Before We Get Started by Bret Lott

Overview: This marvelous guide begins where other books on writing and the writing life leave off. Delving deep into the creative process, Bret Lott reveals truths we scarcely realized we needed to know but without which we as writers will soon lose our way. In ten intimate essays based on his own experiences and on the seasoned wisdom of writers including Eudora Welty, E. B. White, Henry David Thoreau, Henry James, and John Gardner, Lott explores such topics as

• why write? why keep writing?
• the importance of simple words
• the finer points of character detail
• narrative and the passage of time
• the pitfalls of technique
• making a plan–and letting it go
• risking failure–and reaping the benefits
• Accepting rejection

Writers travel alone, but Bret Lott’s book makes the journey less lonely and infinitely more rewarding. Before We Get Started will help you make your work as good as it can be: “Pay attention recklessly. Strain to see through the window of your own artistic consciousness in the exhilarating knowledge that there is no path to the waterfall, and there are a million paths to the waterfall, and there is, too, only one path: yours.” (taken from the back of the book)

Since I am currently preparing for an important exam, I thought this is a good chance for me to read those 200 page-ish books that has been sitting in my room for a while now. This memoir, Before We Get Started, happened to be beside that book that I wanted to check out in the library. Do you know that feeling you get when you go to the shopping mall and see this one bag telling you to pick her up? (Okay, maybe you don’t…but I swear…those bags…they speak to you!) I think this book was speaking to me 😛 I don’t know anything about Bret Lott nor his works before I read this. Perhaps it’s the fact that I haven’t read a memoir in I-don’t-even-know-how-many years that got me reading this. I don’t know.

I hoped that Bret Lott will know something since I don’t, at least something about writing because this is a memoir about a writer. However, he straight-up tells us that he doesn’t know how to write. In fact, the day when you think you know how to write will be the day when you stop discovering the limits and possibilities of words. Do not think that he will teach you how to write either, because writing can only be self-taught. No one can find meaning and the feeling for your writing except for you.

He suggested that many people are more interested in becoming a writer than the art of writing itself. That made me think of writing classes. Should we really take so many of them instead of just start writing? At one point he said that, “We learn techniques, I believe, because we fear the future.” We fear the future. We fear how other people will respond to our writing. In the process of that, we lose the joy of writing itself, because we are putting the wrong kind of attention on the wrong kind of things.

So just start writing! Attitude affects how a person writes immensely. You can look at this post, for example, and treat it as an opportunity to gain new ideas for your next post, or you can just simply say, “I don’t have time,” or, “I am having a writer’s block.” Do you see the difference? Procrastination is a writer’s worst enemy. Don’t try to find excuses for the delay of creating new contents.

This book also gives an encouraging view on getting rejected by the publishers, as well as good points on paying close attention to all the fine details of writing, because even those simple words can make a huge difference. I think that some points are being elaborated on too much, but I am just being a nitpick now. If you are a writer, consider picking up this book. ^_^

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5 responses to “Before We Get Started by Bret Lott

  1. I want to be a writer and I would probably pick this book up if you hadn’t summarised it so well 🙂

    • What I said was a small part of the book that stood out to me the most, mixed in with my own opinions. Lott also talks about why to keep writing, handling time, points about characterization, writing creative non-fiction, risking failure, accepting rejection etc. Hmm I probably should’ve added the synopsis on the back of the book which I am gonna do right now. Sorry for making you think that’s all there is to the book!

  2. This sounds like a great book. I’ve really been trying to improve my writing, so this sounds like just what I need.

  3. Thank you for the recommendation and the encouraging words! I will definitely check out the book.

  4. I’ve never… actually… **in a whisper** listened… to any writer’s advice, because I had already been doing it even before I heard it. I like to say that I was taught by Leo Tolstoy and JRR Tolkien and all other authors I like, and even some I don’t. Good writing is taught by example, and bad is taught by experience. 🙂 I call my writing “good” if it makes me laugh, which stinks if I’m trying to tell something serious.

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