On Writing

I’ve been working on a technical book for several years now.

Partially, this is because I have a million things to do (coincidentally, my son just turned two). Partially this is because I’m a slow writer. And partially…it’s because writing is hard! Here are a few things to improve the process:

  • Don’t write technical material in Word. Seriously, just don’t. Fortunately I learned this one many years ago – I used to type up my homework for my Algorithms class (due to my lousy handwriting) and it didn’t want long to determine that the effort to figure out LaTeX was less than the effort to get mathy things to work correctly in Word.
  • Once you’ve written something, leave it along for a while and then print it out to proofread it. It’s amazing how many typos you can find once you’re looking at something in a different format and state of mind and can read what you wrote rather than what you meant to write.
  • If at all possible, have somebody else read your work. Sentences that make complete sense to you might not work for someone else. If possible, get a reader who belongs to your target audience and can confirm that you’re not assuming background knowledge or ability that your readers won’t have.
  • Don’t assume you know what your readers want. In my case, I was expecting to write a 400-page book; I was told by multiple people that I should break it up into multiple shorter volumes. Bonus: the first one will be ready a lot sooner!
  • Don’t assume you have to make every change your beta reader suggests. Take their suggestions seriously, but remember, it’s your book – you’re in charge!

You don’t have to be the world’s top expert on something to write a book about it; you just need to have something to say or a way to say it that’s different from what’s been done before. In my case, I have a PhD in computer science and experience as a teacher, a textbook editor, a writer, and a software developer – so writing a book about computer science for software developers seemed like a good way to combine all of those elements. What does your background make you uniquely suited to do?

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