Charles Petzold

How to Write a 1200-Page Book

September 15, 2005
New York City

One brick at a time.

My work habits have become steadier and more consistent in recent years. While I'm working on a book these days I'm usually at my desk by 9 AM and write until mid-afternoon. My daily goal is 5 pages. (That's 5 book pages.) If I take off two days of the week (not necessarily the weekend), that's 25 pages a week, 100 pages a month, and a year later, a 1200-page book has been completed.

That's how I wrote Programming Microsoft Windows with C#, which came in at over 1200 pages. I started sometime in the fall of 2000 and wrote the Introduction (generally one of the last jobs) in November 2001.

The mid-afternoon quitting time is based on my inability to write more than six hours or so per day. It doesn't mean that book work ends at that time. Often I use the rest of the afternoon or a few hours in the evening to code some sample programs for upcoming sections, or to read a chunk of printed documentation. But I also try to lead a balanced life and get in some non-book activities as well, such as reading or watching movies.

I know that some authors of programming book manage to write a book while holding down a full-time job or doing consulting work. That really amazes to me. I can't do it. For me, writing a book is pretty much a full-time job and prohibits any other work except an occasional article or so.

The contract for The Avalon Book says that the book will be 900 pages long. With any luck, I'll finish before June so I can enjoy the summer like a normal exhausted human being.

Although my official start date on The Avalon Book was September 4th, things haven't gone quite according to plan. My days are still too fragmented for the total immersion I prefer. Instead I feel like I'm only wading into Avalon with too many other things to attend to. There are still chapter reviews for Programming Microsoft Windows Forms, miscellaneous other chores, and my calendar shows a big red Q3 for today, meaning (as all U.S. freelancers know) that 3rd Quarter 2005 estimated taxes are due, a very special day in which I attempt to impose some order on the Brownian motion this is my book royalties.

Of course, the extensive coverage of the U.S. Open on USA and CBS didn't help either. (Go Kim!)