The words “You’re going to write a book …” didn’t sink in the first time he said it mid-morning on Monday. Then just before lunch I heard it again “The books you will be writing this week …” At the break we had a moment to ourselves: Michael, Rafal, Darius, and myself. We were like, “what’s this about writing a book? He must be talking to those other groups. Paul already created a wiki page on documentation for us to write.”
We were wrong. At Google headquarters for the Doc Sprint Summit we thought Michael from CiviCRM had done a great presentation on how they wrote a book for their open source product using the DocSprint process. We just didn’t realize that we were about to embark on the same roller-coaster – 3 days of concentrated work from breakfast till bedtime.
The Doc Sprint Summit was a five-day program – Monday through Friday. The first and last days were mini-unconferences on documentation facilitated by Gunner, the Executive Director of Aspiration (This guy is awesome!). The rest of the time, from Tuesday through Thursday, was the DocSprint facilitated by Adam Hyde of Floss Manuals.
OpenMRS was among four Open Source projects selected to participate. The other groups were Sahana Eden, KDE, and OpenStreetMap. In addition there was a small group of writing professionals that assisted the Open Source teams. Some prominent names were Andy Oram from O’Reilly and Anne Gentle from Rackspace. There were about 28 participants in total.
The DocSprint actually started Monday night. We broke out into project teams to decide on the audience for the book. We also had to come up with a one sentence summary for the book. Easier said than done. We decided that our book should be for adopters of OpenMRS with limited technical capacity and no software development expertise. How to get started without writing or even seeing a single line of code. Before we could go back to the hotel, we had to present and discuss in front of all the participants.
Tuesday, we spent the morning working through the outline as a project team. The difficulty for us was keeping focused on the scope we had defined the night before. Many of the chapters we identified belonged in an “Advanced” section at the back of the book. After much thrashing we decided to leave the advanced topics for the wiki. In the end we looked to the CiviCRM book for inspiration. Before the morning was over we reviewed our book outline with the larger group.
The next three days were a blur. We spent most every waking minute writing content for this book in a divide and conquer strategy. We each took on 3 or 4 chapters. Thursday late morning we put pencils down and spent the rest of the day formatting, editing, and integrating all the material.
Thursday night we published the books to Lulu. Adam ordered 20 copies immediately (or maybe Google ordered them). The books arrived Saturday morning and we were holding the physical copies in our hands.
I’ve been to dozens of conferences but I’ve never ever felt this good about how the time was spent. I’ve never gotten to know the other attendees this well. I’ve never had this much fun.