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Tag Archives: Coleridge

Last week, I talked about getting started again after a long break. I did start again, but I am in the middle of writing a scene I absolutely hate, and I am not sure if that means the idea behind the scene stinks, or if my writing stinks and the idea is good, or what. So I am going to finish writing the scene, gritted teeth and all (my heroine DOES get to knock someone out, which is cool, but the hero doesn’t arrive until later, late bastard), but meanwhile, my brain has been doing its best to keep me away from productive time at the keyboard.

So I’ve pulled out a fun book to browse through, Nicholas ParsonsThe Book of Literary Lists (I cited a Barbara Cartland quote on my own Diary yesterday; click here to read it). And discovered this:

Samuel Taylor Coleridge‘s Four Classes of Book Reader

Sponges, who absorb all they read and return it nearly in the same state, only a little dirtied.
Sand-glasses, who retain nothing, and are content to get through a book for the sake of getting through the time.
Strain-bags, who retain merely the dregs of what they read.
Mogul diamonds, equally rare and valuable, who profit by what they read, and enable others to profit by it also.

I wish I were a mogul diamond, but I think I must confess to being a sponge: I read a lot, and don’t always think too hard about what I’ve just read. Sometimes I read just to keep my mind occupied, sand-glass style, but I do retain more than nothing. My mom is a sand-glass–she can barely remember what’s happening WHILE she’s reading the book, but she reads all the time, and is an even faster reader than me, and I am pretty darn fast.

So–do you think Coleridge is right in his categories? What kind of reader are you? And, as a bonus question, if you were to read a scene where the previously meek heroine decks a guy, would you hate it?

Thanks for sharing–


I recently read THE IMMORTAL DINNER, by Penelope Hughes-Hallett, subtitled “A Famous Evening of Genius and Laughter in Literary London”. The book centers around a dinner party held by painter Robert Haydon whose guest list included John Keats, William Wordsworth and Charles Lamb. There’s lots of interesting background information on the participants and their contemporaries.

For example, there’s an account of Coleridge composing poetry “in walking over uneven ground, or breaking through the straggling branches of a copse-wood” while Wordsworth preferred “walking up and down a straight gravel-walk, or in some spot where the continuity of his verse met with no collateral interruption.”

Maybe it’s presumptuous, but I love it when I read about famous writers with similar habits to mine. “Thinking walks” are part of my own writing process. I’m more like Wordsworth–I like a reasonably level path, to keep my mind free to focus on my story–which is a good thing as copse-woods are scarce in my neighborhood.

Another account that made me smile was this one by Marianne Knight, one of Jane Austen’s nieces. “I also remember how Aunt Jane would sit quietly working (which meant sewing) beside the fire in the library, saying nothing for a good while, and then would suddenly burst out laughing, jump up and run across the room to a table where pens and paper were lying, write something down, and then come back across to the fire and go on quietly working as before.”

I always keep a writing pad in my purse, one by my bedside, and one on the kitchen counter for just that reason. Ideas don’t always come while I’m actively writing–perversely, some of the best ones come when I’m doing something else. Perhaps it’s because sewing and walking, both rhythmic activities, loosen up the creative process for me as they do for other artists I know.

Do you have any favorite accounts of famous writers’ processes? Are there any quirky habits you use that help you be creative, whatever your field of endeavor?

And to anyone who sees a woman striding through a neighborhood muttering to herself, remember she may not be crazy. She may just be a writer. 🙂


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