How Confessions of a Teenage Gamer Came To Be
Well, we did it. 5 years later and we finally, finally did it.
On Friday, I released my debut memoir, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer. For those of you that have already finished the book (that was fast...), you now know that this is actually the first of seven books.
It has been so great to hear from people and what they thought of the story.
"I was dreading the fact of waiting for the copy to arrive until you sent it! Flew through your book in a weekend of nonstop reading! Going to share the hard copy with my older brother. I think you're onto something big with this story of yours. Please don't stop writing. I'm already a fan!"
"I never read books, ever. And I read yours in record time. Incredibly well done."
And the Amazon reviews...
"As soon as you begin reading Cole's work (as any of his Quora followers can attest to) it's almost impossible not to become invested in his story, as he eloquently guides us through an experience which is as honest, earnest and relatable as it is completely impressive and inspiring. I look forward to seeing the continued evolution of his work as an Author, and am so incredibly excited for his first venture in this direction. This story is incredible and he truly is an expert in his craft."
"Nicolas Cole's debut memoir, Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, is an in-depth look at the coming of age for an entire generation. Millennials and gamers alike will relate to and admire the brutal honesty of the book, which is nested within a subtle critique of a predominately white affluent image-driven suburb."
To have worked so hard on something for so long, and to have people not only read it but actually take away the lessons I wanted to make sure were conveyed the right way is a feeling I can't describe.
Thank you to everyone who bought the book on launch day. We hit #2 on Amazon in 2 different categories, and #1 on Product Hunt.
How Did Confessions of a Teenage Gamer Actually Happen?
Now that the book is out, I thought it would be cool to go back and trace over the steps it actually took to bring this book to life.
Let's start back at the beginning...
The above photo is me at seventeen years old. I know because that was the laptop my parents bought me for college, which I received the Christmas of my senior year in high school. This photo was taken up at our cabin, where we go every year to snowmobile.
I was using my brand new laptop to watch World of Warcraft videos of the top players in the world, studying their play styles and preparing for the next 3v3 arena season—the season I ultimately became one of the highest ranked players in North America. This was also the laptop I used to start my first blog, Exitec Style.
5 years later, I found myself at Columbia College Chicago.
I had transferred from University of Missouri, and after about a year of bouncing between different majors (poetry, music production, piano performance), I ultimately settled on majoring in Creative Writing. My dad was just happy I'd settled on something.
I took this class called Journal & Sketchbook (I tell this story in Confessions of a Teenage Gamer in more depth) and ended up writing a short story about my years playing World of Warcraft. It was terrifying for me because in every one of these writing classes we had to read our work aloud—and admitting to the world that I was secretly this hardcore closet gamer was extremely nerve-racking.
The whole class loved it. Other kids came out of the woodwork, admitting their own hidden infatuation with the World of Warcraft, or previously addictive habits with games like Minecraft, Ultima Online, etc. They found it extremely relatable, and my teacher urged me to continue "exploring the material."
What I hadn't told anyone was that at the same time, I had actually started playing World of Warcraft again myself—and not casually. By the time I was a junior in college, I was right back competing at the top tier levels in 3v3, wondering if I should pursue my dream once again.
Ultimately, as both the writing and my nightly gaming sessions progressed, I realized I had to pick one or the other. I was either going to devote all my time to becoming a professional gamer, or I was going to write a book about gaming.
I chose the latter.
In an attempt to leave the game behind once and for all, I made one final PvP Video, Exitec IV, and said goodbye to the World of Warcraft. I accepted my quest to try to put into words what that game and that world meant to me.
The last song in the video, A Town Called Hypocrisy, is the name of the first chapter of Confessions of a Teenage Gamer.
That summer, I studied Creative Writing abroad in Prague and Italy—Prague for 6 weeks, Florence for 4.
In Prague, I wrote more in 6 weeks than I had in the entire year prior. My daily schedule was 2 hours of reading in the morning, 4 hours of class, and then 4-6 (and sometimes more) hours of writing per day. I was so far from home, so detached from all of my friends, no Internet, no air conditioning, sitting in my boiling hostel sweating in my boxers, that the only thing I could do (and really felt like doing) was writing.
At the end of the 6 week program, we had a reading at this well-known coffee shop bookstore in Prague. There, I read one of the chapters from my now book-in-progress (a chapter I ultimately cut, but needed to write in order to know that).
This was the first time I really revealed to people what I was working on: a book called Confessions of a Teenage Gamer.
