This series is woefully incomplete, and I'll try to peck away at it from time to time, but I want to take a few diversions into some other topics around the use of tools.
I'll start with some clarification the use of the word "tool" itself.
When you talk about tools, you might think of things like MS Word, or Scrivener, or Snowflake Pro. My posts up to now have not been about these, but about conceptual tools. Things like flowcharts, timelines, character sheets.
In other words, I've been concentrating on the content - arranging ideas to reveal insights. But the medium is important too, because that is how you expose your content to view.
First off, let's look at some of the media you might use to contain your conceptual tools. Most of these are computerised, but not all.
- Word processors, such as MS Word. Great for manipulating text, including lists and tables.
- Spreadsheets, such as MS Excel.
- Specialised diagramming tools, such as MS Visio.
- Pen & paper.
- More specialised physical media such as index cards, Post-It notes, whiteboards.
- Specific writing systems, such as Scrivener.
- Your own head - don't overlook the manipulations you do mentally without necessarily committing anything to a more durable form.
Yet again, my advice is simple: choose the right tool for the job, using whatever measure of "right" makes sense to you.
In the rest of this post, I'll touch on some of these measures of "rightness" that you might want to consider.
Can the medium carry the content?
This is clearly important, for example you'd be daft to try drawing a complex diagram using something with no diagramming capability.
This consideration is especially important for the computerised tools. General purpose office tools such as Word and Excel have their obvious strengths - manipulating text and numbers for example - but they can be pressed into service in many less obvious ways.
MS Word can produce tables and diagrams, so if you are most comfortable with Word then you might use it more extensively for these purposes. Word's paradigm is the written page. You can have as many pages as you want in a document, but there are practical limits on how wide you can go so I find it works best with tables of only a few columns. However, for small tables I find it offers much more user-friendly flexibility than Excel.
MS Excel has tables at its heart. It is much more two-dimensional than Word, so is easier to use for large tables. I also use it for simple diagrams, those that are little more than boxes of colours or text placed against one or two axes.
Here is an example of a timeline with dependencies:
It might not look much like a diagram, but for cases like this you can strip out the pictorial fluff and what you have left is the essential core of the conceptual tool.
If you want sophisticated diagramming capability, you might want to consider a specialised tool such as Visio.
I have no experience with specialised writing software. Maybe someone can help out in the comments. I understand that they usually contain a number of tailor-made tools, such as outlines, scene lists, and character sheets. All I'll suggest is look at what conceptual tools they offer, and think about how you want to employ them.
Is it the right strength for the job?
Are you trying to crack a nut with a sledgehammer? Or trying to steer a yacht with a teaspoon?
Think about the size of task you are trying to accomplish. The same conceptual tool might require different approaches depending on how much information you are trying to capture.
For example, think about a logic diagram used to untangle plot dependencies. If you are only trying to order a handful of events, you might do this in your head. That's fine. Just remember that you are still employing a conceptual tool to assist you.
If you have a more complex scenario, then maybe pen and paper would do. Or you might order the events in a list in MS Word with notes about the dependencies.
But if you are trying to order the events of a whole novel, then maybe you need something more industrial strength to help you out.
If you need to lay out a complex timeline with many threads and dependencies, then you might even consider project management software - designed to achieve exactly that.
Does it fit with your way of working?
This last consideration is all about you. What works for you? Do you enjoy the discipline of having everything in one electronic repository? Are you OK with a folder full of Word documents? Do you keep everything straight in your head? Do you prefer the feel of pen on paper?
If you are a highly structured top-down thinker, then maybe a writing tool like Snowflake Pro will work for you. If you are a dedicated pantser then trying to use a tool like this might put you off ever writing again.
There's no right or wrong way to work. The only right answer is to do what works for you. Whatever you choose, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable with it.
A final thought...
This series is called "Writers toolkit" for a reason. A carpenter or plumber doesn't carry just one tool around, so why should you? There's no reason not to make use of a collection of tools, as long as they work effectively together, and together they work for you.