What do you write when you don’t have to?

“What you read when you don’t have to determined what you will be when you can’t help it.” – Oscar Wilde

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?

22 thoughts on “What do you write when you don’t have to?

  1. Absolutely! I write code for money (that is so far from what I thought I’d be writing when I was young!). I write on my blog for fun. Well its more linking photos together with as few words as I can, but it is still expressing myself with words and pictures so that counts!

    • I’m loving the different apps and technology that are bringing the worlds of words and images together in new, fun ways. I’m currently addicted to Instagram and Pinterest … loving how the visual aspects are inspiring my writing and vice versa. Have fun with your blog!

  2. My first novels and my blog. A future post will include a sample of my “work” writing as a contrast to my fiction. Archaeological research reports do not make for entertaining reading (or writing), so it is such fun to give voice to these stories in my head.

  3. I gave my blog a makeover about a month ago and I almost fell into this as a trap. I am a full time university student in my senior year and don’t have the time to devote to blogging as a structured theme. So my makeover is more a hodge podge of things but I have done away with the previous style and it’s for the best. Now I am blogging about my former professional life which is to say Massage therapy and spa and random things like the History of High heels. Just something once a week that keeps me writing but not so focused that I am drawn away from my studies. After I graduate, I don’t know if I will keep blogging or if I will even have the time. I love spa but don’t now that I have enough real writing talent to keep a blog going on that theme alone. Thanks for posting this. It gives me more to think about.

    • Congrats on your redesign – that’s always a big task.
      Glad you’re writing on a regular basis (that’s the first thing, isn’t it?) … I’m guessing that your particular interests will start to emerge the more you write. It will be an organic development over time – nice to have the space and time to let that happen.
      Happy writing!

    • Sometimes just sharing the little details of daily life can be a perfect writing exercise AND has the added benefit of capturing pieces of your life that you may forget later on. Lovely!

    • I’m really enjoying Instragram and Pinterest – the play of pictures and words. I’m finding ways to craft opening lines to go with certain images – it’s not much (in the way of fiction practice … something I need to do more of), but it’s a start!

  4. Reblogged this on See Mary Write and commented:
    What do I write when I don’t have to? Well, I’m a serial journal deserter—every year, it seems, I would begin a fresh new journal, its crisp white pages ready to record my daily musings. I’d usually abandon the effort a week or so later, relegating it to the back of a drawer somewhere to join previous years’ attempts. My one successful journaling venture, however, was the record I kept during my semester in Madrid last year. During those months, recording my experiences was hardly a chore. On the contrary, I had so many impressions and experiences to remind my future self of that the words seemed to spill from my pen on their own. For me, there was something so unique, effortless and inherently pleasurable about recording my travels, something I hadn’t experienced with day-to-day journaling. Each entry was part descriptive snapshot-part laundry list of places, people, street names and corner cafés to preserve in my memory. About halfway through the semester, I bought a second journal, not because I had given up on the first but because, bit by bit, I had filled its pages. It may not seem like much, but for me it was a satisfying first.

    • Travel is absolutely one of the best inspirations for “easy” writing. There’s something about being in a strange place that opens a writer up to her senses and makes the words flow fast and furious. I always find that when I travel (even if it’s just to the next town over), my observations and words and even voice change – coming out onto the page in different ways. So fun to experiment with!

  5. I’ve kept journals since a very young age, and that really has shown me, personally, how my writing style has developed over the years, and the things that are really important to me. It’s a very intensely personal thing, and this quote is really applicable. Love the post!

    • Hello, Liza!
      I’ve kept journals since I was 7 & I can totally relate to the growth you talk about. It’s amazing to look back and see how things have changed … AND stayed the same. That is writing I truly do for myself …although I sometimes wonder if anyone will read them after I’m dead and gone …

  6. The job is to write science documents for clients.
    The don’t-have-to-write is my blog.
    The dream is to write a novel, but dream would remain so until I put fingers on keyboard. That’s not yet to be…
    Let’s see.

  7. Love the quote by Wilde. I have read novels all my life. I am happy to get lost in one for a day or two. And although I love to write, I am thoughtful about “what” it is I want to write about. Writing a novel has never been interesting to me. Writing other people’s material is even less interesting to me. I recently moved to a rural Northern Ireland and someone suggested an Eat Pray Love style book. It’s a great question. In the mean time, I blog.

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