One Writer’s Brain: Joshua Kehe

1. What was the most difficult writing situation you’ve had to deal with?

First semester of my Freshman year in college I had to write an annotated bibliography in Turabian for an Art History course. Having no idea what either an annotated bibliography or Turabian style was, I was a bit in over my head. To this day, I still have an unhealthy fear of Turabian. Slightly less fear for annotated bibliographies (this particular class had some extensive requirements for the annotations; so much so that I haven’t seen such requirements since), but it’s still there.

2. Do you write to learn, or do you only write to communicate with others?

I don’t think it’s possible to write without learning something about yourself. Writing is such a strange mix of conscious intentions and unconscious revelations blending together even as you pour the words out onto the page. I’ll start out writing something with certain thoughts in mind, and then halfway through I’ll look at it and think “Where did that come from?” It’s exciting when I can see what I truly think, feel, and believe rising up out of whatever detritus I initially found compelling.

3. If you could improve the world’s writers, what specific area would you address first?

Reading. Everybody needs to read. Constantly. This stretches from improving literacy rates in developing nations to encouraging people in the West to make time for books. Reading seems to have been regarded as an unnecessary luxury when compared with work, family, food, shelter, video games, and movies, but continued interest in the written word is essential to our development as both individuals and as a society.

Now, more in accordance with the question: Stephen King says, in his book On Writing, “If you don’t have the time to read, you don’t have the time (or tools) to write. Simple as that.”

That parenthetical statement is so key. I firmly believe that writing is best learned implicitly, absorbing the rules and idioms through our surroundings, rather than explicitly through grammar lessons. I’ll agree that grammar is necessary to learn, but it’s not where you start, and it’s also not where you go to deepen your knowledge of writing. Understanding the difference between a subject, a verb, and how they relate to one another does not show you the effects that placement can have upon the reader. It does not explain how you should construct a well-reasoned argument. It does not teach you how to evoke certain emotions or memories in the reader. Grammar is the skeleton of writing — dry and lifeless without the muscles of word choice, the nerves of a well-structured organization, and the heart of evocative imagery. These things you learn by reading.

4. What is a weakness you have as a writer?

Confidence in my own work. Almost every time I try to write something — whether for class, work, or my own pleasure — I spend almost as much time judging, critiquing, and worrying over my writing as I do actually writing. More often than not, the concern is unfounded. Sure, it’s bad on the first draft. That’s as it should be. But there’s always a solid foundation ¬†there that usually excites me to continue working on the piece, making my earlier stress a bit pointless in the end. After all, that’s why we invented the second draft.

5. What question would you have liked us to ask you (about writing or reading)?

Nothing comes to mind.

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