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Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew Paperback – April 1, 1998

ISBN-13: 978-0933377462 ISBN-10: 0933377460 Edition: 1st

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 180 pages
  • Publisher: The Eighth Mountain Press; 1st edition (April 1, 1998)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0933377460
  • ISBN-13: 978-0933377462
  • Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 10.4 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #113,520 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

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

From Library Journal

Le Guin (The Left Hand of Darkness, Walker, 1994), the author of more than 30 novels, short stories, poetry, children's books, and essays, demonstrates here why she is a master of her craft. The title refers to a workshop she gave at the Flight of the Mind in 1966; collected here are the discussion topics and exercises for self-guided study. Although she focuses on the technical aspects of writing, Le Guin's skill pushes this beyond a handbook or style manual. Through "opinion pieces" about specific concerns, through her eclectic selections of writing to illustrate various techniques and the progression of exercises crafted to give experience to the novice and to flex the muscles of more seasoned writers, Le Guin's style is warm and encouraging, yet her standards of what turns writing into art are clearly defined and never compromised. A separate section covers collaborative workshops and "peer review" groups, offering sound suggestions for making the time spent both productive and challenging. Highly recommended.?Denise S. Sticha, Seton Hill Coll. Lib., Greensburg, PA
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Customer Reviews

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Ursula Le Guin has certainly won a fan in Texas.
M J Henry
The exercises in this book are challenging and are geared for both individual study and writers groups.
Linda Yezak
I would strongly advise this book to anyone who wants to improve their story writing skills.
Avid Reader

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

70 of 71 people found the following review helpful By A. Wolverton VINE VOICE on December 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
Very, very few writers these days will share their knowledge of how to <really> become better writers. Many will write books on how to sell what you've written or how to write novels that will fly off the shelves, but few provide any real, practical information on how to hone the craft of writing. Let such things not be said about Ursula K. Le Guin.
Le Guin says that while the "gift" can't be earned, the craft of writing can. All artists practice and work at their craft: musicians, painters, sculptors, dancers....even writers. The craft can be developed and Le Guin shows us how.
You won't find any pie-in-the-sky philosophies about writing in this book, just practical information which, if followed, will make you a better writer. Le Guin's chapters include:
The Sound of Your Writing
Sentence Length and Complex Syntax
Repetition
Adjective and Adverb
Point of View and Voice
Changing Point of View
and much more.
Each chapter contains writing exercises specific to the chapter topic. (Le Guin also suggests many titles for further reading.) This book will become a gold mine to any writer of fiction or creative non-fiction. It's the perfect book to use for a writers' group or peer group. Thank you, Ms. Le Guin, for sharing your gift with us.
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36 of 37 people found the following review helpful By Susan K. Perry on March 11, 2000
Format: Paperback
Steering the Craft is useful for anyone engaged in creative writing, whether the outcome is fiction or narrative nonfiction. Her exercises are meant to be consciousness-raisers, says LeGuin, whom I interviewed for my own bestselling WRITING IN FLOW, and whom I found to be quite forthcoming about her writing process. In this book, for instance, she covers how to show characters thinking, shifting points of view, the uses of repetition, and so on. Although I normally don't care for exercises as such, hers are fresh and flexible (write a page of descriptive narrative without adjectives or adverbs or dialogue; you can do this as part of whatever you're working on). An original contribution to the advice field.
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18 of 19 people found the following review helpful By Dingbats on March 13, 2003
Format: Paperback
"Steering the Craft" is a surprisingly good and practical book on creative writing. I was surprised because books and essays on writing by established authors can be downright patronizing and intentionally vague. Le Guin, on the other hand, uses lucid language and a gentle tone to explain the essential elements of good prose writing. The examples she uses are eye-opening, perhaps because I keep seeing the same examples from the same group of contemporary authors in most recent books on writing. Her exercises are also innovative, especially those intended to help fiction writers recognize the subtle "music" in prose, and how that is different from poetry. Scattered throughout the book are several opinion pieces where Le Guin discusses various trends in contemporary prose writing. This is where you decide whether her book is right for you--Le Guin definitely has some strong views: she believes that immediacy of the present tense narrative is an illusion and is equally skeptical about hybrid genre prose. If you are in agreement with her or can live with those views, then I have no qualms about recommending this little gem.
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14 of 14 people found the following review helpful By David on April 4, 2001
Format: Paperback
If you want to start writing, this is the book that will help you start. Ursula Le Guin is an excellent author and she gives great advice to those who want to be one. She includes several exercises to help you start writing and she gives excellent tips to help improve technique. She also gives several examples of what good writing looks like and how to get there.
If you don't want to write, this is still great reading because as you read this book you will also gain a better appreciation for good writing, plus, Le Guin's writing is, as always, exceptional and fun to read.
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11 of 11 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 15, 1999
Format: Paperback
Steering the Craft combines the basics that you left in high school English, along with the exercises to get you to take a risk and write. Some exercises lead you into using a different voice, perspective or tense. Other exercises release your inhibitions, and kick you into quick improvisation. You will get something from this book!
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 31, 2003
Format: Paperback
I've been a big fan of Ms. LeGuin's for a very long time. This book on the craft of story telling has been extremely helpful. I'm a lawyer and I write stories on behalf of endangered species every day: now I hope to write them better! I strongly advise a re-read of Strunk and White (I've found used copies for about 85 cents in San Francisco) in conjunction with her book.
If you're a LeGuin fan, just read it for pure enjoyment. I think every book reveals something of an author, and everything she reveals is delightful, intricate, and honest.
If you're interested in developing your writing skills, this is a great lesson and excersice book. But don't expect her to be easy on on you: she'll hold you to a hight standard! She will also get you thinking about language as an art, which is a good thing.
Let out your sheets and run downwind with this gem.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Eilis Ferreira on July 1, 2010
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
It is a concise, but rich experience in learning and practicing the craft of writing, and of all of my writing books, a favorite. Some of the specific things I love about it are

a) her genuine enthusiam for writing and for literature sparkles off the page. She takes writing very solemnly as an art but also as something fun and delightful and playful, and her love for it is infectous and inspiring.

b)the many examples, from a wide variety of sources. There is some Tolkien, some Virgina Woolf, some Gertrude Stein, some Kipling, some Twain. A great variety to show writers how things have been well done by previous writers.

c) she has a very open, creative mind, and hands you all the tools to write in many different ways, rather than according to a narrow perscription of "rules" that excludes some tools (for example, certain POVs) in favor of others.

d) her general philosophy of writing, story, and of the use of language rings true.

e) her openness and her wide variety of examples and excersizes are helpful for learning to find your own voice as a writer and stretch it. She shares what she knows to help you develop yourself, but she does not teach you to write just like Ursula K. LeGuin. She is not condescending, not a do-it my way captain, rather she feels like a fellow crewmember on the craft, although one who has been on many many more voyages.

This is not a book if you want 10 Rules for Instant Bestselling Fiction. But it is an excellent book if you want to put in the work to develop your craft and find your own voice as a writer. I find that I return to this book again and again.
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