The Steam War's Evolution
November 29th, 2021
The Steam War has had many changes over the years. Ever since I started work on it all the way back in 2015, it's grown from an idea to a reality. Here, I wanted to talk about what that process looked like.
2015 - Forming the Idea
It was November, and I'd remembered "participating" in NaNoWriMo years ago (that's a story for another time). Ideas about writing a story vaguely interesting and vaguely steampunk had been forming in my head for a while, and so I decided to take that crazy first step and to just... try to write the novel. Without knowing anything about NaNoWriMo, I started "participating" again.
The first draft of The Steam War was written on a composition notebook of two hundred pages, and a little bit of extra loose-leaf paper. It was messy and incoherent—I wrote the chapter outlines as I went, sometimes catching up and just writing without it. That's not to say that an outline is always necessary, but for me, it definitely was. In the end, it was about 42,000 words long, and something absolutely nobody was going to want to read.
2016 - Already Writing the Sequel
Yeah, I'm very passionate about these stories. It hasn't even changed. I'm currently editing book two, outlining and writing book three, planning ideas for book four, thinking of short stories from the world to draft up and put out there, and I'm a third of the way through an entirely separate novel about another idea that I'm super passionate about. I'm a mess, to say the least.
Anyway, back in 2016, I wanted to do the same thing as before: a 40,000 word composition book in November. And I did, with a few changes: everything was planned out before, not during or after. It made the process a lot more streamlined for me, and severely reduced writer's block issues I was having before.
After finishing the sequel's first draft, I decided it was time to move The Steam War to the digital world. So I sat down in December and started copying it, keeping it as close to the original as possible (but fixing some very, very obvious issues along the way). I finally had a word count, and while the page count was disappointing, it didn't matter. Now I had a way to make the book official.
2017 - Editing, Round One
This is where I expect an audience of shaking heads and disappointment. Me, in all my excitement, totally botched editing and releasing The Steam War the first time around. I worked on editing the book on-and-off all throughout the year. And by "worked on editing the book" I mean I edited some grammar, spelling, and formatting mistakes, and decided that the rest was good. I might have added a little bit to the story, but it wasn't anything substantial that fixed the core problems of the story.
And then, I self-published it on Amazon.
It went exactly where you might be expecting: nowhere.
I want this to also be another topic for another day, but it needs just a little bit of a rundown. I didn't advertise, I didn't format the book well, I didn't make it enjoyable, and honestly, the story sucked.
2018/2019 - The Embarrassing Bean
To say that I was devastated would be... well, actually about right. I didn't quite understand that I had to put a lot more effort in to have this thing actually happen. So, other than to look at it and maybe tweak one or two words, I really didn't touch the story at all. Or writing in general. High school was ending, college was starting, and I had plenty more to worry about than some dumb idea I had a couple of years ago.
2020 - The Return of the King
Obligatory talk about the pandemic. I'm sorry.
At first, the pandemic hindered my ability to do pretty much anything. I was in a rut for months, and even coming back to college sort of in-person wasn't really helping me kick things off again. And then, in late 2020, I stumbled across one of my old bookmarks—The Steam War in a Google doc.
There it was, sitting there at 118 pages long, completely unformatted.
And I mean, I can't focus in class anyway. And I still love the story, right? Maybe it's worth revisiting.
I'd been sitting on a few chapter ideas for years, but hadn't ever gotten around to it. Maybe now it was time.
2021 - Now it was Time
Yeah, so late 2020 still wasn't cutting it. I caught the virus over Christmas Break and it pretty much stopped all creative juices in my head. But, come February, I was all over it. I started adding chapters, editing chapters, squishing chapters, splitting chapters, formatting chapters, making things look good. I had a solid 65,000 word goal in mind, and I smashed right through it, occassionally touching 70,000. In the end, I hovered around 69,000.
Looking back, I definitely should've hired an actual, professional editor. But I'm a broke college student who likes to underestimate how much work something is going to take, so I wanted to tackle all of the editing on my own.
Please, don't. Never do this to yourself.
Any professional can tell you why. It's hard to convince yourself to drop things. To edit things. You're too close to the story. You don't know if this part is actually good or not, or if you are being too harsh on yourself. I've always been a bit of a perfectionist (despite what my 2017 run would tell you) and spending all year editing is incredibly hard for me, because I will always find something to edit and fix.
And so I did. Even as of last week, after a couple of months not editing the story, I decided to start doing it again. I have one month until release and I'm still editing. Today, I've just finished my "final" edit. Tomorrow, I'll probably start another.
There's probably no point to this little anecdote, other than to feed my ego and air my complaints a little bit, but hopefully it serves as a warning to myself and others: stories take more time and effort than you think they're gonna. It's never gonna be a first draft success, or even a second draft. Heck, I'm on my sixth editing round and it still probably needs actual editing done by an actual editor.
I guess I just hope it's all worth it in the end and that you enjoy reading it.