The Story Within: New Insights and Inspiration for Writers, is Laura Oliver’s practical guide to writing. It deals with the act of writing, the business of being a writer, and the social/psychological agitation of being a writer (or being one of those people who is afraid to call themselves a writer, but writes all the time anyway—“don’t worry, I know it’s not marketable”/”I … dabble”/”I wouldn’t… heh heh… call myself a writer, exactly…” etc).
This book isn’t a gripping thrill-ride. It’s a for-real guidebook that gets into the mundane, nitty-gritty of writing. It plods slowly, methodically, and carefully through every step of the writing process, giving hints, anecdotes, inspiration, and advice along the way. The book covers pretty much all aspects—why people write, why people who want to write don’t, the issue of plotting, finding your individual voice, finding your genre, editing (grossgrossgross), dealing with reader-friends, and even publishing. Oliver’s got a sweet voice—she’s motherly and caring, and you feel like she really does believe that YOU, Oh Reader, wherever you are, can be a real Writer, maintain your mental health and a social life (say what? I don’t have to be an alcoholic, chain-smoking, misogynist hermit-beast to be a writer?! Apparently not) while you do it, and that writing can be taught.
Like I said, that’s very very sweet of her. And she’s very consistent and giving in her message—you can write, everyone has a story to tell, etc. And the book really does include implementable, step-by-step guidelines for increasing the amount that you write, the frequency with which you write, and the frequency with which you submit your writing (either for publication, to groups/seminars, or to reader-friends). But it’s all comes down to the reader/potentialwriter, doesn’t it? The information is there—what are you going to do with it?
If you’re a critical person/writer, like me, sometimes it’s hard to believe that everyone who wants to can write, that writing can be taught (especially by a guide book that can’t read your writing or give you an evaluation), and that you have something unique to say (or an interesting enough way to say it). Anxiety/Self-Deprecation/Horrible Spiral Time!!! And if you’re already one of those people that’s shown your writing to other people only to come away with that sick/frustrated/slimy feeling that they didn’t get it, or that they missed something, or that the things they didn’t like were The Point, or that they’re just yessing you because they’re a friend and believe that the best thing to do is hollowly support you, this book can feel like that.
If, however, you’re not a crazy cocktail of perfectionist and judge-machine (bravo, look at you being a rational, well-adjusted, and functioning human), you want to write, and you’re looking for practical advice on where to start, as well as support for your ambition—read this book. Take notes in it (or post-it pages, if you’re a wuss about writing in books), dog-ear pages (or use bookmarks. FINE), and keep it where you write/on your person always.
On a less Borah-should-be-in-a-mental-facility/dramatic note: If you’ve already taken a lot of creative writing classes with supportive teachers, this book can also feel like a simple rehashing of familiar turf (except for the publishing part. I don’t know about you, but I’ve never had a creative writing class that addressed the issue of publishing). If you’ve only taken creative writing classes with teachers/peers who seemed to hate you, read this as a means of therapy.
I think what it comes down to is this (Time for a quiz! I hope you’ve been paying attention):
Q: Do you want to write/be a writer?
a. If No, then what the fuu….? This book is not for you, my friend. Do not pass Go, do not collect $200, just put this book back on the shelf and get something else that you’re actually interested in.
b. If Yes, then the question becomes:
Q2: Can you read this book without getting cranky, immediately discarding the information as either trite/unrealistically optimistic, or muttering to yourself “yeah, right” as you read?
a. If Yes—Good. Grab this book, read it, and be on your merry, mentally stable way, ya freak.
b. If No—Fair. This book is not for you (but you probably already know that). And hopefully you already have your next move all lined up (at least, writing-career-wise). Good luck, and Godspeed. At the very least, know that you’re not alone (Major Issues, reporting for duty, SIR!)*.
*AND, that if you ever do turn sentimental/decide that maybe a little unconditional support wouldn’t actually be so bad, The Story Within will still be on the shelf, waiting for you.