Welcome to Online Classroom's 
  ** Geek Writing **

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.
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