When I was five years old, I spent most of my spare time copying verbatim from the few books my father kept around the house.
I don’t know why. I didn’t know why back then, and as a 30 year-old man who still spends much of his time writing, I don’t really know why I do it now, either.
I mean, sure, I could try to explain it. I could sit here for hours and write essay after essay in an earnest attempt to make sense of this need to put one sentence in front of the other and see where the hell it gets me.
I could, but it would be pointless. When it all comes down to it, I write because I have to. I write because I need to. I write to satisfy that same intangible something that I imagine draws some men to becoming priests, and others to climbing mountains.
I do this because it’s who I am and all that I know. Yet despite that, I still haven’t reached the one destination I feel the last 25 years have been driving me towards: A humble little spot on some bookshelf where a book sits with my name emblazoned on the cover.
I’ve achieved some stuff I’m pretty proud of in my life. I’ve overcome addiction, I’ve launched my own business. I’ve run a marathon, taught myself to build websites and play the guitar, and generally done more than a boy who grew up on a council estate in the arse-end of Wigan really has any right to.
I could go on doing stuff like that until my dying day, but I’d never be satisfied, not if I went to my deathbed without once seeing the words Chris Skoyles – published novelist written down somewhere.
For me, that’s the pinnacle. That’s the goal. Like a young footballer who dreams of one day winning the Premier League or an eager scientist who sets the Nobel Prize as the be-all-and-end-all of his career, getting a novel published is the one thing I’ve been working towards since I first started copying out of my dad’s books back as a kid.
I may never climb an actual mountain, but I’ve certainly got my own to climb with this pursuit of publication. At the top of my writing mountain sits that book with my name on the cover, beneath that, there’s as much a challenge as I imagine there would be if I stuck on a pair of boots and attempted to scale Kilimanjaro.
And the biggest challenge of all, of course, is just not giving up.
At 30 years old, I’ve written precisely two novels. The first one sucked more than a ten dollar lock-jawed whore, but the second, the second is a piece of work I am fiercely proud of.
I started it on November 1st, 2012, and didn’t finish it until I’d torn a big enough piece of my soul away and glued it firmly to the page some two years later.
I called it The New War: Escape from Asylonia. On the surface, it’s a straight forward sci-fi adventure about a vigilante who goes on a rescue mission to another world. Beneath that, it’s me. It’s my life, my thoughts, my hopes, my fears, everything that I am, that I believe in or even hope to believe in, all laid bare over 90+ thousand words of the best stuff I’m capable of writing.
That’s the scariest part right there. At this point in my life, ‘Asylonia is the absolute best I can do. I know this, because I spent two years making sure it was.
Countless hours went by at my parents’ dining table getting those early drafts done, followed by countless more hours locked up in a Minnesota motel in the middle of winter editing, rewriting, getting completely absorbed in the story and coming away again thinking ‘yes, THIS is why I do it.”
Yet knowing that this novel is my absolute best does have its disadvantages, especially when it comes to the demoralizing search for an agent.
I’ve pitched to agents before with the first book I wrote, but I gave up way too quickly. One rejection letter from a guy who couldn’t relate to my protagonist was all it took to shelve Wasted and turn my attentions to other things.
With hindsight, I’m glad I did. I’ve read that book since, and believe me, it ain’t good. The fact that I gave up so easily back then confirms to me that I probably knew that even then.
With ‘Asylonia, it’s different. I’m not saying it’s good (really, that’s not my place to say). What I am saying is that, unlike Wasted, I truly believe that this is absolutely my best, and as somebody whose life revolves around writing, that’s a big deal.
So I take this book. I package it up, I pitch it, and though in my query letter I’m saying ‘Here is my book, here is why I think people will want to read it, please represent me,” what I’m really saying is ‘Here is my best. The best of the only thing in the world I’m any good at. Here is my soul, please sell it.”
Having done that, I send it off. It lands on an agents desk. They -or someone in their team- takes a look at it. Quite understandably -since agents are running a business and not a charity- they skim through it, don’t see how they can make money of it, and then they reject it.
Over, and over they reject it, and over and over I have to keep telling myself: That’s OK. Every rejection letter I get is like weeding out all the agents who aren’t right for me until I find the one it is.
I’ve sent the novel to at least 14 agents now. I’ve had five rejections, and as each one lands in my inbox, I find it a little harder not to let it knock my confidence.
On the face of it, this is probably silly. I’ve spent my career sending out pitches and proposals, I understand that it’s all part of business and nothing to take personal, but then, none of those other pitches were as personal to me as this book.
What’s more, even if ‘Asylonia never does get published, it won’t really matter. For all kinds of reasons I won’t go into now, I just had to write this book. If it languishes on my hard drive forever more, I’ll still be just as proud of it as I would if it ever makes its way onto somebody’s bookshelf.
Does that mean I’m giving up? Not this time it doesn’t. After all, this is my best, and if I was ever in with a chance of making it to the top of my own personal mountain, I’m confident that The New War: Escape from Asylonia is exactly the thing to get me there.
So bring on those rejections. I’m ready for ’em. I’m ready, because I know they’re just another stepping stone to getting where I need to be.