Written by Emily Wu, age 13
I reach out to slam my laptop shut, but something stops me. The wall in front of me, plastered with fan art and letters and prints, fades. The thoughts are waiting in the shadows to reel me in. it won’t catch me like a net. It will trap me like a web. But I can’t stop reading the words. This author is sooo overhyped. They spin over and over again on the glowing screen; until they set themselves on fire and bore into my mind, setting my anxiety aflame. They brand me. They burn. I tell myself I love this life, the fame, the money. It’s all I’ve ever dreamed of. Overrated. Impostor. They burn. I am a star, a star, a celebrity.
It’s not enough. It will never be enough. I can write until I die, and I will never be satisfied. I will never be sated by the worlds I create.
Everything that I am goes up in smoke.
I’ve grown to love the words. They carve out a hollow inside me, breathing in that space of beauty. I write about wars, about fantasy—I know how well words can form weapons. But I never imagined that I would hone my words so sharp. That they would turn against me. I tear my eyes away from the screen, my hands clenching and unclenching. I try to stitch myself together enough to move on and work on my next novel, but it doesn’t work. My seams are coming apart and my edges are fraying. Soon I will end up a tangle of thread. I try to breathe. In, out. Again and again and again, just like the way criticisms always end up burying the positivity.
Writing is living. It’s as if I am a shooting star, scattering light onto new worlds. But sometimes, it feels like a grave I’ve dug myself. The attention is the headstone on top, squashing out my screams. The voices at the back of my head. Telling me I am not good enough.
That I do not deserve this attention that crushes me and slowly, slowly pushes me under. That I do not deserve this life. I sigh, wrapping my arms around my legs. I rest my head on my knees and hope that the wall will swallow me up.
Lina comes breezing into my bedroom. “Mail!” she sorts through the bundle in her hand. She ignores my blotchy face, and I know it’s because she doesn’t know how to comfort me. “Lots for you, little writer.”
I uncurl my body and take the pile from her, almost gingerly. I wonder when receiving fan mail began to feel like accepting hot coals. I just don’t want to expect a calming pool and be met with a wall of flame. My sister sweeps back into the hallway. But before she leaves, she does something. Lina reaches out. She shuts my laptop with a flick of her hand. The lid closes with a small crash.
In the absence of my debilitating reviews, I feel as if I can breathe again. I shake myself and open the first letter. A whirlwind of colour peeks out. I recognise fan art of my favourite original character, Elliya. I smile tentatively. I have to admit she’s a self-insert character. She struggles with her identity and eventually learns to accept herself. So why can’t I? Elliya’s smiling face looks out at me, her signature red hair curling around her shoulders. Under my star’s glow, she came alive. I can be like her. Perhaps the internet is a web, but if so, it is just the night sky, falling, a web of shooting stars.
I am a star, and I am enough.