Friday, December 4, 2009

PragProWriMo Reflection

My Gratitude:
I want to thank @praglife and The Pragmatic Bookshelf for the spur to participate in NaNoWriMo this past month.  I've always wanted to write a technical book and now I can certainly say that I have, whether I ever publish it or not.  So, "thank you."

The bigger thanks goes to my wife, a 4-year veteran NaNoWriMo writer.  It was fun to write together this year rather than feel like I was merely in a support role while she wrote a novel over the course of a month.  We really enjoyed writing together, and she provide me with great encouragement.  "Thank you!"

My Experience:
I'm not sure what goals other PragProWriMo writers set for themselves this past month, but I (perhaps ambitiously) followed the NaNoWriMo goal of 50,000 words.  In our house, the goal was 2,000 words per day with one day off per week.  That still keeps you ahead of the standard 1,667 word per day pace, even with the day off.  Our house is also occupied by two wonderful, but often time consuming toddlers.  So, writing took place mostly after 9:00 PM or maybe a quick couple hundred words during the day on the weekend.  2,000 words per night, for me, was about two hours per night.  Depending on your own sleep habits, experience with small children that get up early, and penchant for sympathy, respond to that description of the time commitment as you see fit.

I did start my endeavor with some topics that I wanted to cover within the scope of The Practical Data Warehouse.  I had 47 ideas that needed to be covered throughout the book, and felt like that was probably a dozen or so short, but I could pick those up along the way.  So, I started writing at midnight on November 1st.

Despite the fact that I tend to start most of what I write with the introduction and executive summary sections, to lay the ground work in my head for what the rest of the paper should convey, PragProWriMo started right in with the first chapter of true techncial content.  Things moved fairly quickly at first.  Most of what I wanted to write was already in my head, just waiting to transfer via keyboard.

As I started writing, various non-sequitor ideas would float through my head, too.  All of those went into a backlog list or as a note in some other skeleton section somewhere else in the book.  I wrote just enough in those notes to make sure I could remember what the topic really was supposed to be about.

That said, I certainly didn't compose linearly.  I spend the first couple of days in section 2, then jumped to section 5, back to 3, then off of section 1 for a little while.

Most of the energy to keep writing came from the experiences my wife has had writing novels for NaNoWriMo in the past.   Sometimes, other tools were necessary, too: chips and very hot salsa, candy, Starbucks.  Things like that.

The internal motivation, though, came from the fact that I have accumulated a lot of thoughts and ideas about data warehousing, in particular, throughout my career; and I thought there was something more to be said beyond the books and the blog posts that I read.  My reading and experience tells me that many data warehouse projects struggle because people don't know what works and what doesn't.  That comes in primarily two different types: either people are technically unqualified to elegantly address the challenges of data warehouse implementation or they don't understand the purpose and potential value of data warehouse solutions.  So, I'm hoping that what I have to say can fill a gap there and bring people from either of those extremes toward a better understanding of data warehousing.

The Challenges:
My biggest writing challenge has always been coming up with an idea that I think someone else will think is worth writing.  I've written a few magazine articles before, but only when I thought I truly had a novel idea that I wanted to share with the world.  I'd have written more, but that's a pretty high standard, I think.  So, in the course of writing the first draft of The Practial Data Warehouse, I had to fight that demon that kept telling me what I had to say wasn't worth reading.

The other major challenge was exhaustion (see previous section about Toddlers that get up early).  There were several nights where I nodded off at the keyboard, and woke to find a few garbled sentences and 1,652 letter "P"s in the middle of my document.

The Next Steps:
My plan from here out is to rest on The Practical Data Warehouse for another couple of days, and then start revising.  One topic a night for an hour.  I think that most nights, I'll end up with a blog post that is related to the topic in the book.

As I go through topic by topic, I expect that I'll need to do a few more experiments to create examples for some of the content ideas.  That should be fun.  As a current PHB, I don't get to write nearly as much code as I used to.

In a month or two... off to a publisher!!

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