Book Review: “Before We Get Started,” by Brett Lott

Bret Lott’s Before We Get Started was published in 2005. The book’s subtitle, A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life, sets forth Lott’s goal in providing practical advice to current and would-be writers alike. The book is a collection of essays Lott has written about various themes and challenges in writing, and his personal experiences provide the framework from which he advises and teaches readers. Lott tackles the practical subjects of rejection, the perils of too much technique, time management, motivation, and creative inspiration. Writing as art is a central theme throughout his book, and he stresses the impossibility of defining a simple formula to writing success. To Lott, the way to write can be found only in the writer’s heart, and the writer has an obligation to do everything in his or her power to learn to write well.

Before We Get Started is at once a fairly cerebral account of what it is like to be a professional writer and a plea to readers to follow their guts and approach the art of writing with abandon and perseverance. Lott pulls no punches when he tells of his personal experience attempting to become published early in his career, when he was not yet writing at a level of quality that deserved publishing. He talks of an epic turning point in his writing life when he is told by a professor in his MFA program that while the professor sees no reason for Lott to leave the program, he also sees no reason for him to stay in the program. It is a moment that shatters Lott’s dreams then serves to motivate him to break through the superficial find his real voice.

Lott is blunt about the difficulty of making it in publishing, but he does a good job of dividing the act of writing from the business of publishing in such a way that should encourage a beginning writer to write simply for the sake of writing – because it is a passion. He implores the reader to learn to write well before pursuing publishing, and then get ready for rejection after rejection, but to never stop trying until those rejections turn into acceptances.

Lott pays tribute to the people in his life that have been instrumental in his writing journey, including his family, friends, various professors and mentors, and other authors whose writing inspires him. The stories he shares help the reader to see the importance of the entire personal ecosystem in his or her development as a writer. Lott’s passion is evident throughout the book, and provides a realistic and motivating, if sometimes intimidating, picture of “the writer’s life.”

About the Author
From the book: Bret Lott is the author of the novels A Song I Knew by Heart, Jewel (an Oprah’s Book Club selection in 1999), The Man Who Owned Vermont, and The Hunt Club; the story collections A Dream of Old Leaves and How to Get Home; and the memoir Fathers, Sons, and Brothers. From 1986 to 2004 he was writer in residence and professor of English at the College of Charleston in Charleston, South Carolina; he was also a professor in the low-residency MFA program at Vermont College from 1994 to 2003. He and his wife now live in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he is the editor of The Southern Review and professor of English at Louisiana State University.

Book Information
Paperback, 210 pages
Publisher: Ballantine Books
Price: $13.95
ISBN-10: 0345478177

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