I chose his class because I loved Jewel. Guess who else loved Jewel? Oprah. She chose it as her book club selection in January 1999. The novel, set in post-World War II Los Angeles, is about a staunch mother named Jewel Hilburn and her family’s struggle in raising a Down’s syndrome child. The subject matter is a natural tearjerker, but Lott’s writing is poignant without being maudlin.
Lott’s class was the first fiction workshop I’ve attended. He’s the first best-selling author I’ve interacted with. As it turned out, he’s a very generous teacher and a genuinely warm person. For all of these reasons, I will always remember Brett Lott and his workshop fondly.
I read his book, Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life (2005), after I attended his workshop. It reinforced many things he taught us. I recently read the book again and I was struck by his thoughts on the subject of rejection.
Bret Lott’s “House of Rejection”
Lott says there are two places in which the writer lives. First and foremost is the home that is writing itself. Second, there’s the house that is the pursuit of publication. “And here’s what I know most intimately, and most truly, about the life of a writer. You will be rejected. Period,” he says.
Ouch! But hear him out because in this book he gives the reader a tour of his own house of rejection. When he was writing the book in 2004, he had just been rejected by a literary journal. It was rejection Number 597 for him. So, even though he had already published nine books at that point, including Jewel (1991), he was not beyond getting rejected. I was amazed that someone like him was still getting rejected and that he kept a tally of all the rejections he has received.
“I truly believe that dealing with rejection—indeed, embracing it—will be the make-or-break factor in one’s life as a publishing writer,” he says.
Lott makes it clear that building your house of rejection is predicated fully on the presumption that your work is the best you can possibly make it, and that you’ve been moved to write not in pursuit of fame or fortune or posterity, but because the work of writing is good work. In other words, your greatest reward for writing is writing itself.
“First spend the requisite retreat in that lean-to in the woods; find in the writing what you can take to the grave—that satisfaction of having done your best. And then, and only then, embrace rejection. Marvel at it; build that house. Take no for an answer, and then ask again and again and still again, until finally the answer is yes,” he writes.
If you’re looking for a writing memoir to read, I highly recommend “Before We Get Started: A Practical Memoir of the Writer’s Life.” To read more about Bret Lott, click here.
To learn more about Writers at Work Conference, click here.
“Desert” by Nina Fazzi. Copyright © 2014 by Nina Fazzi. All Rights Reserved.