I have a confession to make: I did not religiously read Rookie. I signed up for the newsletter, I owned the yearbooks, and sure, I read some articles, but I did not pore over every essay on the site until it had molded me into a creative writer and cool person. I know, I’m an imposter, a fake. I love Rookie, I promise! But I have to be honest: I’m really lazy. And I loved the idea of being a girl that read Rookie more than I wanted to put in the actual effort to read it. When I did read Rookie, it was almost always planned, with a fruit plate and camera ready to capture this moment of teen girl intelligence. I had constructed this image of who I was in my head to distract myself from my own mediocrity.
Everyone always told me how smart I was, how incredible of a writer I was, how gifted I was. English class had always come easily to me, and even in my “worst” subjects, I still received A’s. I thought of myself as a writer, as an intelligent person, and dreamed of being some kind of professional smart person when I grew up: author, journalist, travel writer, etc.
None of this was real. None of this mattered if I wasn’t actually writing, if I lacked the actual manifestation of my dreams. I wasn’t doing anything to fulfill that vision, a behavior enforced by years of just being good at everything I did, believing that things just happened to me. I wasn’t published, I wasn’t working on a novel, I wasn’t really writing at all—even though I claimed I wanted to be a writer. My whole life existed (and still exists, to a certain extent) in romanticized visions of Future Me rather than an internal understanding of work and time and effort.
Other people told me I was a gifted writer, but my mind also fulfilled this genius fantasy by convincing me that I would be a writer when I became older, a magical and effortless combination of Carrie Bradshaw and Jia Tolentino and Joan Didion and Tavi Gevinson. I imagined myself as the editor of a magazine or newspaper in New York, despite the fact that I had never actually written anything outside of a classroom.
I believed it was my destiny to be a writer, that somehow the world, the universal energy that decides how things happen, knew I was special and I didn’t really need to work for it. I believed my dreams would just happen, that because I was a gifted writer, everyone would see that and I would float through life with skill and creativity and perfection. (I was full of shit.) All the years of being a straight-A student, during which everyone told me how smart I was, made me think I was somehow more special, more destined for greatness, than my peers.
The problem with realizing this flaw was my subsequent crash in self-confidence. I wasn’t a writer. I wasn’t doing enough. I wasn’t enough. I thought that somehow I was behind in life, like I had missed years of writing the personal essays of my generation and becoming the editor-in-chief of The New Yorker. I wanted to apply to a writing program over the summer to “catch up,” but it required 8-10 pages of writing samples. I didn’t have writing samples because I hadn’t written anything. I followed women on Instagram who had written whole novels as teenagers. Seriously? I was a fraud.
I don’t know when exactly I realized this. Maybe a year or two ago. So I had essentially been lying to myself for about ten years, all the years when I was academically conscious and able to conceptualize my self.
I lost my sense of agency over my life. Before this shift, I felt comfortable and proud in my “gifted student” and “writer” identity. But I was now detached from myself, as if there was a public perception of myself, a mold of my body that my soul was now viewing from above. Everything I thought I was—everything I thought I was destined for—crumbled. I had no future, I had no identity, and I hated everything I wrote. I hated myself for not having written a hundred journals throughout my childhood, all filled with effortlessly brilliant reflections on adolescence and the world around me. I hated myself for not finishing books but still including them on my list of books I’ve read. My sense of self was fundamentally performative, creating an idealized version of my identity, not just for others but for myself.
I wanted to be a journalist, I thought, but what did I have to show for it? A fantasy. I wasn’t doing enough. I binge-read for hours in a state of anxiety, trying to make up for years of laziness, years of personal essays that would have made me a good writer, all the years I was falling behind. And every time I read, I fell deeper into a panic, wishing I could have written that first. But I didn’t. I was lazy, I told myself—lazy, untalented, and supremely mediocre.
I am trying to unlearn these timelines and expectations and fantasies. I am trying to read for myself, to write for myself, not for the version of myself that doesn’t exist. I am learning self-respect and I am learning how to work and I am learning acceptance.
Three days ago, I finished my first journal of all time. It’s a black Moleskine, filled with my thoughts and rants, movie tickets and polaroid pictures, concert wristbands and pressed flowers. I should be happy about it, right? That’s a pretty cool accomplishment, especially for someone who values writing so much. But all I could think about was how this should’ve happened years ago. At this point, I should have documented every day of my adolescent life in order to really be a writer. In my head, I know that’s extreme. But I think a part of me believes that if I had written everything down, if I had been visibly writing my whole life, maybe I would have a clearer sense of self. I would have set myself up for confidence and skill. I would have set myself up for the future.
In my plunging self-confidence, I searched for a reason, and found it in my lack of writing. But I am trying to detach myself from others’ timelines, learn my own worth, and rid my mind of the concept that perfection and failure are the only paths in life. I am a writer, and in learning to write, I am learning to live.
By Katherine Williams