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First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson on the Creative Process

4.01  ·  Rating details ·  255 ratings  ·  52 reviews
Writing was the central passion of Emerson’s life. While his thoughts on the craft are well developed in “The Poet,” “The American Scholar,” Nature, “Goethe,” and “Persian Poetry,” less well known are the many pages in his private journals devoted to the relationship between writing and reading. Here, for the first time, is the Concord Sage’s energetic, exuberant, and unco ...more
Hardcover, 112 pages
Published March 16th 2009 by University Of Iowa Press (first published March 1st 2009)
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Average rating 4.01  · 
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Riku Sayuj
Dec 30, 2012 rated it really liked it
This excuses all the reading...
Oct 29, 2009 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: people who like Emerson
Shelves: non-fiction, writing
I skimmed over this book--it was interesting, but it seemed like the reader had to know and like Emerson in the first place in order to appreciate it. The author is a well-known biographer of Emerson, and I just couldn't share his passion without knowing much about Emerson myself. The ideas in the various chapters seemed a bit disjointed, too, as though the author was grasping for every tidbit from Emerson's journals and letters that might have to do with writing. I was hoping for a more gradual ...more
Aug 04, 2016 rated it really liked it
Reminded me of the magic of Emerson that I read in my 20s. The book is Emerson’s take on both reading and writing and the author (Richardson) takes us through some anecdotal advice that one of the brightest American minds ever ( in my opinion) has to give on these 2 important subjects. The book makes some interesting points:
• Emerson would read newspapers (unlike me) but also said that you shouldn’t read them in a great deal of depth. He never read them column by column and he realised that new
Dec 22, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those who like to have more insight into a writer's process
Recommended to Rose by: NetGalley, University of Iowa Press
Robert D. Richardson provides an insightful look into Ralph Waldo Emerson's writing process in "First We Read, Then We Write." I think those who highly regard Emerson's work as well as those who want insight into literary/creative techniques will find this book inspiring, especially since it covers many topics of use to any writer wanting to develop their own craft as well as learn how Emerson approached his own writing.

This book resonated with me in particular because I took a few classes in m
Jun 14, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Don't ask me why this book has escaped my attention for so long, seeing how much I love Ralph Waldo Emerson's work. While I already knew him as a wonderful poet, I admittedly haven't been all that familiar with his person and life.
In First We Read, Then We Write: Emerson On The Creative Process Robert D. Richardson presents a marvelous and engaging little manual digging deep into the central passion of Emerson's life, who was literally in love and addicted to books. Mainly focusing on the import
Rachael Quinn
Jul 20, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfiction
This was one of those books that absolutely wowwed me. I took it up north with me for the weekend along with my next book because I was worried that it would be too dry for me and I wouldn't care for it. I started it late at night after a couple of beers and found myself wanted to talk to somebody about how wonderful it was but deciding to reserve judgement until the following morning. The next day it went on a boat with me and I passed a few pleasant hours on a lake with a lovely book.

I have al
Jessie Turpin
Dec 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There are too many portions of this book I would like to quote. I have determined to read it again now that I have turned the last page on my first read-through. I knew buying this book was a good choice when the sales clerk had an ear-marked, highlighted, written-in, and heavily book-marked copy with her behind the counter. I was not disappointed! This little book is one of the best I’ve read in 2019. Written by a Ralph Waldo Emerson expert, on Emerson’s beliefs and practices found in his journ ...more
Jan Lynch
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: classics
Reading Richardson's work reminded me of Emerson's appeal, of why I found his ideas, and those of Thoreau and Whitman, so exciting as a teen. Emerson's wild optimism, his love of individual freedom, his trust in each person's ability to discriminate truth from falsehood and to delineate a spot of infinity for themselves--all of this makes for a thrilling brew. As a former English teacher and sometime writer, I enjoyed the focus on how Emerson viewed creativity, how he valued process over product ...more
Michelle Moloney King
Jan 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing
My review - taken from

This book will result in many paper-cuts; the words of Emerson are sinew and vascular, they fight to get up of the page and into the mind.

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

Emerson may be recalled as a granite bust, but, this study revives and reveals him to be the flesh and bone reading candour and writing valour embodiment that he encompasses.

