A look back

I don’t remember the specific date anymore, but it was 11 years ago this month that I finished proofreading the galleys for what became my book. And I’ve had several people ask me recently–including my boss–why I haven’t written another one.

Well, I started, but my body broke down about 1/3 of the way through Integrating Linux Servers into Windows Networks. That book would be even more painfully obsolete now than Optimizing Windows is–these days, I can summarize everything I wanted to say in that second book as follows: Figure out what you want. Go to Turnkey Linux. Download the ISO for the type of server you decided you want. Install it on a computer. Reboot the computer. Start using it.

Optimizing Windows took me about six months, working 30-40 hours a week, to write. I would usually write for 5-6 hours a night after I got home from work, and I would spend most of the day Saturday writing as well. I took Saturday nights off, and I usually took Sunday off unless I had a batch of chapters due on Monday. Final editing took another two months. All told, I probably spent 1,100 hours writing and revising it.

Another coworker asked me today why I was working there, wasn’t I rich? I told him about a book offer I received, hot on the heels of Optimizing Windows. The royalty rate was going to be something like 25 cents per copy sold. That’s not so bad if you sell a couple hundred thousand copies, but if you sell one thousand copies, well, spending that time picking up aluminum cans around the neighborhood would probably net more money, and you’d still be able to have some kind of a life.

Since that book was going to be a hard one to write, and I wasn’t confident that a book called something like How to Build a Linux PC could sell more than 10,000 copies in 2000 or 2001, that conversation didn’t get very far. And in retrospect, I’m pretty sure I was right.

But the big reason I haven’t written anything else–after all, it has been 10 years–is that there’s nothing tearing me up inside, trying desperately to get out. I didn’t just write that book to make money, or to see a book with my name on the spine sitting on a bookshelf at home and at Borders. I wanted to change the way people thought about computers. That might have been too ambitious and too idealistic, but why else would you spend a thousand hours writing a book? If it’s just a job, or a way to collect payola from the people who make the stuff you write about, it shows.

It was about 11 months ago–on my birthday, coincidentally–that a masseuse, working under a doctor’s supervision, manipulated my shoulders and brought my arms back from the dead. From 2001-2009, I was able to type functionally, but not for the kind of long sessions that lent themselves to writing. Sometimes I would develop soreness during the day and just have to stop. Sometimes my arms remind me that I’m 35, but for most of the past year, my arms have felt better than they’ve felt since I was a teenager.

And that same coworker who wondered aloud why I’m not rich planted an idea in my head. I think it’s a good one. As far as I can tell, there’s nothing out there quite like it. He has me thinking again. The idea wouldn’t be a hard sell. I don’t know what will come of it, but I’m thinking along lines I haven’t in a very long time.

Thanks for indulging me for a few minutes.

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