Should you be writing a book next?!

Published 2/25/2019 7:19:33 PM
Filed under Developers life

At last my book is about done and soon coming to an online book store near you. It's been 4 months in the making and I spend a lot of time writing it. I feel relieved that it's done and I'm a little anxious what people will think. I had a lot of fun writing it. Should you be writing a book too?

Let me explain what it takes to write a book and how I did it. Then you can decide whether you want to start writing yourself or not.

What is your book about?

I wrote a book about Microsoft Cognitive Toolkit. This is a deep learning framework from Microsoft. It's pretty comparable to Tensorflow in terms of how it's built and how you use it.

How did you get into writing a book?

Many people have asked me: "How did you get the idea to write a book?" I didn't really get that idea. I got asked to do it. Packt publishing approached me after they read some of my blogposts.

How much time did you spend writing your book?

This question has been asked many times in the past few months. Probably because I wrote a lot of tweets about my book. Every time I finished a chapter I would send out a tweet marking the milestone.

Writing a book takes a lot of time. Initially I planned to write 1,5 pages per day which comes down to 375 words per day. On average a chapter is 20 to 22 pages. Which means I produced a chapter every two weeks on average.

In practice, I spend two evenings per week writing. My evening schedule looked like this:

  • 5,30PM - Dinner with my wife and kids.
  • 6PM - Play with Tom, my eldest son, usually with his wooden train or legos
  • 6,30PM - Fire up the computer, plug in all the cables, say good night to Luuk
  • 6,45PM - Say good night to Tom and start writing
  • 10PM - Turn off the computer and go to bed

In total I spend 3.5 - 4 hours on average per evening writing. Which comes down to 8 hours per week roughly. Which means it took me about 16 hours on average to write a full chapter.

I'm not sure on the total amount of hours, because some chapters took me longer to write than others. But I think it's about 7*24=168 hours in total including reviews, etc.

In between writing I've spend quite a bit of time creating the demo code and hunting the internet for open source datasets to demonstrate the principles in my book.

How did you plan your book, did you just start writing?

Some people have asked me, how did you plan your book? Did you just start writing? No, I definitely didn't.

The first three weeks I spend making a plan for my book together with Siddarth Madal, my acquisition editor. He helped me structure the book.

I started thinking about the target audience, who are they, what do they know already, and where do I want them to end up at the end of the book?

I then started thinking about the skills I wanted to teach in my book. I selected 7 topics that I found the most useful and important to show in the book.

Once I had the topics I started working on the chapters. I decided to cover the topics in 8 chapters. Later we decided to bring this back to 7 chapters because that felt more natural.

Finally, I wrote down a summary for each chapter explaining what each chapter would be about and what skills were covered in each chapter.

Only after we did a few review rounds and tweaks I got to write the content of the book. Because I had a plan, this was actually the easy part. Eventhough it took the most work to complete.

How hard is it to write a book?

I think that writing a book becomes less difficult with a good plan. But it's still not easy. I've spend countless hours just thinking about my book. Usually in the shower, the car, during bikerides, long walks, and in the middle of the night.

Some chapters were harder than others. Chapter 1 was hard because I never had written such a large amount of text. It felt like a climbing a mountain. It takes forever but once you're at the top it looks pretty cool.

The chapters before the mid-point in the book turned out to be a breeze. I blew through them like they were average blogposts.

But then I hit a wall. Chapter 4 was a complete nightmare to write. Somehow, the mid-point of a book is the point where you simply want it to be done. It's not new anymore. The initial excitement is over and now it comes down to character. This chapter also turned out to be one of the longest in the book.

After I got past chapter 4 I quickly finished up chapter 5 and 6. When I reached chapter 7, the final chapter of my book. I got stuck again. I got to meet mister writers-block in person. And it's not a fun person to talk to I can tell you that much.

How did you keep yourself motivated?

As you can imagine, I didn't always have the energy to work on my book.

Sometimes I got held back by my own body. I have two forms of rheumatism and that means I have to take good care of myself. It's really important for me to make sure that my mind and body are in sync. Because I can still do a lot of things in my head but the rest of me doesn't always like to go along with it.

Contrary to what you might think I didn't get held back a lot by my health condition. I got held back by my own convictions the most. Things like: "I really don't understand enough about this to teach others", and "Pff, this piece of text is junk but I have no idea how to fix it".

I count myself really lucky to have a wife who's very strong willed. She helped me get through this. She was the one who told me: "Stop what you're doing and let's play a game" when I got stuck. Playing a game with her would then help me get a different perspective.

There a few tips that I helped me stay motivated:

  1. Get a good support team. Your spouse is excellent at that.
  2. Don't work on your book every day. Take time off and get out.
  3. Spend time on your hobbies despite writing a book, it keeps you fresh.
  4. Get some good music. It helped me get in the zone.

How do you balance writing a book with other activities?

I have a family, a wife and two kids. My wife and sons love me very much and want to spend time with me. And that's their right.

I feel very strong about this. The people at home are the ones who will pick you up when you are down. Nobody else will do that for you! So it's important that you take care of them. They are the foundation of what makes or breaks projects like writing a book.

I spend quite a bit of time with my wife talking about how we would plan the book in combination with other activities. I speak at conferences on a regular basis too. And as I said, I have some downtime because of my health condition. So we had to take that in account too.

Because we made clear arrangements about the time I spend on writing my book and doing other activities we never got into a fight about it. She supported me all the way to the end.

So if you ever want to write a book: Talk to your spouse, make sure you understand eachother about why you want to write a book. Also make sure that you arrange time to work on your book. It will solve many problems before they occur.

Parting thoughts

I'll be perfectly honest. I don't expect to get rich by publishing a book. It's not a good reason to write a technical book. I'm not the author of Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings.

I did it because I wanted to share my deep love for deep learning (see what I did there?) and teach others how to use this wonderful machine learning technique.

I'll post the URL for the book once it's out. Now it's time to relax and enjoy some time doing other things!