After writing three novels, one of the handiest tools I've adopted is a "Scratch Pad" for works in progress. In creating my most recent novel, PANCHO LAND, I refined the process considerably. As the name implies, the Scratch Pad is a place to experiment with elements from your manuscript and store information that's pertinent to the story.
Even for someone like me who carefully plots a novel before actually fleshing it out, once you are putting meat on the bone of each scene, you'll invariably hit points in the story that suggest several options. My Scratch Pad lets me play out these options in shorthand form and select the one that seems best. The Scratch Pad is also a handy place to store chunks of the manuscript that I am revising but don't want to discard. More than once, I've gone back to the Scratch Pad and used the discarded material for reference -- or used it somewhere else. This saves having to create a complete manuscript version every time I change a plot point. Before I adopted the Scratch Pad idea, I'd save dozens of versions of my manuscript.
I don't use a fancy program for my Scratch Pad, just use a simple Word file. What makes Word excellent for a Scratch Pad is the search function. I just dump the stuff into my Scratch Pad in rough chronological order. When I need to find something, I just search the Word document using the CTRL-F Find function and zero in on what I need. I used to save a lot of backup material in separate Word files. But I later realized that it was quicker to open a single document and search through it than to go through a long menu looking for a particular scene.
Another way I use my Scratch Pad is to store research. My novels often use historical data, technology and demographics. I store the data and links in my Scratch Pad for reference and often craft the narrative right there, with the data on the same page, before exporting it to my manuscript file.
I hope as a reader, you found this peek under the tent at the craft of writing interesting. If you are a fellow writer, may this help you in our lonely work. Either way, leave me a message if you feel inspired.
Raul Ramos y Sanchez