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8 Days a Week: We are the 25 Percenters

Writing a book requires you to endure tight schedules, hard work, a constantly changing topic, and negligible financial rewards. It’s a dream job, assuming of course that there’s something horribly wrong with you.

I dream about Windows 8.

And I mean that literally. In the fitful moments before I wake up—and I’m waking up earlier than usual, not coincidentally, each day—my dreams, almost always, are of Windows 8.

Sounds awful, doesn’t it? This, folks, is what it’s really like to write a book. And while you may be familiar with the notion that writers hears “voices” that only the act of writing can silence, I can assure you this isn’t limited to fiction writing. So I wake up early, and I get to work early, and I spend many hours each day on this book. Many hours.

I try to divide my time logically, with Penton-related activities consuming the mornings and book-related work in the afternoon and night, but of course, reality invades every day. Microsoft will release a new blog post or press release, whatever. It’s never as cleanly divided as I’d like. And I’m always behind, a condition that will persist through the end of April, when the primary writing phase of Windows 8 Secrets concludes. It’s just going to be like this for these couple of months.

Years ago, my first co-author, Gary Brent, and I were discussing why anyone would write books, why we would put ourselves through this time and again when the results were so unfulfilling: Long hours of tedious work, low pay, and then a finished product that couldn’t be easily fixed. We concluded that people like us were essentially broken, that the inner need to see such a thing through to completion was what separated us from other, normal people. And it does feel like that. But I’m eager for this process to end, to get back to a regular schedule again.

In the meantime, there is progress.

I did sort of hit our first 25 percent milestone: Last Monday, a couple of days after the actual deadline, I finished the fourth chapter of the book. But my definition of “finished” varies from that of the publisher: I spent much of last week taking and editing the required screenshots, most of which will need to be replaced later in the process as new builds of the OS arrive, and Microsoft changes things. Always hopeful but realistic about the future, perhaps I’ll catch up over time. Perhaps not.

I mentioned in the last “8 Days a Week” article that I had goals about the length of the book (~500 pages) and, thus, the length of each chapter (~30 pages). So far so good. Of the six mostly-completed chapters, only one is under 30 pages in Word, and that one is 29 pages long. Most are well over 30 pages long and the longest is about 45 pages in length.

I’ve said repeatedly that another goal for Windows 8 Secrets has been for the book to consist of all new material, that none of it would be culled from previous books in the series. I’ve had to bend this rule in small ways, so it’s possible that 10 percent of the book will be repeated material, still far above the typical book update. The reason for this is simple: There are just some topics that are too important to ignore, even though they were covered in previous books. Sometimes it’s because the topic in question isn’t new but has been improved significantly. But sometimes it’s just that we feel too few people are familiar with the topic. So it’s still new to most people.

Another goal for Windows 8 Secrets is that it will answer specific questions. Too many tech books explain what you should do, how you might ideally configure something or make certain changes, and then move on to the next topic. I suppose the author expects you to accept their natural expertise in this matter and not question why you are doing as they demand. We prefer to explain, not just the “how” of what you’re doing, but the “why.” One of the biggest questions we’re trying to answer, throughout the book, of course, is “where did it go?” Microsoft has changed so much in this release that there’s going to be a lot of confusion out there. Already is, if you’re following the reaction of power users to the Consumer Preview. Wait until the normal get their hands on this thing. It’s going to be a mess.

For us, of course, that’s wonderful. There’s a lot to explain, a lot of new stuff, a lot of fear and uncertainty to counter. The book is a place to be logical and pragmatic, to escape from the editorial baloney that we have to deal with otherwise, about whether Microsoft’s approach is correct, whether Windows 8 will ever “catch up” to the iPad, and so on. Those conversations are a moment in time, something for the web, or for Twitter. The book is something that has to stand up on its own and actually help people. I do prefer that bit of it.

This week, I’m writing about Metro and apps, about the productivity solutions in Windows 8 and WOA, and about user accounts and security. 50 percent of the book is due by April 1, just one week from now. We’ll never make it, but I’ll barrel onwards regardless. I’ll let you know how it went next week.

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