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 my undergraduate years related to writing poetry, and I read a number of books/essays that were dedicated to literary theory and process that, for lack of better terms, shook me at my core in terms of my writing. For many years, it never occurred to me to actually look at the process of how I wrote, how I came up with ideas, how I chose to develop those ideas and why. Lo and behold, the amount of material that I read on several poets that I either knew and/or loved regarding their process gave another dimension to learning how to develop one’s craft. Thus, I really like reading books on literary theory, where our creativity derives and the process for writers.
The organization and balance of Emerson’s reflections that Richardson brings to this brief work is quite on point. On equal planes, “First We Read, Then We Write” is a biographical account as well as a loose writing guide. Not so much a how-to book as much as it is an examination into one writer’s process that I think people could take notes about and perhaps examine their own methods from. It cites several of Emerson’s own thoughts about his reading habits (his dislike of passive reading and his immersion in a wealth of topics, for example), the construction of his sentences, his mindfulness of his respective audience, among other subjects of valuable consideration for a writer.
In short, this work on Emerson’s process is a gem, and one I thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend.
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley from the publisher University of Iowa Press.