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Steering the Craft: Exercises and…
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Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the… (1998)

by Ursula K. Le Guin

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Profound insights on writing presented with grace, charm and wit.

Ursula Le Guin describes Steering the Craft, A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story, as “A handbook for storytellers - writers of narrative prose and not for beginners.”
Indeed, it is not a book for beginners as much of what she addresses would be beyond the comprehension of novices. What it does concentrate on are those problems that challenge writers and impede the tone an flow of the narrative.
For example, she asks you to listen to the sound of your writing which involves diction and syntax.
Sophisticated consideration is given to verbs: person and tense, as well as point of view and changing point of view.
Indirection narration or what tells including avoiding expository lumps is discussed in depth.
There’s an excellent chapter entitled Crowding and Leaping which involves the necessity of focusing on some areas while leaping ahead in other parts while still following a fixed trajectory.
Steering the Craft is primarily a workbook with “exercise consciousness-raisers that aim to clarify and intensify your awareness of certain elements of prose writing and certain techniques and modes of storytelling."
These exercises are challenging but illuminating. I particularly benefitted from one called A Terrible Thing to Do that involved writing a narrative of about 500 words and then cutting it by half still keeping the narrative clear and not replacing specifics by generalities.
The book also includes the best advice I’ve read on running peer group writing workshops.
This slim volume has profound insights on writing and presents them with grace, charm an wit. The goal, according to the author, is to help you develop skills that free you to write want you to write.
Or as Le Guin puts it so that you’re “ready to let the story tell itself; having the skills, knowing the craft so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.” ( )
  RodRaglin | Jul 24, 2018 |
Well-known author Ursula K. Le Guin conducted a writer's workshop she turned into this book. Each chapter bears a theme with literary examples, mostly from works in the public domain, and exercises for aspiring writers to complete. She occasionally recommends other sources, such as Strunk and White, to fill a gap in the reader's writing process knowledge. Although individuals may wish to complete the exercises on their own, a writing group probably provides the greatest benefit by providing feedback from others. Le Guin includes helpful appendices on using the book in a peer group and on verb tenses. She also supplies a brief glossary. Some exercises could benefit from more detailed instructions as some did not seem clear to me as I read them. This review pertains to the 1998 edition of the book rather than the 2015 revision and update. ( )
  thornton37814 | Jun 5, 2018 |
I actually started working through this book with a small writing group. We made it to lesson 7 before stalling out, and I decided to finish reading the book solo without continuing the exercises.

I'm an experienced author with two series with a Big 5 publisher, a Nebula nomination, and a whole lot of publications with my byline. This book taught me something new in every chapter. For me, a great deal of writing is intuitive. I don't know all of the rules of grammar, and I still shudder at the thought of the diagramming I did in 8th grade. Le Guin gently explains matters like pacing and points of view and shares fantastic examples, and she gives names to the techniques that I utilize in ignorance.

This is a book that really should be done in a small writing group; there is a lot to be gained through sharing different approaches to the exercises and discussing why some of them are incredibly challenging. Highly recommend this to all writers who want to push themselves to learn more about their craft. ( )
2 vote ladycato | Oct 23, 2017 |
I read sections of this book and was very impressed. Good actionable advice from a master. I found the sections on voice and tense to be particularly helpful. The second edition has just been released and I have a copy on hold at Powells. ( )
  nngrey | Jan 13, 2017 |
A really useful book for advanced writers. I think you need to have been writing for a while to be able to enjoy this book fully. ( )
  Hessius | Dec 4, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Ursula K. Le Guinprimary authorall editionscalculated
Winter, KerstinTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0933377460, Paperback)

Ursula K. Le Guin's extraordinary writing primer is full of charm, wit, and opinion. Le Guin likens writing to "steering a craft," and as one reads through this volume, one has the sense of floating down a river, with the waves of Le Guin's words lapping at one's craft. Le Guin veers sharply from the mainstream of contemporary writing manuals by challenging their very definition of story. While it is common to "conflate story with conflict," Le Guin writes, she finds that limiting. "Story is change," she says. While that change may be the result of conflict, it is just as likely to evolve from "relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, [or] parting." Le Guin demonstrates this complexity with well-hewn excerpts from the works of such writers as Jane Austen, Mark Twain, J.R.R. Tolkien, Charlotte Brontë, and especially Virginia Woolf. The many aspects of fine fiction writing Le Guin addresses here include the role of the narrative sentence (its "chief duty [is] to lead to the next sentence--to keep the story going"); avoiding exposition doldrums ("break up the information, grind it fine, and make it into bricks to build the story with"); and the concept of "crowding and leaping." While prose should be "crowded with sensations, meanings, and implications," don't forget that "what you leave out is infinitely more than what you leave in."

Accompanying Le Guin's text is a handful of clever writing exercises, each as enticing as its name. Among them are "I am García Márquez," which requires writing with no punctuation; "Chastity," which challenges one to write without adjectives or adverbs; and "A Terrible Thing to Do," which proposes taking an earlier exercise and cutting it--by half. --Jane Steinberg

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:03 -0400)

One of the great writers of the twentieth century offers an exhilarating workout for writers of narrative fiction or nonfiction. With her sharp mind and wit and a delightful sense of playfulness, Le Guin has turned a successful workshop into a self-guided voyage of discovery for a writer working alone, a writing group, or a class. Steering the Craft is concerned with the basic elements of narrative: how a story is told, what moves it and what clogs it. This book does not plod through plot, character, beginning-middle-and-end. Nor does it discuss writing as self-expression, as therapy, or as spiritual adventure. Each topic includes examples that clarify and exercises that intensify awareness of the techniques of storytelling.… (more)

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