In 2016, I wrote a technology series – 52-technologies-in-2016 in which I posted a new technical blog/tutorial every week for a year (I managed to write 43 posts). The series got quite popular, receiving more than 7000 stars on GitHub and close to a million page views. I created a page in the project GitHub repository covering the mentions it received from the community. I received thank you notes from software developers around the world. Though it involved a good amount of hard work, I thoroughly enjoyed doing it.
Back in 2017, I remember sharing with a friend of mine about this achievement and how it managed to reach thousands of developers around the world. After listening to me for a while, he said, “But, you did not make any money with it.” Well, he was right. I didn’t make any money with it. I politely answered him that money was not my ultimate goal of the series.
Since last couple of years, writing has fascinated me. I became interested in writing as I started spending more time reading books. I have read more books in last couple of years than I have read in my entire life. Good books make you think, question, and become more self-aware.
Stephen King, an American author of horror, supernatural fiction, suspense, science fiction and fantasy once said
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have time to write. Simple as that.
I think writing is the natural side effect of reading.
Since last two years, I have started travelling in a meaningful way. For me travel is not about visiting all the places mentioned in a checklist or going by a fixed plan or doing adventurous sports because it is cool or taking a lot of selfies. I like my travel to be meaningful and enriching experience for both my body and soul. I like to sit in a local cafe, drink a cup of tea, and read a book. Travel to me is long walks around the unknown roads of the city. Travel gives me the opportunity to see the world with a fresh perspective. You learn a lot about city by talking to local shopkeepers and taxi drivers. Continue reading
So I wrote my first book. It is a great feeling to find your book available on Amazon http://www.amazon.com/OpenShift-Cookbook-Shekhar-Gulati/dp/1783981202/. I have read many motivational books or quotes that suggest everyone should write at least one book in their lifetime even if no one reads it. I hope people will find my book useful and learn from it. This blog is not about my book but it is about the lessons I learnt while writing the book.
- Limit book scope: As a first time writer it is very tempting to include a lot of related topics in the book outline. I made this mistake in my book outline but as I started writing the book it became clear that I should drop few topics to write a cohesive book. Pay a lot of attention to the book outline and don’t try to put everything in the book. For example, my book is about OpenShift, a platform as a service that supports Java, Python, Node, Ruby, PHP, and Perl runtimes. In my book outline, I proposed to include everything except Perl and Ruby. After writing few chapters it became clear that we can’t include everything in one book as it would lead to a book that covers lot of topics but none of the topic would be covered in entirety. Keep in mind book outline will change so always try to keep publisher updated on the same.
- Your Estimates will be wrong: The book started with the initial estimate of 250 pages and 6 months writing time. We ended with 430 pages and it took more than 10 months to finish. I suggest you take book writing as another software development project. Like most software development projects, book estimates can also be wrong. The better way to write a book is by taking an iterative approach where you re-estimate after writing each chapter. Consider book writing as an Agile software development project rather than a waterfall project.
- Plan your book: I suggest if you wish to write a book on a topic then you should first write a blog series on that topic. I have written close to 70 blogs on OpenShift and that helped me a lot. This not only help in content creation but also gives you an audience that would like to read your book. Make sure to tell the publisher in advance that you would use your blogs.
- Managing your time: Writing is a very tedious and time consuming task. Writing a technology book involves various tasks like writing book text, creating sample applications, learning new changes introduced in the topic etc.There would be days when you will be productive and write a lot of content and there will be days when you will not be able to contribute much. Be prepared for lean patches as book writing can tire you more quickly than writing code. Initially I used to write book only on weekends but that didn’t worked for me as my writing flow suffered during the week. I tried writing on weekdays after office hours but that too very quickly became tiring. It is very difficult to write a book with office work. Try to plan few weeks holiday to work on the book. I took a couple of weeks off and only worked on the book. This really helped me finish book and maintain my writing flow.
- Read books: As a first time writer there will be times when you will be unsure about a topic or how to correctly convey it to the readers. Reading books can help you learn some tricks or improve your writing style that will help you convey your point better to the readers. Try to steal ideas from good books and apply to your book.
- Become comfortable with the book format: I wrote a cookbook that required me to use a predefined template. This sometimes restricts you and slow you down.
- Keep all book artifacts in a version control system: I used a private Github repository to store all my book artifacts including content, images, invoices, source code etc.This not only helps as backup and version control system but also helps to analyze your writing habits. For example, the Github repository contribution graph shown below clearly show my writing flow throughout book writing period.I also used a separate public Github organization https://github.com/OpenShift-Cookbook for the web applications I developed in the book. This helped me keep all book related application source separate from my own Github account.
- Plan for software updates: The biggest problem in writing technology books is that technology changes/deprecates very rapidly. There could be a significant change in the software library that would impact your book quality and correctness.
Hope you find these useful when you write your first book.