Talking About Tools

Anyone who does any sort of creative work knows the danger of obsessing over tools. People online debate all the time about the importance of the tools that we use to do our work.

Why does this come up so often? I think it’s because worrying about our tools is an easy way to procrastinate, and we humans are constantly looking for an excuse to not do the work. Everyone knows that tools are important, but if we spend too much time fiddling we can fall into the trap of using the tools without actually getting anything done with the tools.

Mandy Brown wrote a piece about a tool that she uses and the philosophy behind taking your tools into consideration. You should read it. I especially love this part:

But assuming we recognize that risk and take pains to avoid it, talking about our tools can be instructive. Routines and tools do matter—not only for writers but for any skill or trade. A good chef’s knife makes a good cook better, while a dull blade will limit her skills. A cook with a mandoline will have opportunities that one without will lack. It’s just as ignorant to say that tools don’t matter at all as it is to pronounce them magical.

Look around on the internet and you will find tons of people telling you to ignore the tools as much as you can and get to work. This advice sounds romantic, but it’s important for us to take some time to sharpen our knives from time to time.

I am not suggesting that at every opportunity you should question the effectiveness of your tools, but every once in a while I like to sit down, make a list of all of the important, mission-critical tools (and routines!) that I use, and then try to make sure those tools are sharpened. This could involve finding something that works better or just changing how we use the tool.

This obviously applies to the apps that we use, but the tools don’t stop there. Are you using the best pen for you? What about the best notebook? I come at this from the perspective of a writer, but the tools are anything that helps you to do the work. Ignoring our tools will only do us a disservice. However, spending too much time evaluating them takes away from the work.

Finding a balance between maintaining our tools and using them can be tricky, but doing so can make us better at what we do. And that is almost always worth a little bit of time and effort.