Welcome to Online Classroom's ** Geek Writing ** Introduction: I'm your instructor, PDC JohnS. I'm a Computer Scientist and professional writer. I began writing professionally (in other words, for pay) for a small technical journal four years ago. Since then, I've co-authored three books, written articles for MacTech and Doctor Dobbs Journal, as well as held the title of contributing editor for both a web-based magazine and the Handheld Systems Journal. All of this has been incredibly fun, professionally and financially rewarding, and a realization of a life-goal of mine. You can read all about my articles at http:\\members.aol.com\pdcjohns\page2.html. I've read more computer magazines and books than I can remember, and one thing that always struck me was that I believed that I COULD WRITE what I was reading. It took quite a while to build up the confidence and guts to try to make that happen, but I'm happy to report that it's quite possible for anyone with reasonable writing skills, good technical knowledge, and desire to break into this field. It's a process that builds on success -- you can start small, and someday end up quitting your day job to be a full time writer, if that's what you want. I'm not going to kid you -- you'll probably need more than I can teach you to get your first publication, or a lucrative writing career. What I can teach you is what works for me. When it comes to writing about computers or technology, I've found that "if you've got the knowledge, people will pay to read it.Ó All you need to do is figure out what people want to know more about, who those people are, and then convince them you can deliver. The rest will sort itself out over time! Please hold your questions until the Q&A period after each section of the class, and please confine off-topic conversation to private IMs. Thank you! About the class: This is the blurb for this class: "Learn how to make writing about computers clear, correct, and easy to understand. Author John Schettino, whose new book in the Dummies series will be released this fall, explains how to write books and articles when the subject is computers." That's a pretty tall order, isn't it? I'm going to start with what I consider to be the key elements you need to know before you invest the time and effort needed to be a successful writer. This class isn't going to get into the details of actually writing anything! It's going to help you understand why you want to write, what you hope to get out of it, and how to position yourself for opportunities to write for pay (or fun) that are readily available. Future classes will cover writing software and hardware reviews, programming and opinion articles, landing a column, becoming a contributing editor, and landing a book contract. If you'd like to see some specific topic covered, email me (PDC JohnS) your suggestions. Break for Q/A Getting Started: So you wanna be a writer? Let's say you're a regular reader of the volumes of computer/technology related publications available today. You surf web sites like www.zdnet.com, www.macintouch.com, or any of hundreds of others. You subscribe to MacTech, MacAddict, PC Week, PC Magazine, etc. You buy a couple programming books a year. Let's also assume you want to try your hand at writing... after all you're here, right? There are three basic questions you need to answer for yourself before you get started: Why do you want to write? What do you want to write? Where do you want to write? Let's look at each of these in detail. Why do you want to write? The answer to this question determines how dedicated you are to the process of breaking into the writing business. If you have a burning desire to make a living from writing, then you need to treat this as if it were a true career. That means formal training, professional tools, and everything else associated with a professional writing career. It also means you'll need a strong technical background in your intended subject matter. If you're interested in seeing your ideas reach a wide audience, or in helping others, but you're less concerned in making mortgage payments off the proceeds of your writing, then this suggests a less professional approach. The point is, you need to understand why you want to do this! For me, writing has been about realizing a personal goal. I know programming. I do it every day. It is something I find incredibly interesting, and rewarding to do and to talk about. Through my writing, I'm able to pass along those things I've learned the hard way, in a manner that is approachable to novices and experts alike. The money is nice, but it's not the primary reason I write. I have a well paying day job that covers my living expenses, which frees me to write when I choose to, and for whomever I can, without regard for compensation. Break for Q/A What do you want to write? There is a wide range of things you can write about. Anything from product reviews, how-to programming or user-focused articles, users guides, manuals, or books are possible. Do you love to program? Can you explain how to program? Are you an expert in a particular software package or application area, such as image editing? Consider your skills and interests, and focus on the one you're strongest in. I've been interested in mobile computing for quite a while, and I'm a programmer by training and trade, so I write about programming. Lately I've been writing about WindowsCE programming (articles) and object-oriented programming (books). As my interests change, so does my subject matter. I've found writing to be a way to explore areas I don't usually deal with in my day job, as well as a way to expand and deepen my understanding of new subjects. When I was getting started, I also wrote a lot of software and hardware reviews. This is a great way to get your feet wet! Break for Q/A Where do you want to write? As you know, there are a lot of different outlets for the written word these days. Magazines and trade journals are the usual starting place for most writers. Consider smaller publications first, as they more often accept novice writers. That said, I'd suggest the web instead. You can usually find a web site that's looking for reviewers or writers in most subject areas on any given day. These places don't pay much, if at all, but they can help you gain exposure and experience as you develop a portfolio of work. You can also develop your budding writing skills, and build yourself a network of contacts, by participating in an AOL forum or internet news group. Treat your posts like "short subjects" and answer every question you're comfortable answering. After a couple months of this, you'll be more well known than you'd think, and you can start going after those web-based magazine articles. If your goal is to write for a glossy magazine or to get a book contract, be prepared to pay your dues on the web and in smaller journals/magazines for at least a year. My experience follows the path outlined above. I have been an active member of several AOL and internet news forums for years. I got my first "pay" article for a web-based magazine, and then wrote for a small journal for a year. This experience built a network of contacts and a portfolio of work that let me land a book contract. The book led to another, and to several articles in MacTech and Dr. Dobbs Journal. The key for me was to start small, and work my way up. Break for Q/A Let's talk a bit about subject matter and writing styles. Write what you know This is an old adage for writers in general, and it applies even more so for computer/technical writing. If you're writing from experience, you're more likely to present information that's: - Interesting, - Technically correct, and - Deep. By deep I simply mean the stuff you learn by doing it the wrong way yourself, or the skills you develop after years of experience. You can sum this up with two thoughts: - Being correct is better than being entertaining - Being entertaining isn't bad, either It's vitally important that your writing doesn't contain technical errors. You're allowed to have different opinions from the main stream, but you'd better be able to back them up with technical information that's correct! That said, no one wants to read a 5,000 word "feature" that reads like a Ph.D. dissertation. When you're writing what you know, itŐs more likely you can achieve the conversational style that most people enjoy reading. You know your stuff, and you want to write, but you're not sure where to start. The best way to start is to write for free! Break for Q/A Write for free Get into news groups and AOL forums. If you're already participating in either or both, you know that most forums have a core group of posters. These folks are well known within the forum as "people to trust.Ó They answer questions and participate in discussions with entertaining, detailed, and technically correct posts. I suggest you spend some time building such a reputation in your desired technical area. AOL forums and internet news groups exist for almost every aspect of computing. Chances are very good you can find one or more forum to "camp out" in, and then become a respected member of the forum. This is more important than you can imagine in generating unsolicited invitations to write (usually not for pay) for web magazines, and itŐs also a great way to build your writing skills. The Web as a springboard You should write for the web. It's a form of instant publishing, which makes it cheap to create web-magazines. This means the producer can offer unknown writers opportunities that they'd never be able to offer for print magazines. You may not get paid, but you'll get exposure, build confidence, and extend your network of contacts. If you don't already have a personal web page, make one. On AOL use keyword My Place to create your own web site. Go ahead and write your own reviews of software, or even your own articles, and "publish" them on your own web site. You guessed it... this gets you more experience and more exposure. When it comes to getting paid to do this stuff, those are the two things you'll need the most! End of class, final Q/A Now, on to YOUR questions! Please type a ? and I'll try to get to all of them.