Any number of authors swear by Scrivener software, a word processor and project management tool that's designed specifically for long projects like books and screenplays. I signed up for a free trial, and I just made my way through the tutorial. So far I'm...dubious.
Basically, Scrivener gives you one big binder for a project. Within it, you treat each chapter or scene of your manuscript as a separate file, though you can easily compile them into a single view. You can tag the scenes in various ways, e.g. by point-of-view character or setting. You also have separate sections where you can keep character notes or research files.
I can see the good in all of this. So why aren't I rushing to start my new project in Scrivener instead of good ol' MS Word?
It's purely a gut reaction. I don't claim any of this is rational at all. But it just feels WRONG to me to treat my manuscript as a bunch of discrete scenes or chapters rather than an organic whole--albeit a fluid one that can and should change right up until my editor and I agree that it's ready.
Believe me, I realize how strange this sounds...but the manuscript is sort of a sacred space to me as I'm working on it. The Manuscript is the Manuscript, the Manuscript is one, and I don't WANT my research or my visual inspiration or my notes in the same file. None of those are the Manuscript--they're commentary. I even like keeping much of that not-the-manuscript stuff off my computer. I like to plot on a whiteboard, and I sometimes use my whole office door as a sort of canvas for post-it-notes with scene notes and character arcs. I'm a kinesthetic learner and thinker, and I need to step away from the monitor, pace, rearrange my post-its, pull a pile of research books off the shelf and spread them out on the coffee table, etc. I'm sure the Scrivener corkboard and research files are more efficient, but it doesn't have that same physicality, and it just doesn't feel like ME.
On the other hand, I do want to learn to be a faster and more efficient writer, so maybe I'm being too quick to dismiss a tool that might help me move in that direction. Yet...I wonder how much you can really force your process in a direction that's unnatural for you?