August, 2012 - March, 2013
When I came back from studying abroad, I went into my senior year of college fully intending to finish and publish Confessions of a Teenage Gamer by the end of the year.
One of the last classes you take as a Creative Writing major at Columbia College Chicago was called Prose Forms. The whole purpose of the class was to focus on the art of non-fiction writing and telling brutally honest stories.
The first week of class, I handed my teacher hundreds of pages from my book-in-progress.
The next week, he handed them all back, unmarked—and told me to grow a pair of balls.
Here, I was writing a memoir, and I was writing it in the 3rd person. "Cole said this, Cole said that." Seriously. And do you know why?
Because I was terrified to admit that the author was "Me." I was scared to say, "I."
That entire semester was a struggle. He urged me, over and over again, to write it in the first person, and every time I would try to tell my story, my story, I would just end up staring at a blank page, frustrated. I had a lot of underlying issues I still needed to work through if I wanted to tell the story the way I knew it needed to be told.
My teacher encouraged me not to give up, and to instead try telling it as a short story first.
I heeded his advice, and wrote about the day I became one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America—and at the same time realized that, in the eyes of my father, my accomplishment still wasn't good enough.
That short story, Exitec's Success, ended up being nominated to be included in the department's 2013 Story Week Reader for Story Week. Only 20-some students were accepted. It was a class favorite, and I read my short story aloud to a packed auditorium of students, teachers, peers and parents.
(Oh, and if you can't tell, I put on a bunch of weight. Bodybuilding was starting to come to fruition, and the bigger I got, the more comfortable and confident I became admitting who I truly was to the world. My "protective armor" so to speak.)
When it came time to graduate, I was selected to speak on behalf of the department to rooms full of parents and prospective students about why they should study Creative Writing at Columbia College Chicago.
I knew better than anyone.
That school helped me find my voice. That school is what changed me from a kid who wanted to write, to a writer who wanted to explore what it was like to be a kid. That school encouraged me to learn my own lessons, to fall and get back up again, to let me discover myself instead of telling me who I should be.
I owe that school a lot. It gave me the space to be Me.
I read my short story, Exitec's Success, to all those parents and high school seniors.
After I read my story and spoke on my experiences, one of the kids came up to me afterwards. He had wrinkled clothes, and a few pieces of acne on his forehead. He said, "When is your book coming out? I really want to read it!" He said he played World of Warcraft too.
That was all the encouragement I needed. I saw myself in that kid. And in that moment, I realized who I was writing for.
I threw out every single draft I had of the book so far—hundreds and hundreds of pages—and started over. And this time, I wrote it in the first person. "I."
Yet another obstacle!
To back-track a bit, my senior year of college I started dating this girl from my school (my first girlfriend in quite a while). I am such a driven and goal-oriented person I find it difficult to make time, let alone connect with someone romantically. But this girl was studying abroad from Costa Rica, and I had just gotten back from studying abroad. I had a newfound respect for spending time on foreign territory, and we shared in that.
The first night we hung out, I told her I was studying Creative Writing. She asked if I was working on anything in particular. I decided to be honest and revealed this still very new work-in-progress. She was ecstatic. She loved to read, and she insisted that I share with her the first chapter. I pulled up what I had saved on my phone (in my e-mail) and read the whole thing aloud.
She thought it was a great story.
(Side note: That was probably version #27 of the first chapter. It was changed 100 times over since then.)
She played a big part in my tackling this project. She supported me when I doubted myself. She would read my drafts and give me feedback (she loved literature). She would challenge me during parts where I would shy away from my feelings. And she always, always listened to my ridiculous World of Warcraft tales from the past. Things I found absolutely hilarious and she in no way could have possibly understood, she still tried to understand.
She tried, and to me that meant all the difference.
Well, the summer after I graduated (August, 2013), she bought me a plane ticket to her home country to see where she was from—as a graduation present. She wanted me to understand where she had grown up, and all the things that had made her "her."
I was very nervous to travel to Costa Rica. This wasn't a study abroad trip. I wasn't traveling with my family to a nice hotel in another country. I was going to her home. Where there was no grocery store—instead, people traded vegetables in the heart of town. There was one bar, where she would go salsa dancing. Her backyard was the ocean. Her dog ran the beaches. And every guy there was her protective "older brother."
The moment I arrived, I knew I didn't belong. And she knew I didn't belong. And over the course of 10 days, our relationship slowly began to unwind. Because I was a "gringo," and I wasn't from there.
