Charles Petzold

Book-Writing Advice

July 24, 2006
Roscoe, NY

From across the Atlantic, I've received an email from a writer about to begin writing a WPF book who has requested some book-writing advice. People who know me well (and who have observed me conducting my life) don't often ask me for advice, so this is actually a rare opportunity.

  1. Try to maintain a steady schedule. About six hours a day for five or six days a week is an excellent schedule for writing a hundred pages a month.
  2. Don't procrastinate: A book can't be written in the last few weeks (unless you're Simenon).
  3. Get yourself a comfortable display, a comfortable keyboard, and a comfortable chair. These are the most important components of the computer when writing a book. The microprocessor, memory, and storage are all secondary.
  4. Eat well. Get enough sleep.
  5. Never write yourself dry at the end of the working day. Always leave yourself with something that will get you started the next day. (This is a wonderful little piece of advice I picked up from Ernest Hemingway in his Paris Review interview.) If you stop working for the day with an outstanding problem, you can mull it over in idle moments, and perhaps have it solved in your head when you next sit down at your desk.
  6. Try to maintain a balanced life. If you work hard at the book during part of the day, you won't feel guilty when you do something that's not book related.
  7. But try to avoid major distractions (new electronic toys, new relationships, surgery).
  8. Also avoid minor distractions. Some jobs can be performed while multitasking with telephone calls and email. Writing a book is not one of these jobs.
  9. Code first, then prose.
  10. Don't be afraid to skip around. You can't have a good sense of what the early chapters need to cover unless you also know what the later chapters will cover.
  11. Seek progress, not perfection.
  12. Give yourself a gift when you finish the book (a new electronic toy, a new relationship, surgery).
  13. Don't get a haircut until after the book is finished.