How to actually use your writing resources (instead of just letting them gather dust!)

Want the template for making your own Writing Toolbox? Get it for free right here!

It’s there. Gathering dust in the very back of the drawer. The perfect gizmo to help you with the task you’re doing right now.

But it’s so far back, you can’t see it when you open the drawer. You forget that you have it. You make do with the tools on hand, or you spend your precious time and energy looking for a new tool.

When you're struggling through an essay and the deadline is looming, it can make you crazy to know that (somewhere) you have the right tool for making the job easy. Maybe it’s an outline template or a sample MLA bibliography.  

Never happens to you, you say? I’ve got bad news: that probably means your resources are shoved so far back in your brain drawer that you’ve just completely forgotten you ever had them! That means you’ll end up relying on old writing habits and never using the more advanced strategies you’ve learned.

Tools you don’t use aren’t tools; they’re junk!    [tweet that]

But there’s an easy way to solve your writing junk drawer problem: review your resources on a regular basis to see what you have and how you can use it. Here's exactly what to do!

Use your "downtime"

Don’t review your resources when you have a big paper due. Instead, go through your writing resources when you’re relaxed. That’s when your brain will be the most open to new information. You’ll be able to pay attention to detail and absorb new ideas.

Besides, if you wait to look for a resource until you need to use it, you’ll be more likely to miss seeing it completely. It’s like scrambling in the kitchen junk drawer to find the extra batteries for the remote when your favorite show is about to start: you’ll be in a state of anxiety and less likely to pay attention to what you see. Stress gives us tunnel vision and makes us less perceptive.

Make an appointment

Make a date with yourself about once a month to look through your writing resources. You can also use this as an opportunity to clear out any resources you won't use again and that are just taking up space. (Just like dead batteries and dried up pens in the kitchen junk drawer.)

Start with your English binder

What new worksheets did your teacher hand out for this unit? What are the expectations for your writing? Do you have a recent rubric or graded essay to give you an idea of the most important components?

When your teacher handed out all those worksheets and templates, you might have gone into information overload and glazed over. It all seemed so abstract then. But now can take a tour through all that info at your own pace, giving it time to sink in.

Move on to the school portal

Many teachers keep materials for the entire semester on the portal. Check out your English "locker" on the school portal. It doesn’t take long to browse these links, and it might be faster to open them directly from the portal each time than to search for them in your download folder.

Glance through your downloads folder and your desktop

If you do download resources and then forget where you’ve put them (Guilty!), search for them by keywords. Once you find them, take the time to put them in a folder with the name of your class or teacher on it. If you’re feeling really fancy, you might make some sub folders for the different units you’re covering this year in English. For ease and accessibility, you can’t beat storing your resources in Google Drive or somewhere else in the cloud. That way, you can open them from wherever you are.  

Check out last semester’s English file folder at home

If you read my suggestions about getting organized, you saw that I recommend keeping an “overflow” file at home. This holds school material you don’t need to lug back and forth with you in your backpack but that you still need. Go back through it and find any examples or  resources from your English teacher. Be careful with rubrics, since those may have changed. Instead, look for MLA style guidelines or outline templates.

Browse your bookmarks

If you have a simple question about writing, you could certainly just ask Google. But sometimes, finding a simple answer to a simple questions isn’t, well, simple. If you already spent time finding a web source that is really helpful to you -- maybe the explanation is really clear, or there are examples, or your teacher recommended it specifically -- it’s worth saving!

It’s easy to forget what you’ve saved and why. Scrolling through your bookmarks every so often is a good reminder of the tools you have on hand. This is also a great opportunity to toss any bookmarks that you won’t use again. For example, save the link to definitions of rhetorical devices, but toss the one about your research project from last year.

Create your very own Writing Toolbox

Your school binder and portal will have the materials that your teacher thinks might help you with assignments. But the real treasure would be if you had a collection of resources, templates, word lists, and samples that you know work for your thought process. Wouldn’t that be cool?

Here’s how to start collecting the strategies that help you write your best. Make yourself a doc in Google Drive (so that you can access it from anywhere) and start tracking what techniques get you results.You can organize these by category, such as “brainstorming” and “revising,” or you can simply jot them down as you think of them. Either way, it’s helpful to have a sample of how you used the strategy in your writing to jog your memory. If you want help making your own Writing Toolbox, you can grab a FREE template right here!

Make it a habit

Reviewing your resources will give you access to the "you" of the past. The "you" who knew how to build the perfect introduction for a five-paragraph essay, create flawless in-text MLA citations, and write streamlined topic sentences.

Besides helping you with your current assignment, revisiting past skills will also help you turn those great strategies into habits. That means that you’ll use more of your mad skills automatically, without having to think about them so much. And, of course, that means you’ll write better while also getting through drafts and revisions faster. It’s simple math.

Put it on the calendar now

Make a date with yourself to review your resources when you’re not under the gun to complete an assignment or meet a deadline. In just 15 minutes or less you can remind yourself which tools you have, dump the ones you don’t need anymore, and feel more confident moving forward with your writing.

Get the free template for creating your own Writing Toolbox right here!