Thought Tree

Experience Writing a Technical Book

I thought I’d put down in words a number of thoughts which have hit me since Mike and I endeavoured to finish our MySQL book. Perhaps other authors might comment on their own experiences in writing, and offer some thoughts on how to lighten the burden placed on all those involved in the process.

1. There’s a lot of people involved

When I first began knocking around some ideas and a rough table of contents, I was corresponding with Mike Kruckenberg and our editor, Jason Gilmore. We just sent emails back and forth, hammering out ideas we had for chapters, or just topics we found of interest. But, when things started rolling, and we had our table of contents in place, I realized just how many people are involved in the process of publishing a book. Project managers, technical reviewers, editors, copyeditors, the list goes on. Frankly, you’ll never realize how important all these people are to the publishing process until you get your ass handed to you (gracefully, of course) by one of the many folks depending on your work in order to complete their job. Which brings me to my second point.

2. It’s a hell of a lot of work, this authoring thing

Man, if somebody had told me just how much time it takes to write clear, informative material on any topic, I don’t know if I would have accepted the offer to write this book. Come to think of it, I’m glad nobody told me how hard it would be. I’d have probably been too chicken to try it.

You go into writing a book thinking that you know everything there is to know about a particular topic — in this case, I thought I knew all there was to know about MySQL. Boy, was I wrong. You learn pretty quickly that you don’t know a quarter of what you thought you did.

My guess is that for every one hour spent writing my chapters, I spent 6 or more hours researching, testing, and reading about the topics I was writing about. But, in the end, when all’s said and done, it becomes a labor of love. Unless I truly cared about what I was writing about, and really liked the topic — which obviously I do — I don’t think I’d have ever completed a chapter.

3. I learned early how to eat humble pie

Perhaps the most painful, but critical, thing I learned in the process was how to swallow my pride and truly listen to the criticism levelled at my writing. I tell you, the first time you read something like, “I have no idea what you’re saying here…” or “Not sure of the point of this whole section”, your first instinct is to scream and yell and throw your laptop against the wall.

But, in the process of writing this book, I learned how to take criticism pretty well. In fact, I kind of welcome it now. I learned quite a bit about my writing style and about how people perceive your words from the excellent reviewing and comments from the people on the Apress project team.

As always, very interested to hear other’s views on the topic of authoring, or anything else for that matter…