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Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew (About Writing)

4.07  ·  Rating Details ·  1,700 Ratings  ·  179 Reviews
Ursula K. Le Guin generously shares the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime's work.
Paperback, 180 pages
Published April 1st 1998 by The Eighth Mountain Press
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On Writing by Stephen KingThe Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr.Bird by Bird by Anne LamottWriting Down the Bones by Natalie GoldbergEats, Shoots & Leaves by Lynne Truss
Best Books on Writing
64th out of 597 books — 1,072 voters
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9th out of 55 books — 44 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Mar 04, 2012 Eveningstar2 rated it really liked it
I'm pretty skeptical of books on writing, if only because everyone seems to have written one. And so many of them come at you with flashy promises: "Sell Your Novel In Thirty Days!"

Prior to having read LeGuin's "Steering the Craft," I relied on three books, more or less:

1. Strunk and White - Elements of Style
2. Stephen King - On Writing
3. John Gardner - The Art of Fiction

In that order. Strunk and White covered the bare bones fundamentals; King's book covers the creative process and Gardner gets
May 31, 2014 Suzanne rated it it was amazing
This was one of the first books I bought for myself when I decided to pursue fiction writing. It's also the only book from those early days that survived the recent culling of my writing book collection, because the exercises are well-suited to aspiring and seasoned writers alike. (The rest of those first books I picked up were very self-helpy. I liked some of them back then, but freewriting about your past only gets you so far, you know?)

Le Guin's focus with these exercises is wordsmithing. I'v
Sep 01, 2015 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Shelves: writing
Why don't I have a review here? Hmm. A review: I did every exercise in this book. I am a better writer for it. The end.
Nov 14, 2008 melydia rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers
The structure of this book is quite simple but surprisingly useful. Each chapter covers a certain aspect of writing (point of view, description, dialogue, etc.), beginning with a brief overview, giving sample passages from other works, and ending with an exercise. The exercise comes with critiquing suggestions for those writing in groups and things to consider for those working alone. The occasional opinion essay comes up now and again, always labeled as such, so you know when you're learning a ...more
Jun 04, 2008 Nikki rated it it was amazing
This book focuses more on style and playing with language than actually talking about plot. Each section contains some explanation about whatever point she's trying to make, some examples which she thinks exemplify that (and why), and then an exercise to try -- along with the suggestion to come back in a week and then think about a couple of points she raises afterwards. I both enjoyed and was challenged by the exercises, and though I don't think the results were the best things I've ever writte ...more
Ksenia Anske
Aug 30, 2016 Ksenia Anske rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A beautiful book. Packed with examples and exercises that help you create your own writing workshop covering everything from repetition to punctuation to prose economy to POVs to exposition to critiquing. A book to buy and keep and study; and pull out and do exercises when hopelessly stuck.
Malcolm Everett
Jan 15, 2016 Malcolm Everett rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
Ursula K. Le Guin is a seminal science fiction author, but admittedly I have not read any of her fiction. In fact, Dispossessed was one of six required novels for my comparative studies class, and it was the only text I couldn’t get through.

Still, Le Guin has a wealth of insight on the craft and presents interesting arguments about why certain techniques are more effective. For example, she suggests that writers practice “psychological displacement” by having a viewpoint character that holds dr
Sarah Schantz
Aug 21, 2016 Sarah Schantz rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This charming book on the craft of creative writing is a pure delight to read even as a now seasoned and published author and I only wish I'd encountered it earlier on when I was still a novice (although I recognized several bits of advice I've magpied from my mentors over the years who undoubtedly magpied it from Le Guin's, Steering the Craft). I sat down to read the book yesterday as it is the textbook for the fiction class I am gearing up to teach this semester at the community college where ...more
Oct 12, 2007 Wendy rated it really liked it
The book that will make you wish you could take a writing workshop with Ursula K. LeGuin.
Dec 06, 2015 Mike rated it really liked it
I've long admired Ursula Le Guin's writing, which manages to be simultaneously literary-not-pretentious and genre-not-cliched. So as part of my project of reading books on writing craft to improve my own writing, I picked up this little volume.

I'll admit that I have a bad habit of not doing the exercises, so I didn't get as much out of it as I perhaps could have. I applaud the general approach, though, of looking at the basic elements of writing (definitely including getting grammar and punctuat
David Contreras
Nov 19, 2014 David Contreras rated it liked it
Shelves: reviews
While I prefer intimate one-on-one conversations with writers on how and why they write, Le Guin's Steering the Craft is as good as any when it comes to writing formalism.

The Point of View and Voice chapter is absolutely essential. If you have the heart, the mercurial soul of a story, the rest can be tinkered and bartered with in the editing room. But POV and voice comes first, if not hand-in-hand with the essence of what you want to write. Without the how (whether you decide to write in the th
sarah gilbert
Jan 12, 2012 sarah gilbert rated it it was amazing
This book does so many things for me I may have to read over, and over, and over, bits and pieces all of the time. It is first a very practical book for a writer who needs practice. Indeed: exercises from this book sparked me into fiction writing, when I before had said that creative nonfiction was my only oeuvre.

It is second a beautiful book full of bright and sunny and thundering bits of Le Guin's personality. Much like Lamott's book, I feel that I am actually learning from her rather than ju
Halley Sutton
Jan 10, 2016 Halley Sutton rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Very practical, wonderfully snarky advice. Some of my favorite lines:

"Emoticons are dreary little excuses for a failure to communicate feelings and intentions in words."