When we came back from that trip, I became extremely depressed. Our relationship had completely fallen apart. She didn't want to be together anymore. I had just spent 10 days in paradise and at the same time felt completely vulnerable and like an outcast.
Oddly enough, it was right before we left for that trip that I'd stumbled upon what ultimately became the rough skeleton of the first chapter's final version. It still changed many times, but the outline was there. And when I read it aloud to her days before we left for Costa Rica, she gave me a big smile. "You've done it, Cole. That's the voice for this story."
After we came back, from September, 2013 to December, 2013, I shut myself out from the world. I was so mind-fucked from that trip to Costa Rica that I questioned everything about myself and my life. I felt like I wasn't good enough. I felt like I had been lied to. I wondered if I had done something wrong. I wondered if I could have done something different to preserve our relationship. All I did was go to work and then go to the gym. I didn't really talk to anyone. I didn't write. I barely journaled. And when I did pick the book project back up, I realized I was still fuming with anger.
I have this memory of that time in my life when I was working 9-6pm, gym from 7-9pm, and then writing from 9:30pm - midnight, every single night. It was exhausting.
I held that schedule for months. It was my way of coping. But sure enough, at some point I started to barrel through the book again.
The amount of drafts I went through by the time the new year hit was overwhelming. When I say I re-wrote the book in its entirety multiple times, I am not exaggerating. I have folders on my desktop of so many different versions, looking back I essentially wrote 4 different books.
See how many chapters are there? That's 1 draft. And each one of those chapters was revised anywhere from 10-40ish times (as you can see by the time stamps, and the last time I changed something in the document).
...but I'm not an obsessive perfectionist or anything.
I started to realize that I had two issues going on:
First of all, I wasn't finishing the book because nothing I wrote was good enough. And I knew that wasn't an issue with the book. That was an issue within me.
Second, I was extremely fearful to actually finish the project because then that would mean actually putting out the book and sharing with everyone stories from my adolescence—something I have spent my entire life trying to forget about.
If I wanted to write an honest story, then I needed to do some serious inner work, and come to grips with a few things.
I reached out to my Spirituality and Empowerment teacher (a class I took at Columbia College Chicago) and asked if he would be open to meeting up once a week to work on meditation and mindfulness with me. I told him I wanted to finish my book, more than anything else in the world, but knew there were things holding me back.
Over the past 2 years, he and I have met up just about every Tuesday, for two hours, to work on mindfulness and self awareness. He has been an incredible mentor to me, and without him this book would never have gotten done.
May 23, 2015
Almost a year and a half later, I found myself the closest to "the end" I had seen yet. The book was starting to feel like a finished product (despite the fact that it was around ~600 pages and needed to be cut drastically).
For my birthday (May 23rd), my teacher said he was getting a bunch of his students together to go to a farm in the middle of nowhere, Illinois, to meditate for three days. He asked if I would be interested in joining.
Without hesitation, I said yes.
I had really come to understand that my outward creativity was a direct reflection of how in tune I was with myself. The clearer I got within, the clearer my writing and my creative endeavors were externally. Conversely, the more I ignored "that voice" within, and tried to just distract myself from underlying issues that needed to be addressed, the more my writing and creativity suffered.
For the first time in years, I felt re-connected to my "creative well."
For 3 days, I went to this farm and meditated with a group of other Columbia College Chicago students—some current, some long graduated. All we did was read, journal, reflect, meditate, and talk with one another. We shared our fears. We shared what made us happy. And on the last day, we had an "art circle." Each of us shared something special we had created.
I read aloud one of the chapters from my book—the one that ended up becoming Chapter 8, Just Lose It.
The response was overwhelming. Nobody there knew anything about competitive video games, but they all said they could relate to the story. The story of growing up in a suburb. Of dealing with expectations to succeed. Of trying to fit in.
I came back from this trip with the fire to finish this project once and for all. I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.
June, 2015 - January, 2016
The final obstacle in finishing this book was learning how to say "No" to certain things so that I could devote the necessary time to the art.
This was such a big issue for me that I actually stopped working on Confessions of a Teenage Gamer for about two months and wrote an entire musical album to confront and work through some of these issues. Honestly, the biggest lesson I learned in writing this first book was the true importance of inner work, and mindfulness, and self knowledge—even more so than just "getting it done."
I called this musical project About The Author, and it explored the remaining issues I had in not just devoting time to working on Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, but calling the thing "complete" and publishing it.
Because I was being pulled in two different directions:
In the past 2 years, I have "done" a lot.
- I achieved Top Writer status on Quora two years in a row, accumulating over 13,000,000 views and ~20,000 followers.
