The Thing about Chapters One through Three
I'm two weeks away from my first book deadline and trying to pace myself to prevent long nights in the days running up to when I fire up my FTP client and upload a bunch of ZIP files. But in these last two weeks, I'm especially reminded that writing is tough. Especially when it is chapters 1 through 3.
The flexibility factor. This time around things are working a bit differently than the previous book. Instead of month-to-month deadlines (roughly a chapter a month), I have quarterly deadlines, which means that every couple months I have to turn in 3-4 chapters. While this is pretty cool because it allows parallel writing of the chapters (which is a lot easier, as you can't force your mind into always thinking about things contiguously), it makes time management really tough. I can't tell you how many times I've spent time allocated for writing the book writing other stuff, whether for personal reasons or professional. The argument I always use to convince myself: "It's like practice!" Any writing is good writing, but two weeks away I wish I had a few more pages down and a few less to go. This is closely related to:
The errand factor. I'm working 5 days a week, but only 3 are at my day job. The other two I'm working on the Art of Rails. But oh, how easy it is to run errands on those two days, and errands can add up to a lot of time. I've got a lot of respect for people who work from home and pull it off.
The research factor. Research and can be a big time sink, an infinite one if you let it. Writing is necessarily a combination of fact and advice (advice being a euphemism for opinion), and no matter how strongly you know a certain topic or have opinions about it, once you put it down and print it, it is hard to take back. So you better be darn sure you meant what you said. During the initial stages of writing, "working on my book" can mean anything from writing toy web apps to try out a technique to listening to podcasts about development to laying on my back staring at a tree wondering why I thought it would be a good idea to sign a contract obligating me to write 300 pages.
The Chapter 1 factor. I need to get over it. I'm just a random dude writing about a topic I enjoy and care about, and no matter what I put down in Chapter 1 it will just be another random Chapter 1. But I tell you, it is hard to follow that advice if you're the one writing the words. It's like it is the first date and you spent an inordinate amount of time getting ready because you know its the first time the girl is going to get a real impression of you. I've written a whole book's worth of Chapter 1s. And that took up a lot of time. I'm still not finished, but I think I've learned a valuable lesson: say what you have to say and move on. Because that is what, as a reader, I'd want to be reading.
And a final note to my editor: John, if you're reading this, don't worry! :)