Mark Pilgrim is a smart guy, and he’s right that the correct time to start writing is while you have that sense of wonder. That was the big difference in the approaches I took with the ImageMagick book (an attempt to be definitive and therefore boring to write), versus the MythTV book (a cleaned up version of my lab book notes from when I installed Myth and got it working nicely, with some other stuff added for completeness). The MythTV book was a lot more fun to write, and I don’t feel nearly as burnt out at the end.
Read more about Mark’s burnout theory.
So, I wonder what is next for me?
One of the problems I grappled with early on with was how do you come up with a table of contents for a book? It’s a complicated process, and it’s really important. If the book doesn’t flow, then people are left confused about what goes where, and the book is a lot less useful. Additionally, when you sit down to actually write, then you need to know what is covered where so that you can refer the reader to the right place to find out more about a specific topic — even if you haven’t covered that topic yet.
So how did I come up with the first cut of the table of contents for the ImageMagick book? Well, I started by looking at all of the command line options to the various ImageMagick commands. I wrote this down on a stack of old business cards, and then distributed those cards in logical sounding piles on the floor. Those piles pretty much became the chapters that I originally submitted.
That’s the card mound. Anyway, once that was done, Matt (the editor) and I sat down and worked on the table of contents description until it flowed nicely, covered everything we could think of, and had approximate page counts. It turns out in hindsight that the table of contents wasn’t completely correct, but that’s ok because I’ve been tweaking it as I go along, and it was more of a help than a hindrance in that it tells me stuff like which chapter to refer the reader to for certain kinds of information, and that sort of thing.
So what’s the point I’m trying to make here? When you’re writing something big, it’s important to have a feel for where you’re going in the document, the point you’re trying to make, and how you’re going to get there.
Update: Fixed my spelling in the title line, as per the helpful comments from Peter.
“As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburettors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual”
ABC coverage of the bad writing contest from San Jose University.