Rookie’s Tavi Gevinson on the Pain of Knowing When to Quit
Illustration by Esme Blegvad for Rookie.
A few years ago, with the help of my husband, I decided to quit my full-time job in academic advising and pursue a career as a freelance writer. Writing was always the thing I wanted to pursue as a career, but throughout my twenties I worked steadily in adjacent fields, never able to bite the bullet and find my way into the “gig economy” (that peppy label for the unfortunate state of creative professions in our 21st-century plutocracy). One of the reasons I hesitated to get started is that the kind of writing I most enjoy – thoughtful essays and arts and culture criticism – doesn’t pay in the age of sponsored content and the easily share-able and meme-able. Eventually, I realized that a writing career of any kind was better than the alternatives, and now I make money editing and writing things like marketing copy. I’m resigned to the fact that mostly, creative and critical writing must be a labor of love with little financial reward. But it shouldn’t be that way.
Before my freelance career began in earnest, I wrote for five years on the side for an underground music website, Cokemachineglow.com, that was creative and interesting, introduced me to amazing music (and a group of great writers from all over), and helped me to improve my writing. Needless to say, the site was not financially successful in any way (and no one was paid), but the staff kept it going because we loved doing it. Finally though, Cokemachineglow folded at the end of 2015. At this point many of us were into our 30s, and our editor quite rightly decided he could no longer dedicate so much time and energy to the project while he also had a life to live and a day job to do.
In the past decade, I’ve noticed a lot of other websites featuring great writing and criticism have met the same fate. A film criticism site I loved called The Dissolve, which was founded in 2013 by a staff of critics who left the AV Club after some editorial shuffling, shut down in 2015 as well. As editor Keith Phipps wrote bluntly at the time, “For the past two years—well, two years this Friday—it’s been our pleasure to put up this site, a site founded on and drive by a love for movies, alongside a company with passion and talent for creating thoughtful, important work. Sadly, because of the various challenges inherent in launching a freestanding website in a crowded publishing environment, financial and otherwise, today is the last day we’ll be doing that.”
So it was with little surprise but some sadness that I read about the closure of another forum for thoughtful writing on the web: Rookie, the magazine started by former teen fashion blogging sensation Tavi Gevinson in 2011. In her final editor's letter for the (truly great) online teen magazine, Gevinson writes about the emotional process of giving up the project she’s thrown herself into since age 14. She talks about her initial resistance to learning the business side of the website, and her desire to keep Rookie independent and to prevent it from turning into a corporate entity. After meeting with investors, considering a sale of the company and realistically evaluating her own dedication to the magazine, Gevinson ultimately decided that Rookie needed to fold or resist losing the independent voice that made it the best-ever publication for teenage girls.
One thing that stood out to me in Gevinson’s piece is her obvious guilt. She started this magazine as a young teen, and it’s understandable that she wouldn’t really want to do the same thing at 22 that she did at 14. But she clearly feels she’s letting people down. Making the choice to quit, to say no, is never easy, but it’s something we all have to do in our careers at one point or another – for ourselves, and for other aspects of our lives that have perhaps been neglected. She writes, “Along with a role like mine starting to require more and more time, I was finding that it’s hard to do multiple projects well. I started to crave the time and space to go deeper into an idea—be it through writing or acting—that is very hard to find if you are responsible for something that generates daily content on the internet.”
This is highly relatable to women in higher education whom, as we highlight often in proF, tend to spread themselves thin with many endeavors but find it difficult to quit something for fear of letting go, or of letting others down. Whether you’ve experienced this or not, Gevinson’s final Rookie editor’s letter is a great read, offering a glimpse at the extremely tenuous state of the media industry, imposter syndrome, the act of navigating the business world as an outsider, and, of course, that topic that Rookie will be remembered for exploring so compellingly: growing up.