Want to be a Writer?
So, you want to be a writer? Have a read of our interview with Maisha J. Johnson which we hope will give you some tips and ideas on how to pursue your dream.
Maisha Z. Johnson is a writer, activist, and a troublemaker (her words!) of Trinidadian descent. She has a Master’s Degree in Poetry from Pacific University, and she studied creative writing at San Francisco State University. Through writing and workshops, Maisha lifts up voices of those who are often silenced, including LGBTQ people, people of colour, and survivors of violence. Her work has been published in numerous journals and nominated twice for a Pushcart Prize. We speak from experience when we say: her poetry is really good.
What is your field of work/study?
I’m a freelance writer and creative facilitator working with the connections between self-expression, healing, and social change. I do writing and editing of poetry, fiction, and personal essays. And I lead writing workshops and arts and healing workshops to help people cultivate the personal growth and community change they want. I’m involved in activism in racial justice and LGBTQ liberation movements, and I consider my writing and community workshops to be part of my activist work.
What is your job like?
My job varies a lot from day to day. I spend a lot of time alone at my computer writing and editing, and I also get to spend time in groups of inspiring people like survivors of violence, drawing connections between the ways we share our stories and our power to create the world want to live in.
I have some regular gigs, like maintaining my personal and professional blogs, and blogging for Pyragraph, an online magazine for creative professionals. I also do weekly Writing, Storytelling, and Theatre workshops with elementary school students at Streetside Stories, and facilitate groups with incarcerated women with Fired Up!, a program of California Coalition for Women Prisoners.
And I spend the rest of my time getting creative about how I want to craft my career – putting together curricula, reaching out to organizations and other artists I’d like to collaborate with, and writing and submitting creative work for publication to get my own voice out into the world.
When did you decide to pursue a career in writing and creative facilitation and what made you want to be a writer?
I’ve always wanted to be a writer, ever since the urge first hit me in second grade. But even though I knew it was my greatest passion, for most of my life, I didn’t consider writing as a career. There were many reasons that I held back, including that I didn’t think it was possible or practical for a black woman to be a professional writer, and at first I wasn’t exposed to many people like me who were doing what I wanted to do.
But luckily, all that changed. Once I learned about freelancing, I realized it was possible for me to have the career I wanted by putting it together myself. I’ve always been involved in some form of creative work and healing work, and this year, I made it official by joining the parts of my work under my own project, Inkblot Arts.
What were your favourite subjects in secondary school? What was did you study at university?
In high school, I loved English – my love for written words was already part of me by then. And the bug followed me to San Francisco State University with an undergraduate degree in English with a Creative Writing emphasis. I also took a lot of classes in areas like Sociology and Womens’ Studies. I spent a lot of time trying to find something more “practical,” convinced there was no money in my interests, but I never found anything else to focus on. And then I got an MFA in Poetry from Pacific University.
Who are your personal heroes?
I’m lucky enough to have lots of my personal heroes in my own community, who show with the work they do and the lives they lead that my dreams are possible. People like Sonya Renee Taylor of The Body is Not An Apology, Jen Cross of Writing Ourselves Whole, and Fired Up!‘s incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, fighting for their lives.
Do you have any advice for young students who might want to be a writer?
Don’t feel limited by the options you see in front of you. It’s important to study the subjects that’ll give you a solid foundation for building the life skills you need. Know that those are only a starting point, and the possibilities for where they might lead are all yours. Find ways (like reading, volunteering, and attending arts events) to get exposed to a variety of things, and the possibilities will grow even more.