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Beginnings: The Breakthrough Moment

Tavi Gevinson, Writer and Actress

“I realized that I could convert what I was feeling by writing about it, even if it wasn’t to be published.”

I have a lot of breakthroughs every day, which is not to say I’m this constantly evolving genius, because I also get in my own way, so it’s more like, oh, “one step forward, two steps back” situation. But what’s been sticking with me lately is — I just listened to Charlie Kaufman’s BAFTA speech. He says that if you’re writing a movie, you have to know why it has to be a movie and not anything else. I’ve been thinking about that a lot with everything I do now, just to make sure everything is exactly itself, and the best thing that it should be, and that you’re taking advantage of all of the characteristics of each medium as you’re using it. ’Cause sometimes I feel like I write an article and then I’m like, Mmm, that was a tweet. And sometimes I’m writing something and I realize that should be a different format. I also just interviewed Joanna Newsom, and she — I get sad because I write about things that happen to me in my life and then once I have to edit them, I feel like I’ve killed them, because I have to be sort of dissociative and critical to think about how it would translate to other eyes. And it’s this mix of relief and wrongfulness, because on one hand, I was writing to kill what I was feeling, and on the other hand, it feels so maniacal somehow that I can do that. And I asked her if she’s sad when she gets to the process of mastering and mixing because it is at that remove. And she said that for her, it’s not binary and it feels like an extension of writing, arranging and recording. So I liked that idea a lot.

But one of the biggest breakthroughs for me was when I was in driver’s ed sophomore year, and I was really bummed about something that was going on outside of school with someone who I liked who was also my friend. And I felt so angry and powerless and I also felt very hurt and stupid, and I wasn’t paying attention in driver’s ed — which is probably why I didn’t get my license. But I was writing in my journal the whole time, and then by the time I left the classroom, I was just like striding through the hallways and feeling really on top of things. And that was one of the first times when I realized that I could convert what I was feeling by writing about it, even if it wasn’t to be published, even if it wasn’t this idea of exposing someone or garnering sympathy or even on a much more sincere and human level, connecting with the reader, I could use this practice to help myself move through the world.