As a student in mechanical engineering, I was about as far away from a writing career as you could get. My days were spent crunching numbers, modeling components, memorizing theories & formulae, building machines, and presenting engineering group projects to professors, companies & colleagues. To add to the list, I pursued a minor in mathematics. This meant more number crunching and problem solving as I took four semesters of calculus, a class in linear algebra, and number theory (this was basically writing proofs of why mathematical principles and formulas work).
So from this list, you can quickly gather that my education was focused at the entire opposite end of the spectrum than where an ambitious author would be found. So how does my engineering degree help with my writing?
Engineering a Novel – Finding the Inspiration
Creativity can be found in all forms. Finding the inspiration to pursue our creativity can often be difficult. I always liked to put my knowledge of science into practice as I dreamt up stories of space exploration, time travel, inter-dimensional adventures… the list goes on. It is this reason that I can quickly become aggravated by stories that are based around such ideas, but fail on basic scientific background or violate common laws of physics (time travel is theoretically possible, so I am willing to accept it as a great idea to base a plot around)
While working for a company that designed industrialized air-handling systems one summer (I have since moved on to designing components for Jet Engines), I decided to try out my skills as a writer. I had a working story based around the idea of space travel in early 20th century. My goal was to build such a story while trying to stay true to the laws of science and physics, making it as believable as possible.
For those not familiar with this form of science fiction, it is commonly referred to as Steampunk (science fiction around the dawn of the 20th century). Books by Jules Verne and H.G. Wells can give you some insight into how it all works. If you aren’t an avid reader, you may be familiar with the movie Wild Wild West, or the upcoming television series, Lantern City.
The main issue with such an idea is the lack of technology they had around that time period. Placing heavy objects into orbit becomes very difficult given the fact you have to get them traveling at speeds of around 7 km/s. That requires a lot of energy and a lot of engineering. I found multiple ways around this in my book Steam Age: Titan Project. One of the ways I got around with was the Titan Reactor, which could produce vast amounts of energy.
Luckily, this won’t violate any laws of physics as both fusion reactions and matter-antimatter reactions could allow for this. Though I never fully detail the workings of the device, I make sure that it conforms to our current knowledge of how the universe works.
Finding Creativity From All Sources
Just because my steampunk novel applied my engineering skills in making sure things would work, I still had to build a world around such an idea. Pulling in recognizable characters was a must for a novel based in the early 20th century. I wanted to make the story feel more real to the reader. As a result, several historical figures make an appearance in this novel, the first of which being the Wright Brothers.
Without giving too much of the plot away, I will say that they make multiple appearances and help the main character out from time to time. Pulling in such figures and settings proved to challenge my knowledge of history. As a result, I was constantly researching on the internet to make sure I had my facts straight. For an example, I had found myself looking at a map of Charleston, SC from 1910 just so I could get an idea of how the city was laid out.
Apart from pulling knowledge from history, science, and engineering, I had to introduce the major component to the story – writing. Idea generation is great, and research is essential, but what really brings the story together is your ability to write. This includes building a story structure, believable characters, flowing dialogue, and many more elements. Of all things, this proved to be the most challenging.
After the First Draft
Upon completing my first draft of the novel, I felt nearly finished. That was until I realized I had only touched the surface. Now I needed to build a platform, edit my novel multiple times, hunt for an agent (or self-publish), find an editor, hire an illustrator – so on and so forth. Sadly, my engineering background did not prepare me for this.
I now had to acquire skills in networking, marketing, business planning, budgeting, editing, and probably several more. So what is the first step?
Since starting my novel I have trained myself how to build websites, network with authors, find inexpensive illustrators, get editors, edit my own writing, write blog posts to pull traffic to my platform, engage with people on social media, and find people happy to review my work.
As a result, and unintentionally, I started a website to help beginning authors along this same path. Some of my older articles can be found at CarsonCraig.com , but I have since started building a new site that focuses on writing and platform building for authors. Since my stories tend to be based around the steampunk genre, I have chosen to go with Writing Gears as the title for my new site.
The Road Ahead
After setting out to write a novel I quickly learned that putting words on paper was the easy part. I am now a blogger, which was never an intention, but I want to help struggling authors avoid my mistakes and struggle much less than what I did. It’s always going to be a learning experience and you are never going to get everything right on your first try.
If you are an aspiring author, what I can tell you is that every successful author I have researched or have had the opportunity to connect with has fallen several times before making it to where they are now. I wish you the best of luck in your career and hope you find success.
“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
About Carson Craig:
“My name is Carson Craig and I love creating. Ever since I was a child, I wanted to dream, create, build, mold and bring to life anything I could imagine.”
If you’d like to guest post, I’d love to feature you! Check out these topics and guidelines, then email me with your idea. I’m more than welcome to multiple submissions 🙂