We are privy to the thoughts, some taken from
Jade Eby
Sep 01, 2011 rated it really liked it
Originally published at my blog Chasing Empty Pavements

It was nice to break away from fiction for a bit and pick up something different. I thought maybe giving this book a try would relate to my writing classes I'm taking this semester. While not 100% as helpful as I would have liked, I did enjoy what Richardson was trying to get across. The cool thing about this book is that you learn almost as much about Ralph Waldo Emerson as you do the writing process. It's kind of amazing actually. When Ric
Elizabeth B
May 10, 2011 rated it liked it
A slim volume, this book is both a look into Emerson’s writing as well as a tool for aspiring writers. There are many books out there that covering the art of writing and this one offers nothing in that regard. However, for writers that enjoy Emerson, this book would be a good gift. It attempts to help the author emulate Emerson’s style which allows for little freedom in the reader’s own writing. While that may perhaps be what the reader wants, I found that I often felt like I was being preached ...more
Leonard Nakamura
Oct 02, 2016 rated it really liked it
Only 85 pages long, but Richardson's Emerson challenges us as readers and writers on every page. ...more
John Pistelli
I'm not sure I got what I was supposed to from this book, even as it is a book that argues for the rights of readers to get whatever they need from their reading. I think it is self-help for writers, less a collection of technical recommendations than a set of inspiring reflections on why we bother and how good it feels when it goes right. Unless you have a soul of steel, such books are necessary from time to time, and this works well in that genre. The quotations from Emerson, which take up muc ...more
Jun 24, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction-read
I enjoyed this book, a small compendium of Ralph Waldo Emerson's thoughts on writing, edited by one of Emerson's present-day biographers (and husband of author Annie Dillard).

I learned a lot about Emerson from reading this modest publication, as the author let Emerson speak for himself, rather than telling the reader what he said. I was very grateful for that.

The book has several chapters, some more practical than others. Some break down the actual structure of writing (there are chapters on "Wo
Jan 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A Fine Meditation on Reading, Writing and Emerson

I’ve just read a bit of Emerson, knowing more famous quotes than his actual work. This brings Emerson to life and provides a lovely mediation on how reading fuels writing and the value that Emerson saw in each of us as thinking, creative minds.
Jan 26, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2020
More a treatise on Emerson’s thoughts on writing than help with one’s writing.
Linda Black
Aug 28, 2020 rated it did not like it
Pathetic. Not worth finishing.
Bernard Davidow
Feb 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
Ostensibly a book about reading and writing, this little volume also serves as a wonderful introduction to Ralph Waldo Emerson.
Apr 24, 2021 added it
Felt that I learned more about Emerson than I did about writing, but I don't mind. ...more
Christopher Porzenheim
"Nothing astonishes men so much as as common sense and plain dealing." -Emerson

Concise, direct, and full of concrete practices and advice on how to write; First We Read, Then We Write is an exceptional book for a particular kind of reader.

If you are a writer, or aspiring writer, who reads large quantities of books, and has some familiarity with, or respect for Emerson, this book is a dream fulfilled.

If you do not have a burning interest, bordering on obsession, with either Emerson, reading larg
Mar 06, 2014 rated it really liked it
Great book for the time invested. It's a quick biography of his reading and thinking... not too much about the events in his life. It is obviously very quotable, and is great to get a piece of the relaxed, natural, individually focused transcendental ideas that Emerson is known for.

One thing I thought was interesting was his seeming emphasis on reader centrism rather than author's purpose. I would like to delve into these areas more. It seems like he would want people to recognize what the autho
Erick Romero
Aug 25, 2014 rated it liked it
I have never read any significant portion of anything Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote. Keep that in mind as I write about Richard D. Richardson's attempt to interpret Emerson's thoughts on the creative process.