- I had my short story (related to Confessions of a Teenage Gamer) published in Quora's 2014 print anthology.
- I became a daily columnist for Inc Magazine (and in less than 6 months have cleared 1,000,000+ views on my articles).
- I became a contributor for Entrepreneur Magazine.
- I have had work published in TIME, Forbes, Fortune, The Huffington Post (also a contributor there too), The Observer, Business Insider, and more.
- I have been featured on podcasts and other blogs.
- I have worked with an e-famous YouTube influencer, helping create the strategy and direction for his personal brand—along with a product launch that is putting him on track to clear six figures in gross revenue.
- I have written, produced, recorded, and put out two music projects: Through Your Eyes and About The Author.
- I was featured and interviewed in the book Quora Domination.
- I worked with a Professional Bodybuilder, building his entire Personal Brand, growing his Instagram audience from ~700 to over 40,000. Ghostwrote his eBook series. Built his website. Co-launched his clothing line. Shot multiple promotional videos for him and his sponsorship company. (All for free, just so I could get better at my craft.)
- Worked with multiple local Chicago start-ups, creating their entire marketing strategies and influencer strategies. (Again, also for free, for practice.)
- Launched my own fitness eBook series, Skinny to Shredded. Sold copies in 30+ countries worldwide, and had my first Quora answer go viral, front page of Reddit (1M+ views).
And all of this was in addition to working ~50 hours a week as the Editor in Chief at a digital agency downtown Chicago.
I don't share the above for any reason other than to paint the new challenge that started to presented itself:
A lot of opportunities started hitting my inbox.
The challenge with doing anything in life really well is knowing how to balance what you do for others and what you do for yourself. You have to master both. And as incredible as all these opportunities were, I knew that if I didn't finish Confessions of a Teenage Gamer, I was going to regret it.
I made a concerted effort to stay focused on what mattered most to me right now.
I had to finish my book.
At the start of this past summer, I set a date in my mind. No matter what, I was going to finish my book by August 30th.
Obviously, I missed that goal by about a month (not because of the writing, but all the other things I forgot to take into account like proofing and formatting and cover design, etc.), but setting a clear date in my mind really helped me visualize what the "end" would look like.
This last and final turn in the journey, it's crucial that I take a moment to acknowledge my other mentor, and the one who ultimately had a massive impact on my finishing this book at all.
He is the Creative Director of the agency I was working at, and over the past 3 years he has had a monumental impact on my life. The entire process of writing this book I realize now was the slow and steady task of learning to "accept" myself. Each draft became more and more vulnerable. Each story pulled the curtain back further and further. Until by the end, it was just me. Not the "me" I hoped people would see and accept. Just Me.
I learned how to do this by watching and learning from him—this mentor. He took me under his wing and found every possible way to bring me outside my comfort zone. I was scared to talk to girls? Great, we're going to a rooftop modeling party. I was hesitant to speak up? Great, I'm going to present the new campaign to a room full executives. I doubted my ideas? Great, then he would ask me why I was suggesting them in the first place, over and over and over and over again until finally, the first time I shared an idea, it came with so much conviction there was no need to question it.
He brought me out of my shell—and at the same time, allowed me the space to become the person he (and I) knew I could be.
Whenever I hear people say, "I wish I had a mentor!" I don't know how to respond. I have somehow attracted multiple highly influential mentors into my life. And the relationship is always extremely revealing, emotional (in the "vulnerable" sense), challenging, and full of difficult lessons. But it is also filled with friendship, and fun, and hilarious stories, and this mutual understanding of the path: This is where you started, and this is where you are now.
Being able to write and publish this book could be reduced down to one single lesson: No fear. No doubting your ideas. No worrying what people think. Just pure, unapologetic, creative freedom.
Having him as a mentor was the driving force behind my learning this lesson.
You can't be afraid.
And you can't "not be afraid" by just telling yourself to not be afraid.
You have to actually go out there, leap into the unknown over and over again, and actually embody that feeling of not being afraid.
You have to live it.
September 30, 2016
Confessions of a Teenage Gamer was released.
That night, my closest friends and I sat around a table at Soho House for dinner and shared stories. I looked around and saw how influential each one of them had been in helping me along my path—and I hope, in some way, I have helped them as well.
But this book, to me, is not an "end." It is a terrific milestone, and one I am diligently taking some time to appreciate (since that's something I need to work on, pausing and appreciating the wins along the way).
But this book is the beginning.
Book II, coming soon...