I used a whole bunch of tools to quicken my reporting and writing process:

  • Google Sheets: I created an elaborate spreadsheet called "Chapters At A Glance", with columns for each chapter, and rows for each source and the general story arc. I bolded sources and sections that I hadn't gotten access to yet, and I crossed out items when they were finished.
  • Google Docs: The working draft for every chapter got a Google Doc for it (and a backup in Evernote). Every time I made significant enough changes to a draft, I renamed it, using a programming-like system: Chapter # . Revision Round . Session #. E.g. Chapter 1.0.1 was the first working draft of Chapter 1, then Chapter 1.0.2, and so on. When I got back revision notes on the eventual finished first draft, the working copy became Chapter 1.1.1 (the middle 1 was Revision Round 1), then Chapter 1.1.2, and so on. Eventually, I worked my way up to numbers like 1.5.9. With this process, I was able to keep track of past versions and not fear cutting material. Google kept things quite organized for me.
  • Livescribe Smartpen: I bought one of these early on, so I could record audio while jotting down notes. It's one of the coolest gadgets for reporters ever.
  • Rev.com: I sent my audio recordings to Rev for "automated" human transcription. It costs about $1 per minute of audio, which added up but saved me weeks of time. If not months. (I also set up an elaborate automatic script to sync my Smartpen to Rev and back to Evernote, but that's a tale for another time!)
  • Evernote: Every chapter had its own "Notebook" in Evernote. Every interview and academic paper got its own note. Every idea that occurred to me in the middle of the night got its own note. Every scribble written on a scrap of paper during the reporting process, and every interview transcript got its own note. Every PDF I scoured got embedded in its own note, with my comments. Every reporters' notebook full of live observations got immediately typed up into an Evernote note. This proved incredibly useful later on, as I needed to go over my notes a million times during the revision process and would have hated to sift through physical notebooks or gigantic digital notebooks. Instead, everything was atomized and labeled for quick search and consumption.
  • Kindle Highlights: At first, I bought most of my research books in print, since I love print. But soon I switched to Kindle, so I could search all of my books efficiently. And as I read through Kindle books, I used the "highlight" feature to capture important quotes and concepts. These all get stored in your Amazon account, and you can access them anywhere. 
  • Red Bull: I'm not normally an advocate of energy drinks, but a half-Red Bull in the afternoon kept my heart beating late into the nights during crunch time in Month 10.
  • When I wasn't researching or writing, I was reading unrelated stuff for sideways, subconscious inspiration. Arthur Conan Doyle, Jon Ronson, Scott PIlgrim. I also watched a LOT of The IT Crowd.
  • Science author Jonah Lehrer once told me that the most useful part of his editing process was when he gave early drafts to random readers and had them simply mark the parts they got bored. This way, he said, you don't get feedback whiplash from well-meaning friends, and you can shift focus from your precious ideas to the reader's experience.
  • And finally, perhaps the best weapon I chose for my arsenal was my small army of fact checkers. I hired four in all, and they saved my butt. With a work this long and research this vast, I was terrified of getting details confused or overlooking things that might later distract from the point. Also, I didn't want to harm any of my sources by misconstruing them. So I had my fact checkers comb through every bit of the book and pester everyone whose words I included. They put together elaborate spreadsheets of every assertion I made in every chapter, then verified each one by one. And for several chapters, I had my fact checkers fact check each other.
My Google Sheet of "Chapters at a glance"

My Google Sheet of "Chapters at a glance"

My Google Doc versioning process

My Google Doc versioning process

A snapshot of my Evernote notebook for Chapter 1

A snapshot of my Evernote notebook for Chapter 1

Rev.com, my transcription secret

Rev.com, my transcription secret