Star Johnson: Why I write
I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer.
When I was a kid, I was very quiet. I walked through life with my thick glasses and bad hair - very muted, very controlled. Adults would comment that while I was bright and a good student, I was too quiet. Too quiet, I learned, was a very bad thing. So, sometime around junior high I joined the drama club and pretty quickly came out of my shell. Actually, I learned how to act like someone who’d come out of their shell. Soon everyone got off my back about being quiet. I learned to follow the flow of the current. It was a very masterful act and I would find myself proud that I was able to navigate social situations even though I was being completely unauthentic. This was important because this is also around the time that I began showing my writing to people. I always used to write short stories and poems and essays on what was happening at any given point in my little pre-pubescent life. And then I’d rip them up into very fine pieces and throw them away. When you’re raised in a family of six with very tight living quarters, someone is always finding something of someone else’s so you have to be careful. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a writer because I didn’t want to have to show anyone my work. I don’t even think there was a fear of people laughing at it or thinking it was subpar, my reasoning was more along the line of “This is my work. It belongs to me and I don’t want anyone else experiencing it but me.” When you share your work, you are no longer in control of the experience it evokes. That was terrifying for a shy, anti-social kid and it’s still terrifying to this day. But becoming more social helped me become better at sharing my work, my feelings and experiences with people. It started as an act and evolved into a genuine desire to connect with others.
I wrote a musical – my very first musical – that premiered in the Fringe Festival in Washington, DC this past summer and my biggest fear was realized when I had to send the script out to my actors. I reverted back to that quiet little girl. But in sharing it with the actors, composer, and eventually the audience, I learned something very important. Once you complete a piece of work and give it to the world, it’s not yours anymore. It belongs to your audience who can interpret it however they like. That’s disconcerting because it can be misunderstood, but it can also touch people in ways that you didn’t even anticipate. A big part of being a writer is relinquishing control, taking that chance and being okay with the outcome.
I write because I am happy when I am writing. Nothing else fills me with a greater sense of purpose. I will probably always have to work a little harder than most at connecting face to face but I am very happy to be once again learning to connect through sharing my work.