about his words, his stories. I thought about the fact that he’d managed to write complete shit even when he thought he had greatness to share with the world. I thought about some of my works and the looming feeling that told me whatever attempt I would try at a book will be equally as shitty.
Then I realized this moment was bound to happen. This hesitation that faces every writer when confronted with the possibility of a first real work for the first time. I realized that as much as I was good at judging other people’s work, I would never be good at judging my own. Just like there won’t be a time when I would ever be certain about it, even when it’s not complete shit.
And so I sat down in front of my laptop and opened a blank page.
I typed a couple of words in the center of the page and saved.
CHAPTER ONE, the page read. And so I started typing again.