Why I Write: Rachel Peters

I hate writing.  Other people go to the gym after work, or see friends on the weekend, and they don’t walk around not realizing they have pens in their hair and under their bra straps.  A friend actually told me once that sometimes he has nothing in his head.  Nothing at all.  Radio silence.  I can’t imagine how wonderful that must feel.  Other people sleep at night.  Other people read a good book just for the story.  Other people go entire weeks without an e-mail that says you’re not a good fit, not quite what they’re looking for, the tone just isn’t right.  But best of luck elsewhere.  Other people are allowed to keep their own secrets.

When I published my first story, half of my family stopped speaking to me.  They saw too much of themselves in it, and they didn’t like what they saw.  My sister accused me of publishing lies.  I told her it was fiction, but she insisted on the word “lies.”  My father accused me (not to my face) of “having a catharsis at anyone’s expense.”  How did he think I felt?  Writing is just stripping in front of the world.  Now I only tell them about half the things I publish.  I won’t tell them about this.

Someone asked me once if being a writer is lonely.  For me it is.  The real question is: am I lonely because I write?  Or do I write because I’m lonely?  I’ll probably never know, and I suppose it doesn’t matter.  The fact remains, writing is lonely work.

So why do I write if I hate it so much?

Because the days I don’t write are worse.  The world closes in on me.  My thoughts are so heavy without a place to put them for safe-keeping.  And not putting a pen to paper does not change the fact that my brain is always racing, and I can’t sleep at night.  I write because I can’t separate writing from who I am.

If I needed alcohol as badly as I need writing, they’d put me in a program.

Or maybe hate is too strong a word.  I love the successes, I love the high, I love the pride I feel when I’ve created something worth sharing.  I love the relief of getting something off my shoulders, and the e-mails that say “Yes!  You are a good fit for us!”  I love the idea that somebody else might read what I’ve written and it might be the exact thing they needed to hear in that moment.  And maybe they won’t feel so alone.

My sister called them “lies,” but they aren’t lies.  They’re just not her truths.  We all have our own truths, and we share them, hoping—blindly—that some day we will find someone who shares those truths.  And in that moment, for just that moment, we might not feel so alone.  To me, that’s worth suffering for.

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About Rachel Peters

Rachel Peters is a writer, teacher, and swimming pool operator who lives in Richmond, VA, with her husband and their dog, who looks like he might be part chow and part lab. Her work has been published in the Bristol Short Story Prize Anthology and is forthcoming in the Boston Literary Magazine.