I'm not talking about craft tools, like secrets of great settings, or how to get through a revision without an emotional breakdown. (Do you want me to write about those, too?)
I'm talking about using tools that will help us acheive and maintain focus while we write, plus tools that can be helpful for things like unwieldly plots.
Note – I recommend these tools either because I use (and love) them, or because I know other authors who do. As with all things writing-related, your mileage may vary. Do some research before you plunk money down to make sure that the tool has a place in your toolbox.
A notebook, like the Mark Twain wrote in above. (See more writer notebooks at Flavorwire.) I use old-school composition books. No, I don't fill them with pages of my novel. But I always have one with me to capture those stray thoughts, bits of dialog, and descriptions that happen while I go about my life away from the computer. I think there is something magical that happens when you move your hand across the page with a pen or pencil instead of typing. These composition books fall apart in the shower, though, so that's why it's handy to have something like this.
Internet-free-writing space. I'm cheap, so I just turn it off on my computer. But if that's too hard, there are programs and apps you can use, like Freedom and Anti-Social (to temporarily get rid of the ability to check social media sites). Rescue Time will help you examine how you are actually using your computer time.
Distraction free writing space. I'll write another post about the need to have a regular writing space, but for now, I'm talking about the distractions on my computer and within arm's reach of it. On a good day I have the attention span of gnat, so I've tried every trick out there. What works best for me is this nifty feature in Word for Mac 2011 (I'm told that Word for Windows has a similar feature), that is called the Focus View. One click and every on my computer screen disappears, except for the document I'm working on. Genius!!
I also use the Comments feature in Word heavily. Whenever I think of something that I need to research on the Internet, or check at a different place in the manuscript, I simply add a comment in the right-hand margin and keep writing because I don't want to break my focus and flow. When the day's writing session is over, I scroll through the comments and do whatever research is required, then add in the required information, or make notes about how to add the new material during my next writing session.
Another thing that helps my focus is to guard the space around my computer. The only stuff I can see from where I'm sitting are books or notes about my WIP. And usually a mug of coffee or tea. When I get stuck for a moment and my eyes drift off the screen, I can only see things that encourage me to keep thinking of my story. Because my attention span is so short, I know that if I see anything else, I'm going to get distracted.
CAN WE PAUSE RIGHT HERE FOR A SECOND??????
Stupid, freaking WordPress has been acting like a jackass this afternoon. (This is a Faulty, Unreliable Tool!) So far I've spent three hours on this blog because the auto-save isn't working and a couple of times (but not always) when I have pressed Save Draft, the stuff I wrote has vanished. This blog should be about twice as long as it is, but I still haven't taken my fifteen minutes yet (actually it's gonna be longer because I need to write five pages today) so this is what you get. Consider the topic of Writing Tools to be continued. Do you have any tools you'd like to share so I can blog about them? How about a chainsaw?
Today's non-fiction prompt: Write about the tools you wrote with in elementary school. Give details of your classroom, the people in it, and what kind of kid you were. Mix in action with the descriptions.
Today's fiction prompt: Two characters are trying to perform a simple task, like hammer a nail into the wall, or pick-up a soft banana that has fallen behind a stove that cannot be moved. Describe how they try (and fail) several different ways to do the job.
Fifteen minutes. More if you want, but just fifteen minutes spent writing today could change your entire life.