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Get a Life

It’s time to write that book

by Daniel Steinberg

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  Join us in the month of November for an experiment in authorship.  

When I tell people that I mainly write and edit books for a living, they look a little past me as if gazing at what might have been and say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

I always answer, “You should try,” and I mean it. I don’t mean that they need to publish a book or that they even need to finish writing their book. But if you’ve always wanted to do something, then you should try to do it and find out if you can or not.

If you want to be a writer, you’ve got to have something to say. Think for a minute. What type of book would you like to write? What would it be about? If you don’t come up with any book ideas—that’s OK. You’ve saved yourself a lot of time by understanding that ahead of time. A surprising number of authors don’t realize they have nothing to say until they’ve said it.

One of the hardest things about writing your book is that there are no real deadlines. You can resolve to start writing tomorrow, but really, what’s the difference if you don’t start for another day—or another month, or more? And so you never start. There are always more urgent things that you need to take care of. Years go by and you think “I’ve always wanted to write a book.”

What are you waiting for?

So no more putting it off. Between now and the end of the year let’s find out whether or not you can write that book. We’ll give you a couple of weeks to think about whether or not you’re really ready for this challenge, and then on November 1st a group of us will spend the month working on our books. You can write a Prag-style book or you can write that novel. It’s up to you.

If you’ve always wanted to write a novel, then you should sign up with NaNoWriMo. Each November they celebrate and support National Novel Writing Month. You start writing on November 1 and try to write a 50,000 word novel by the end of the month. 50,000 words is about 175 pages. You focus on quantity, not quality—there will be plenty of time to rework your novel, but the month of November is spent getting the first draft out. At that point you’ve written a novel.

Of the more than 100,000 participants in 2007, more than 15,000 of them finished. Around 15% of those who tried, succeeded. That’s amazing. If you decide to participate, tell us about it on the magazine’s forums. Let us know how it went.

That’s if a novel is the kind of book you’ve been wanting to write.

Introducing PragProWriMo

But what if a novel isn’t for you? What if you’re more of a non-fiction author-to-be? We’ve been thinking about that a lot and we’ve come up with a plan. We’re piggy-backing on NaNoWriMo for authors who are working on one of the two kinds of books we publish:

Our Pragmatic Bookshelf series—which helps developers master some language, technique, or technology that makes them more effective at work; or

Our Pragmatic Life series—which helps developers and others improve their life outside of work.

If you are thinking about either of these types of books, we’d love for you to participate in PragProWriMo. Really, there’s not much to it. We’ll provide you with some information about writing a book and encourage you to write 80 pages during the month of November. If you write every day, that’s a little less than three pages a day. If you write five days a week then it’s about four pages a day.

This gives you a concrete time period. In about two weeks from now we’ll post information on the Prag site about this project and you’ll be able to sign up. At the end of November you’ll know whether or not you can write a book. You may find by the end of the month that you are most of the way there.

If you’re successful (and we think you will be), then we’d love for you to submit a proposal for your book to us. On the other hand, it’s your work. You can do with it what you want. You can publish it for free, you can do print on demand, you can hide it from the world and keep it to yourself, or you can take it to another publisher.

Maybe some great new Prag books will result from this project. Maybe not. Our only real goal in this is to help you write the book you’ve always wanted to write.

I think you should try.

Daniel is the editor for the new series of Mac Developer titles for the Pragmatic Programmers. He writes feature articles for Apple’s ADC web site and is a regular contributor to Mac Devcenter. He has presented at Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference, MacWorld, MacHack, and other Mac developer conferences. Daniel has produced podcasts for Apple featuring the work of developers and scientists working on the platform. He has coauthored books on Apple’s Bonjour technology as well as on Java Programming and using Extreme Programming in Software Engineering classes.