Use Your Bag of Tricks to Add Spice When You Freewrite Based On An Outline

Earlier today an awesome client of mine mentioned an experience she had doing word sprints with a friend so that she could meet her weekly goal. Basically she and a friend raced against each other to see who could hit their word count goal first.

I’ve never done word sprints, but I feel like mentioning them here because it’s something I definitely see as being valuable.

It strikes me as fun because the competitive aspect is there. The main thing for me is the fact that you’re involving other people.

For me, if I do word sprints, I’ll probably get more goofy and rebellious and my writing won’t really be pertinent to what I would like to be working on.

I’m open to that not being the case. Next time the opportunity arises, I’ll give them a shot. Maybe everything will change! Why not.

Generally I prefer the collaborative and supportive approach. But maybe I’m being a sissy about it.

My favorite is the writing marathon, so writing for at least 20 minutes and ideally two hours or more, and ideally in the company of other writers.

Ah, even thinking about it just now gives me a warm feeling. The presence of other writers doing the same activity — writing on their own stuff, not interacting directly — it does a lot more than you might think. It can be profoundly helpful. Each person, although they are working independently of each other, is helped along by virtue of it being a group venture.

Whether it is a word sprint, collaborative freewriting, or a group writing marathon, it does something to be in good company. The pair or group becomes more interesting to inspiration, and each person gets helped along, more capable of staying in a good groove.

So if you have an experience of writing in the company of another writer or a small group of writers, I’d be interested to hear of your experience. You could also of course come to an event or a retreat with me, where we will definitely be doing something like this on at least one occasion.

For today I’d like to share one of my favorite strategies for spicing things up when I am freewriting based on an outline.

How to spice up your freewrite with a wildcard grab bag

I’ve never been sure what to call this exactly. The idea here is basically that it’s more fun to carry a “bag of tricks” rather than the “briefcase of obligation.”

First off, writing from an outline is fantastic. I do it all the time. I love it. I recommend it. However, even if it’s your disposition to write from an outline, there is a tendency for part of you to basically rest on that outline and eventually get a sense of ennui or reluctance about it, as if the outline is the work that you have to do.

That is especially true with an outline that deals with the structural specifics.

For example, one way that you might interpret a list of structural specifics is that X “has to” happen, and then Y “has to” happen. And so forth.

Maybe you see what I mean.

You wrote the outline to give yourself a sense of what you want to have happen. But part of the assumption is that these things need to happen, and nobody else is going to do it, so I had better buck up and do the work.

It can invite that unwelcome sense of being obligated, pulled along like a draft mare rather than like, well, someone being compelled forward not by a harness, but a sense of eagerness and wonder.

The solution? Carry the “wildcard bag of tricks” or (whatever you want to call it) to rebel against the “briefcase of obligation.”

OK, so we have established that the briefcase of obligation is your normal outline. So what’s in this bag of tricks?

  1. Come up with a list of arbitrary images or events or descriptions. Just jot down some stuff. It can be completely unrelated, and you also might find that it seems to group itself into a kind of tonal niche. Maybe in your list you come up with a lot of astrological details, for example, or romantic objects like flowers and heart-shaped rocks.
  2. Decide how many elements from your bag of tricks to include in each plot point or section of your outline. For example, you might want to include exactly three bag of tricks items in each chapter of your book.

Think of this as nonessential information that is nevertheless mandatory.

It becomes like a game.

  1. You divvy out your bag of tricks elements like you’re shaking secret sauce into your delicious stew. A bit here, a bit there. Don’t think about it. Just drop things here and there.
  2. Then figure it out later. I have to include a puzzle box in this scene? OK. I can either make that a major element or I can kick it way to the background. Maybe it will get edited out. If it sucks, I can cut it. But I have to include it.

It will help take your story in a weird but compelling direction. And it might need to be pared down later. But keep that until later. Let the silly and obviously arbitrary stuff be equally as mandatory as the official plot elements in your outline.

Other example categories for stuff to include

  • Scenery descriptions and engagement from objects in the environment
  • Sensory cues for one of the characters – gestures and the like.
  • Different layers to feel into interpersonal dynamics – nuances that might reveal the textures of each person’s bouquet or center of gravity
  • Improv prompts– (example and example)

Including your bag of tricks items and regarding them as having equal weight as the official outline elements allows you to harness the mini-frustrations that emerge when you write based on an outline. It appeals to the part of a person that loves riddles, or puzzles, or just to add a bit of extra something that just perhaps will be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

Experiment and have fun with this. You are welcome to share your results here.

See what happens when you force yourself to give equal weight to nonessential and essential outline elements.

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