I recently finished editing a book called Tribal SQL, and it was a fantastic experience. It’s a community-sourced book written by first-timers. Fifteen previously unpublished authors contributed one chapter each, with the seemingly simple remit to write about “what makes them passionate about working with SQL Server, something that all SQL Server DBAs and developers really need to know”. Sure, some of the writing skills were a bit rusty as one would expect from busy people, but the ideas and energy were sheer nectar. Any seasoned editor can deal easily with the problem of fixing the output of untrained writers. We can handle with the occasional technical error too, which is why we have technical reviewers. The editor’s real job is to hone the clarity and flow of ideas, making the author’s knowledge and experience accessible to as many others as possible. What the writer needs to bring, on the other hand, is enthusiasm, attention to detail, common sense, and a sense of the person behind the writing. If any of these are missing, no editor can fix it.
We can see these essential characteristics in many of the more seasoned and widely-published writers about SQL. To illustrate what I mean by enthusiasm, or passion, take a look at the work of Laerte Junior or Fabiano Amorim. Both authors have English as a second language, but their energy, enthusiasm, sheer immersion in a technology and thirst to know more, drives them, with a little editorial help, to produce articles of far more practical value than one can find in the “manuals”.
There’s the attention to detail of the likes of Jonathan Kehayias, or Paul Randal. Read their work and one begins to understand the knowledge coupled with incredible rigor, the willingness to bend and test every piece of advice offered to make sure it’s correct, that marks out the very best technical writing.
There’s the common sense of someone like Louis Davidson. All writers, including Louis, like to stretch the grey matter of their readers, but some of the most valuable writing is that which takes a complicated idea, or distils years of experience, and expresses it in a way that sounds like simple common sense.
There’s personality and humor. Contrary to what you may have been told, they can and do mix well with technical writing, as long as they don’t become a distraction. Read someone like Rodney Landrum, or Phil Factor, for numerous examples of articles that teach hard technical lessons but also make you smile at least twice along the way.
Writing well is not easy and it takes a certain bravery to expose your ideas and knowledge for dissection by others, but it doesn’t mean that writing should be the preserve only of those trained in the art, or best left to the MVPs. I believe that Tribal SQL is testament to the fact that if you have passion for what you do, and really know your topic then, with a little editorial help, you can write, and people will learn from what you have to say.
You can read a sample chapter, by Mark Rasmussen, in this issue of Simple-Talk and I hope you’ll consider checking out the book (if you needed any further encouragement, it’s also for a good cause, Computers4Africa).