I came across this quote via my new guilty pleasure: Pinterest. As an avid reader and prolific writer, it struck me with a one-two punch. Think about it. If what you read for pleasure says something deep and true about who you are when you are being your most honest and authentic self, what can we learn by looking at the things we write when we don’t have to – the things we write just for the pleasure of the practice and the craft?
I mentioned that I’m a prolific writer. I don’t say this to boast. I write to earn my living. Since I am not yet an internationally successful novelist commanding huge advances and earning film right residuals, I write a lot. I also write a wide variety of things. For my marketing clients I write messaging frameworks, creative briefs, content strategies, blog posts, e-books, white papers, web copy, and so on. For my own marketing, I write about … marketing. I create course materials for my own training programs. Here at Live to Write-Write to Live, I write about writing. Over at BabyCenter and Fans of Being a Mom I write about parenthood. I’m about to launch a new blog project that will let me write about a whole new category of ideas that are very close to my heart.
But what do I write when I don’t have to?
It’s a really good question. Although I enjoy much of the writing I do to support myself, it isn’t necessarily writing I would do if money weren’t an issue. When I have the rare and precious hour of down time, I often spend it at my local coffee shop – perched at a table with my cinna-soy chai latte, MacBook Pro, and trusty notebook and pen. I step out of my workday routine and into my writer self. I push away the concepts of deadlines, headlines, and keywords. I untangle myself from the web of rules and best practices. I open up the secret door in the back of my mind and invite my inner novelist out to play. She’s a little shy and not always ready to dive right in, so we make some small talk in the form of journaling or bad poetry. We share our thoughts on the books we’ve been reading – the stories, fairytales, and folklore, not the non-fiction titles about overcoming fear, creating smart content, and Zen living.
My fingers hesitate on the keyboard, unsure of where to go without a task list to guide them. But, once we begin to meander – my inner novelist and me – I practically glow with the joy of writing just for the pleasure of being able to put one word after the other and create an image, a feeling, or give voice to an idea. This is the writing I do when I don’t have to. This is the work that I can’t help doing.
What do you write when you don’t have to? What work do you do because you just can’t help it?