Every day, people rely on Evernote to compile, catalog, organize their research and writing.
For author and chief Business Insider correspondent Nicholas Carlson, Evernote was the primary tool he used to write a 93,000 word book. In six weeks.
That boils down to an average of 2,500 words every day.
This week, Nicholas stopped by our Redwood City HQ to talk about how he used Evernote as the comprehensive writing workspace for his newly published book, “Marissa Mayer and the Fight to Save Yahoo!”
There’s a story there
The story of Yahoo and Marissa Mayer’s tenure is one that spans two decades of Silicon Valley history. From the earliest years of the internet, Yahoo has been a common fiber, woven into the narratives of today’s biggest tech players like Facebook and Google.
For Nicholas, the first step in telling this technological melodrama was understanding if he had three necessary ingredients to write this book:
Access. Without access to sources, you can’t get the story.
Interest. Are people captivated by this story?
Character. Is there a character in this story who is not necessarily as they appear in public?
After covering technology companies for years and hearing interest from readers to learn more about Mayer, Nicholas realized he had an opportunity to tell the inside story of Marissa’s saga to turn the internet giant around.
Breaking it all down
One of the biggest challenges of the writing process is compiling all the elements required to structure the story—detailed research, ideas, questions, notes, interviews, and photos.
Here’s how Nicholas used Evernote to gather information, research, transcribe interviews, and write his book.
What was the first step in your process for this book?
Step one is reaching out to the most important sources that I needed to write the story before I signed the contract. And, then from there, it’s a sort of reporting process that I’ve been doing forever. You’re a detective, you know something happened, and you get a list of names and people in the room and you start reaching all the people in the room and talk to them.
How important was Evernote during the research phase of this project?
Evernote is such a crucial part of my process. I’d be on the phone with someone and taking notes and recording a call, and then transcribe the interview straight into Evernote. By May 2013, I had hundreds of Evernote notes in a file called “Yahoo Book Notes.” From May to the beginning of July, my life was lived totally in Evernote.
Once you gathered all your research, how do sort through it all and make sense of the content?
Open it up, look at a transcript, and immediately I’d blow up the font size to 75. I’m on a MacBook Air using Evernote for Mac—completely. I’d read through my notes, and break it up into sentence-long sections. A source would be describing a scene where Yahoo executives were in a room—the Scott Thompson scene, where sources would be describing the scene. I break down the text into pieces. It took two months to go through all the transcripts.
What about organization of your research?
I have a transcript with lots of labels in bold. I copy and paste those labels and move them to the top of the note. Then, I have the labels at the top of the document telling me what’s there. I do that for all the transcripts. Lots of annotated transcripts with the notes at the top and next to the sources.
Then the writing starts to take shape?
I copy out all the labels and dump them into a new document. The new document is a long page with all the labels of all the transcripts — everything you need to know. I organize the labels into an outline.
Sort my notes and scan them with my eyeballs and move everything based on a scene into a section. I built out an outline that was 38,000 words—the meat and structure of the book. 93,000 total words.
Hacks for writing better
Carlson provided some really interesting insight in an article that details how he was able to produce such a massive work in an incredibly short amount of time. Here’s a few nuggets of knowledge you can apply to your next writing project.
Consistent schedule. Wake up at the same time throughout your process.
Soak in the mornings. Enjoy a healthy breakfast, coffee, and the morning news.
Work in hour-long bursts. Sometimes, when you are able to have a distraction-free environment, you are able to plow through work incrementally. But if you get up and take a break after each of these intense writing periods, you have a chance to revisit your ideas and come back to the table ready to write again.