Wednesday, April 20, 2005

About Writing

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.

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17 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Exception from the rule ?

Yesterday, I read
"...
When not traveling, the typical day starts at about 6am, on the road by 6:30am, at the desk by 7am.
"


Today,
"
...
Posted by Thomas Kyte at 6:18 AM
...
"

:-)

Wed Apr 20, 07:27:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Arthi! said....

Tom,

Did you notice, even in Blogs, You can't avoid Question & Answers?

This Blog just contains answers to the comments/questions posted for the previous blogs.

Maybe, that's what Tom is for all of us out here!!

Cheers!
Rajesh

Wed Apr 20, 07:55:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

Exception from the rule ?

Today, I am traveling... Hello from Ottawa, CA.

Wed Apr 20, 08:12:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Pete_S said....

Ottawa in California???? :)

Wed Apr 20, 08:51:00 AM EDT  

Blogger Alberto Dell'Era said....

So, kudos to Tony Davis ... if I hadn't read "Expert" (almost by chance, and now i know you wrote it by chance as well!), and Jonathan Lewis' "Practical Oracle 8i" as well, I would have abandoned Oracle for sure (no kidding), and so bye bye to an interesting and rewarding specialization.

Wed Apr 20, 09:40:00 AM EDT  

Blogger R Menon said....

"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"."
So I take it that book was never
published?

So Tony came up with the expert one on one idea, eh? That is sweet! And very interesting coincidence about
teaching a class that you were
planning to attend! :)

Best Regards,
Menon.

Wed Apr 20, 12:16:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Hi Tom,
Thanks for the detailed explanation of the process behind One-On-One.
Here is something else I have wondered about successful writers, specially writers of technical books. It is not often in the technical world, a book attains a cult status and is acclaimed by readers and peers alike as the "best book on Oracle ever written". How do you handle the fact that in spite of your repeatedly warning people, there will be always some for whom your word will be the final one? Do you feel that you are held up to a different standard of accountability than other people? Does your popularity put additional pressure on your professional and personal life?

Wed Apr 20, 12:21:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

I find you writing style extremely interesting and lucid.

Ever thought of writing a fiction.......?

Wed Apr 20, 12:50:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Pratap said....

Ever thought of writing a fiction.......?
I don't think Tom can write fiction ever. Because whatever he writes he has to prove with test cases!
Compulsive proving disorder ;-)
Just kidding..... :-)

Wed Apr 20, 01:20:00 PM EDT  

Blogger melanie caffrey said....

Your life seems full of coincidences, Tom.

A little like your traveling overseas and meeting the person who obtained a job in your neck of the woods based on familiarity with your teachings. :)

I first met Tony Davis at a publisher's seminar. He is extremely hardworking and really keeps a close watch on who the next new Oracle experts will be. Hence his great run of books ... starting with yours.

We're all looking forward to your new book.

So, the book that you contributed a few chapters to ... did you write those chapters in tandem with Expert One-on-One, before, or after?

I assume it was after? Since Tony was the first to ask you to write?

Wed Apr 20, 01:27:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Robert said....

Hi Tom,

Am enjoying your blog.
Thanks for your feedback about content blocking, etc.

========
...(and apparently I’m desperate for distractions, hence the new blog!)...
========

Funny stuff!!

Robert.

Wed Apr 20, 02:15:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Richard said....

Have you thought of doing CDROM- or DVD-based stuff?

Beginning Oracle Programming is a good book (could have been better, though), and I think that seeing what's done, as well as reading what's done is a real winner and accelerates learning, and might also help out if there's a typo in the book which is in conflict with the *reality* in the video.

A companion CDROM or DVD would, I am convinced, make learning easier and more productive. I'm not saying you'd have to be in it, but just someone who knows their stuff.

Anyway, just an idea.

Wed Apr 20, 02:23:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Love the blog Tom. Please keep it up!

Wed Apr 20, 02:53:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Thomas Kyte said....

So I take it that book was never published?

That book was never published..

Do you feel that you are held up to a different standard of accountability than other people?

Absolutely. I try to be very careful what and how I say things. I definitely feel people who know others just "trust them" have to be more careful in their published work. That was the reason behind this recent paper.

Ever thought of writing a fiction.
I didn't do very well in creative writing in college :) Just the facts...

Your life seems full of coincidences, Tom.
Melanie -- welcome. That was a funny story in the UK -- meeting you all the way over there at dinner by accident.

Expert One on One was written.
Then beginning Oracle was the prequel I contributed to...
Then Effective Oracle by Design was done.

sequentially.

< Have you thought of doing CDROM- or DVD-based stuff?>
Expert version 2 is coming out with a CD of Expert V1 with it....

Wed Apr 20, 04:36:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....

Tom,

Thanks for starting this interesting blog. I follow AskTom (of course), but the "how" of your work is interesting too.

As for you working on the second edition, I would think it would be very tough to not edit almost everything in the previous edition. Even if it was perfect to you back then, you're not the same man you were then. I know I have that trouble with my writing.

All the best,

Stew

Wed Apr 20, 05:04:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Venkat said....

Hi Tom ,
Great to read your blogs. Well , even your desperate distraction results in something new/interesting to learn/read..

most of the day, I read asktom and test the cases posted..and this blog is sort of relief to me(/us) too :-)

and..day after day..all I feel and wonder is..how can you be such a genius (you mentioned it takes about an hour to reply in asktom..but believe me ..it takes more time to even understand and come up with 50% closer testcase )

if I ever get a chance to see you..all I would ask is.."can I just touch you once?" (well I am smarter than D.Burleston ..and wont even open my mouth with any Oracle questions to you ) ..just to make myself sure you are human like us too (and not some ORACLE GOD)

Great site..great service..cant thank you enough..

Cheers
Venkat

PS: I was reading Jonathan Lewis's article recently("When is a script a proof ?") and made sure not to read his articles at home..yeah, he made me crack up so much ,only to given this wierd look from my wife (what the heck is wrong with this guy..laughing so loud inside a restroom?).. (even now, I get a ;) on my face when I remember his points listed under conclusion)

yes, his writing style is no unique and unmatched.(great asset to Oracle community)

Wed Apr 20, 05:31:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous venkat said....

I meant to say "so unique" in my last post and not "no unique"..sorry for my English
-venkat

Thu Apr 21, 02:02:00 PM EDT  

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