My greatest hope in reading this book was that I would find some new inspiration on writing. I did not. Perhaps that was unfair of me but what else would be the point for me? My appetite for Emerson has already been whetted for years by hearing and reading quotes of his. And if I wanted to read
Oct 22, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2014
Emerson understood that the common man is capable of being a Shakespeare, a Milton, a Homer---this in keeping with the very American (Puritanical?) idea that a man makes his own greatness by self-discipline; that all of the inspiration and tools needed to make a destiny are out there, waiting to be claimed by inquisitive, diligent minds who will take the tools and inspiration and create acts of genius. (Whitman also championed the common man. And John Steinbeck. And Faulkner. That's always where ...more
Feb 05, 2010 rated it liked it
Might be a good companion to Emerson’s essays (esp “The Poet”); Richardson knows Emerson inside and out (has written a biography too); half the book is Emerson’s words; the lucid prose and structure—short, focused chapters like “Reading” and “Practical Hints”—reminds me of Mary Oliver’s POETRY HANDBOOK (and she endorses this bk).

The Emerson bits do read like a calendar of quotes at Barnes & Noble; the *sentence* is his unit, not the *paragraph*, and my favorite chapter in this book is “Sentences
Sep 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
To listen to Emerson is to catch fire.
(Paraphrasing the author)

This is a short book and didn't take very long to read but it had such a wealth of knowledge contained in its pages that it was better than a lot of longer books. The ideas crammed in here are also so weighty that you'll probably need a nap afterward (or at least I did). Ideas such as:
- a book is only great because it talks directly to the greatness in the reader, or that
- the only thing that's important is that a reader reads that
Feb 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers, readers
Shelves: journalism
A short book that packs a lot of information about writing and reading into a tiny package.

The book will probably be most fascinating to those who like a voyeristic look into how other writers do what they do best — How does Emerson read and write?

I am fascinated about learning how other writers view their craft and their practical advice for making it work, so this type of book is perfect for me. It also is short and sweet - instead of stretching the information into an academic article.

Not i
Nov 25, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2009
A short book (really a long essay) on Ralph Waldo Emerson's approach to the writing process and product, culled from his journal, letters, and essays. As an Emerson fan and an aspiring writer, I found it motivational, inspiring and fascinating.

I discovered this book through John Banville's review in the New York Review of Books (link to a preview of the review but a paid subscription is required to view it in its entirety).
Nicki Markus
May 11, 2011 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-non-fiction
I found this an enjoyable short read with many thought-provoking points for a writer.
Robert D Richardson Jr. has done an excellent job of drawing together Emerson's views and philosophies and has presented them in a concise and interesting way.
This is not a general book that will appeal to just anyone because of its very particular subject matter, but I think it will be of interest of many writers for its comments and ideas about the creative process and the nature of writing.

I received this ebo
aPriL does feral sometimes
Robert Richardson's short book is an extremely close look at Emerson's writings and comments about reading and writing, with enough biographical material to place Emerson's journal and papers extracts in context. While the novella-long essay is informative and occasionally thrilling when revealing bookish sentiments stated so beautifully by both Emerson and Richardson, I think this essay will be appreciated only by those of us with stacks of books all over the house and doing double service as f ...more
Buried In Print
Jan 04, 2012 marked it as sampled-tasted-dabbled
This review was deleted following Amazon's purchase of GoodReads.

The review can still be viewed via LibraryThing, where my profile can be found here.

I'm also in the process of building a database at Booklikes, where I can be found here.

If you read/liked/clicked through to see this review here on GR, many thanks.
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The son of a Unitarian minister, Robert Dale Richardson III grew up in Massachusetts and earned his bachelor's and doctorate degrees in English at Harvard University. Richardson taught at a number of colleges, including the University of Denver and Wesleyan University. ...more

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41 likes · 12 comments
“Enmerson's interest is in the workshop phase, the birthing stage of art, not the museum moment, the embalming phase. Poetry mimics Creation and is therefore sacred. More precisely, just as God may indeed be a verb (as Mary Daly insists), poetry is the act of creating. The process of poetry also mimics the process of nature. 'This expression or naming is not art, but a second nature, grown out of the first, as a leaf out of a tree. What we call nature is a certain self-regulated motion or change.' Another aspect of nature is genius, which, as Emerson observes, 'is the activity which repairs the decays of things.” 3 likes
“The first sentence of Ralph Waldo Emerson’s that reached me still jolts me every time I run into it. “Meek young men,” he wrote in “The American Scholar,” “grow up in libraries believing it their duty to accept the views which Cicero, which Locke, which Bacon have given, forgetful that Cicero, Locke, and Bacon were only young men in libraries when they wrote those books…” 1 likes
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