F is for… First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process (Book) #AtoZChallenge

F is for… First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process (Book)

Picture of my copy from my tumblr

I have read the whole of this book over the last couple of days (it is only short – about 90 pages of writing in total). In terms of Goodreads, I have given it three stars (which according to my sidebar means – Liked it (I enjoyed it enough and may read it again but it didn’t fully grab me)). Now, this probably isn’t really all that far because it is kind of an academic type text so it was always going to be trickier to get a 4 or 5 star rating (though on the other hand there have been some academic texts I have wanted to – or possibly even have – kissed!!). In terms of my PhD – it has a few potentially useful bits in there.

This is a concise book written by Robert D. Richardson which combines an biographical ‘study’ of the writings on writing of the poet and essayist Ralph Waldo Emerson, with some snippets from Emerson’s writings/journals etc. It is split into 12 short sections such as ‘Reading’, ‘Sentences’, ‘Audience’ and ‘Writing’.

I enjoy reading writers writings about writing (!!!) and that is what attracted me to this book. I guess then that I felt that there wasn’t enough of that and too much analysis (see I said I was being unfair). I also didn’t really know anything much about Emerson and didn’t feel I truly got to know him from this book. Funnily enough after struggling with the Dialogism book some of what was said in this book I made links back to that which helped with my comprehension.

That being said I will share with you a few snippets/quotes that I enjoyed and that speak to my experiences.

‘He generally took more books out of the library than he was able to read before they were due back.’ (p.8)

Emerson once noted that Coleridge had identified four classes of readers:
The hourglass – gives back everything it takes in, unchanged
The sponge – gives back everything it takes in, only a little dirtier
The jelly-bag squeezes out the valuable and keeps the worthless
The Golconda runs everything through a sieve, keeping only the nuggets. (p.8)
(Emerson was a Golconda and I’m not sure if I’m a sponge or Golconda – need to find out more about this – if you have any useful links which add anything please share them with me in the comments.)

‘Each of the books I read invades me, displaces me.’ (p.10)

‘He was reluctant to speak of the meaning of a book, and eager to affirm the idea that there would be as many meanings of a book as it had readers.’ (p.13)

‘Reading long at one time anything,…destroys thought as completely… Stop if you find yourself becoming absorbed.’ (p.15)(To Emerson reading was to be useful to his writing – personally I disagree and love nothing more than getting absorbed in a good book which can leave me thinking for ages afterwards if I let it).

‘The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when your arrows are spent.’ (p.24)

It appears he was a ‘pantser’ not a ‘planner’ (one in the quote referring to plan) – ‘The natural one will grow as you work.’ (p.25) (Mind you with poetry isn’t that easier?? I’m a pantser whatever so maybe there are some meticulous poetry planners out there – are you one?)

‘The most interesting writing…is that which does not quite satisfy the reader. Try and leave a little thinking for him…’ (p.36)

Richardson argues that Emerson’s essay ‘The Poet’ suggests that ‘…expression, including self-expression, is a basic human need, and is the fundamental function of literature.’ (p.71) (Interesting concept in terms of my planned research).

‘The real Emerson also knew that it required courage for anyone – but especially for a young person – to stand up and say publicly, “I will be a writer”.’ (p.84)

What Emerson poems do people recommend I read?
Do you relate to any of the quotes above?

(Snuck this post in at about a minute to midnight)

Posted on April 6, 2013, in April A-Z Challenge, Book Reviews, OT/Lecturing/PhD Reviews, PhD and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.

  1. I’ve never actually read much Emerson, and I’m not sure this would really be the read for me, although I do like some of the snippets you shared.

  2. This actually sounds pretty interesting. I just may have to check it out. Thanks!

  3. I didn’t know about this book but now I’m really curious about it. I love books on writing and this one intrigues me. Thanks for sharing about it!

  4. I’ve not read any Emerson, but this book sounds a bit like Stephen King’s book ON WRITING. The first half of the book is autobiographical, and is an interesting insight into King’s relationship with reading and writing and what he thinks influenced him. The second part is on the “craft”–how he goes about writing, his thoughts on various aspects of writing, and advice he would have to aspiring novelists. It’s the best book on the subject I’ve read–and I’ve read a few. 🙂

    • Yes I love that one too, in fact it will be my K post ;o)
      This is more academic textbook sounding though – not as accessible as King’s or today’s (G) book.

  5. The only time I read Emerson was in school. I remember his poems were good, the full length writings lost me.
    A to Z buddy
    Peanut Butter and Whine

  6. Hello! This sounds like a really interesting book. I love reading what writers have to say about writing, too. I’ll have to check this out from the library!

    Happy A to Z-ing! from Laura Marcella @ Wavy Lines

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