Is writing really a release? – Holly Peterson

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By Holly Peterson

I am always asked, “where do you write, and how do you write?” People who do not work in this baffling profession, or for whom writing is not a hobby, find it hard to imagine spending all day in that concentration zone where one’s brain hurts searching for words. I often think about whether writing is enjoyable. Is it really a release? Does it fuel a sense of accomplishment? Is the solo experience meditative or maddening?

Placing on paper what we know to be true about the world does many things for us. Writers in some form do “write what we know”, or about things and people that feel familiar. This telling the truth cements our feelings about a situation or relationship and, in turn, grounds us. Even placing demons on the page helps to solidify them in a target circle, so we can then aim and disperse them.

I’ve been a journalist for twenty-five years. I started as a Producer for ABC News and then, coveting a real byline, became a writer and editor at Newsweek magazine and other publications. I now write novels, but I call the format journalistic fiction. That means that everything I put on the page I know to be true. I find that process of relaying life in front of me deeply satisfying.

Strangely, being both a fiction and non-fiction writer, I often fiction gets us closer to the truth than non-fiction. Why? Because when I write novels, I’m not constrained by sound bites nor having to be present to report. One’s image of a dinner or a conversation in a certain kind of novel, if written accurately, is as legitimate truth seeking as that of a journalist or biographer. Fiction writers also seek the truth … even though we “make up” the story. Paradoxical, but you get it.

This summer I have a fiction release called, It Happens in the Hamptons, published by William Morrow. The story centers on a summer community and the cocktail of classes that swirl around each other: the old money stalwarts in their tattered country clubs, the new money bankers flush with rising stock market cash, and the thriving local community which lives at the tip of Long Island year round. I found the tension between the economic backgrounds of the characters to be ripe for our times. People are suffering in this country; getting ahead for anyone but the top one percent is near impossible. When you have people driving a Porsche next to a pick-up truck, tensions of all kinds will ensue that involve envy, revenge, anger, and plain old sucking up to someone to get in their limelight.

I feel blessed to write all kinds of things for different purposes… profiles in magazines or you out there curling up in corner with a flashy new novel. If you feel the urge to get into that writing zone, it is frustrating for sure. But the truth comes out, and when it does, it’s a big emotional relief that makes you say “ahhhhhhh”.

Holly Peterson is the New York Times best-selling author of four books. Her latest, a work of humorous social satire, is titled, It Happens in the Hamptons, and was published by William Morrow in May of 2017. She has also authored an entertaining book, Assouline’s Smoke & Fire: Recipes and Menus for Entertaining Outdoors, and two previous works of fiction — The Idea of Him and The Manny. She was a Contributing Editor for Newsweek, an Editor-at-Large for Talk magazine and an Emmy Award–winning Producer for ABC News. Her writing has been published in the New York Times, Newsweek, Town and Country, Vogue, Departures, Elle Décor, The Daily Beast, Harper’s Bazaar, and numerous other publications.

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