How did you first think of writing a book like One-on-One? Was it something you always wanted to do, or did it come out of a survey of the Oracle books already published?
How do you approach writing? Do you take time off from work, or is a parallel activity?
Have you ever suffered from Writer's block?
I didn't come up with the idea; a guy named Tony Davis came up with this "brilliant idea". It was the year 2000, I was just sort of "there" wondering what to do next. I figured I could go back to school and get some masters degree. That was my plan. Then Tony contacted me out of the blue (from my newsgroup postings and now asktom) and recruited me to tech edit some books. The first book he sent me was actually quite bad (can you spell plagiarism, google found some copyright hits, I recognized the concepts guide, many other bits of Oracle documentation). Basically I'd be reading it and it would be unintelligible and then it would be crystal clear, perfect, then really bad again. That got me curious and I found the copied material. So, I sort of blasted it and Tony (in need of a new book at that time) suggested this "bright idea".
Hence, here we are. He asked me to write a book, I thought about it and said, “why not, how hard could it be”. When I wrote Expert One on One -- it was my first attempt, only a little naive. Originally the book was going to be the back 2/3rds of what it is now, but in December of 2000 this guy Jonathan Lewis sent me a copy of his new book Practical Oracle8i. Now that was an incredible book (I am jealous of his writing style completely). After I read it -- I panicked, redid the outline, dropped some back stuff and added the first 1/3 (which is now actually my favorite part). When we published it, I thought no one would actually buy this book – and was quite surprised at how well it did.
The conceptual material for the book came from the asktom website. It was what people asked about. It was what I knew. That made it easier – but it still took 9 months and near the end it was torture.
Funny thing was, I was thinking about getting a technical MBA – had the advertisement for it from the Washington Post in my hands when Tony talked me into writing Expert One on One. Turns out – 2 years later, after the book had been out for a year, one of the Professors at that university was using it to teach a database course, for that technical MBA. They asked me to come in and lecture one morning about databases, which I did (Saturday morning, they did weekends and weeknights). Turns out, I was lecturing to the class that would have been the one I would have been sitting in. They were close to completion (Expert One on One took me 9 months of weekends and weeknights), and I told them but for the freak accident of Tony getting me to write the book – I’d be sitting there with them. They all agreed I made the right choice…
So, it was pure “luck”, not much research went into it before hand, I wrote about what I knew and it caught on. The same with Effective Oracle by Design – which originally was going to be a WROX book but they went out of business. Shopped around, found an excellent editor/publisher in Lisa McClain at Oracle Press and did the deal with them. Lisa had a copy editor Monika who was excellent as well – so the final book came out rather nicely because of them (and the tech edit team – I had it gone over twice which was really nice).
But again, the concept for the book was just “what I knew, what I felt was relevant”. They evolved more than anything else.
How do I approach the writing – for the first two books (and even Beginning Oracle Programming to which I contributed a couple of chapters) I did it in parallel, lots of weekends and evenings. For the second edition, I’m finding that doesn’t work as well. For one thing, I seem to be traveling a lot more than I did in 2000 and 2003. For another, the kids are older and weekends are full. So, I’m trying a new concept – a writing “vacation”. I’m in the middle of that now (and apparently I’m desperate for distractions, hence the new blog!). I won’t finish it all, but hope to get a chunk of it done.
Writer’s block? No, not really. But “a total despising of what I’ve written” – big time. Especially this time around. I’m finding editing much harder than writing from scratch. There are lots of loose ends to tie up. For example, when working on chapter 5 it might say “as we saw in chapter 1”, only now chapter 1 which I rewrote might not say that anymore….. It is turning into very much of a rewrite for now.