Our new book Skateboarding Is Not A Fashion took eight years to finish, more than double the time that went into its predecessor. It was the most challenging writing project I ever worked on, mainly because of its size. The final book clocks in at 632 pages and a bit over 130,000 words – and that’s just the finished product.
Behind the scenes, we conducted close to 100 interviews with skateboard personalities from several decades of skate history. Some of these interviews – including talks with iconic skateboarders such as Lance Mountain, Tony Alva, Christian Hosoi, Steve Caballero, Steve Olson, Brad Bowman, Steve Rocco, and Mike Vallely – extended over the course of several hours.
As a result, transcribing these interviews created Word files that ran anywhere between 5,000 and 15,000 words in length. And needless to say, these first-hand stories and eyewitness accounts – including tons of previously untold stories – were the backbone for writing our history of skateboard fashion. They were our storytelling gold and I was grateful for every single skate legend we had a chance to sit down with.
But as the interview transcripts folder on my iMac grew in size, one major fear began gnawing at me: What if I collected this golden quote that would be perfect for a chapter in the book, this magic storytelling moment that ties it all together – but forgot that I even had it because I lost track of the transcripts on my hard drive?
Considering that this project would extend over eight years, the fear was quite real. Because even if you have Truman Capote-level word memory, the perfect quote may not readily spring to mind when you sit down three years after recording your interview to put a finished book chapter together.
What if I collected this golden quote that would be perfect for a chapter in the book, this magic storytelling moment that ties it all together – but forgot that I even had it because I lost track of the transcripts on my hard drive?
I needed some kind of technique to organize these massive Word files and make them searchable by keywords from a desktop level. That’s when I came up with using #hashtags to do the trick.
Here’s how organizing long transcript files with hashtags works:
We had already planned a rough chapter structure for the final book, so I knew what kind of topics and angles we would talk about. With this in mind, I inserted search terms with hashtags into my interview transcripts whenever I thought a quote would work for a certain chapter or topic.
For instance, here’s Tony Alva dropping some pivotal quotes for the Vans chapter:
Sometimes I used multiple hashtags to mark a juicy quote. Some of the hashtags used for the book include #alva, #1970s, #baggypants, #surfstyle, #hairstyles and many more. Many of these are topics covered in the book, or names of chapters zeroing in on specific themes.
Now, when the time came for writing a book chapter – for example the profile on skateboard icon and trendsetter Tony Alva – finding my relevant transcript files as ammunition for my writing was easy. All I needed was perform a desktop search on my Apple Macintosh for the search term accompanied by the hashtag (in this case #alva).
This desktop search would produce a list of all the text files that contain the hashtag in the folder holding my interview transcripts.
In the next step, I could open one of these text files and perform a keyword search within Microsoft Word by pressing Command + F.
This would quickly show all quotes in the Word doc marked with the hashtag. For instance, here is Tony Alva referenced in an interview with another 1970s pro skater we had interviewed for the book.
That was it! I had successfully transformed a folder holding hundreds of thousands of words worth of sprawling interview transcripts into an organized, fully searchable repository of original quotes.
This technique proved really helpful in writing Skateboarding Is Not A Fashion and I have used it on other large-scale projects since. It made me less afraid of missing that golden quote and leaving it unused in a folder.
The one problem it didn’t solve – another consequence of working on this thing for eight years – was using the same quote multiple times in several chapters. But that’s what editors are for, right?