Writing you have to do vs. writing you want to do

Sometimes when I'm writing a catalog or a lot of web site content for a client, I clock out to write in my own self-absorbed personal files for a while. These files are the stuff I'm making into short stories or essays, or even the stuff that serves no marketable purpose, but gives me a place to express. I even maintain a passworded pure-rant file.

Yeah, weird, I know -- taking a break from writing by writing some more. But I liken this to, let's say, a figure skater who spends hours a day practicing, honing, perfecting a choreographed piece vs. times when they can just skate for the joy of it. You might use the same moves, skills, style... but in an explosion of just doing it. Because, after all, isn't that how we ended up here? Back in the day, we wrote and we chose this profession because we loved the writing.

We love the choreographed stuff, too, and the quest for, if not perfection, something momentarily brilliant. A little something that adheres to all the requirements of clients and agencies and marketing principles but still comes out sparkling with an "aha!" from the audience -- well, that sure is wonderful. Yet there are times when no-rules, no-style-sheet, no-deadline, no-committee-of-vultures writing is essential to tap back into the soul of it all.

So today, I was writing a campaign for a mortgage company. Getting there and feeling on-target. But I detoured for a while to write a bit of an ongoing essay about parenting four teenage girls, a crazy thing that is simultaneously an ode and a be-otch session. My preferred medium is the computer, but I maintain a number of journals, too, because they're more adaptable to use in bright sunshine out beside the horse pasture or along the creek, and always in my bag when I head over to the Yellowstone River. Some of these journals are of the spiral-bound 5-for-10-dollar variety from Staples, and some are treasured Moleskines that I make an effort to fill with visuals as well as words. Visuals like pressed flowers, airline luggage stickers, things ripped from out-of-town-newspapers, prayer cards, found objects and my own bad drawings.

In other places I have the beginnings of personal work about brain cancer, dishonesty, fly fishing, the competitive spirit, modern-day monastic communities and vintage barns.

Say ADD if you want, but these are all pillars that support my professional writing life. Right now, I'm back to the mortgage company copy, and I go there knowing I am a writer. Bonus for the client. Better for me.