"[Grammarians] declared that the pronoun 'he' includes both sexes, as in "If a person needs an abortion, he should be required to tell his parents." (With the proper context, this is more or less Ms. Le Guin telling misogynistic grammarians to GFTO, God bless her.)

I marked most of the writing exercises and know that I probably sh
Kris - My Novelesque Life
Mar 31, 2016 Kris - My Novelesque Life rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: writers
Written by Ursula K. Le Guin
1998 (2015 Reissue), 180 Pages
Genre: writing, nonfiction


Ursula K. Le Guin is an author of many books, essays and collections and now shares her advice to writers and readers on the art of writing. I enjoyed this book about writing as Le Guin provides examples as well as exercises. I would recommend this book to writers, readers and those interested in the craft of writing.

k (My Novelesque
Oct 29, 2015 Sheila rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction
Ursula Le Guin’s Steering the Craft is so much more than just another book on writing. This craft is a yacht steered on ocean waves, not a rubber toy bobbing in the tub. And this book is filled with wise advice, clear and well-described examples, and great exercises for people who don’t just want to write—they want to write well. It’s a book for people who love “the sound of language” and long to remove whatever is “ugly, unclear, unnecessary, preachy, careless... what doesn’t work” from their o ...more
Paula Cappa
Sep 10, 2015 Paula Cappa rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“Craft enables art.” This book brings the deepest understanding of how craft enables writers to elevate their writing beyond the mechanics and execution. Yes, Le Guin addresses danglers and misplaced modifiers and point of view issues. But she also speaks to the sound and beauty of language (especially style and rhythm) and how good writing skills free the writer to find the joy in writing. Every grammar bully should read this book.
Michael Mingo
Jan 11, 2016 Michael Mingo rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I feel that the early chapters of the book, particularly those dealing with grammar and punctuation, are too cursory to be of much use, or else get hung up on specific mechanical problems. The later chapters, though, go into enough depth to help teach the craft of storytelling; I plan on using the taxonomy of POVs in Chapter 7 ("Point of View and Voice") in the classroom this semester, and possibly excerpts from Chapter 10 ("Crowding and Leaping") as well.

Two elements elevate the book as a whole
Oct 06, 2015 Koeeoaddi rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Makes me wish I wrote fiction. Recommended to those who do!
Aug 14, 2010 Krys rated it it was amazing
I've read a lot of books about writing in the past year and a half, and this was one of the absolute best, most useful, least condescending, actually helpful.
Theresa Milstein
I never read the earlier edition, so I don't know exactly how it's changed. I assume the biggest part was at the end regarding critique groups.

I did all the exercises using excerpts from the manuscript I've been revising. The exercises helped me see the manuscript in a new way. I think I've gotten more out of this being a seasoned writer than if I were a new writer because there aren't lengthy explanations here. She gives many (longish) excerpts from classics to illustrate her points. But I don
Mar 08, 2015 Nicole rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites, nonfiction
Essential reading for writers.

It took me a while to get through this thin book, but that's because I took each exercise that Ursula K. Le Guin offers seriously. As of right now, the only exercise I haven't done is exercise 10, but I fully intend to get to it in the near future.

She is not messing around in this book. It talks about aspects of storytelling that are more complex than just plot and characters; some of them are facets I'm only just starting to consider and some are ones that didn't e
Mar 23, 2008 Sarah rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: writers
Recommended to Sarah by: Martine Leavitt
This book is full of practical exercises that Ursula Le Guin used in her writing workshops.
She said, “Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write. It may also show you what you want to write. Craft enables art.”

My favorite exercises:

Writing a long paragraph, about a page, without punctuation. (I wasn't sure I could do this.)
Writing a sentence longer than 300 words!
Verb tense exercise. I changed verb tenses within a narrative. (Wow. I now look at verb tenses from a different angle
May 01, 2016 puppy rated it it was amazing
Shelves: nonfic-writing
It's not often that you get lessons -- with practice exercises! -- from a master of the discipline. As another review mentioned, Steering the Craft is all about wordsmithing: rhythm, minimalism, precision. I'm always startled to remember that writing in a lot of ways feels like programming, but I'm also learning that it's less about the thing you're doing and more about how do you do it.

I skimmed this quickly, with the intent to return to it later to really, y'know, soak it in or whatever. Even
First Second Books
Tried and true, superb short (mostly short) writing exercises to be done in groups or alone. Beginning or seasoned writers can find gold here, year after year. One of my five favorite perennial books on writing.
Jun 12, 2016 Dave rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A handy playbook for anyone who wants to workshop prose. Whether as participant or facilitator there are tools, techniques and insights here that are essential to any serious writer. Easy to understand and easy to implement, this is simply useful.
Kathleen Baldwin
I really liked this book - especially the first few chapters. It's Ursula Le Guin, how can I not like it. She's one of my all time favorite authors.
Katherine Rue
Feb 07, 2016 Katherine Rue rated it it was amazing
Concise, brilliant, and funny. The best guide to writing I've read, and one I look forward to re-reading and lingering over. Excellent exercises that avoid the usual "remember a time you...".
Apr 24, 2008 Kath rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: fiction writers and anyone who is a fan of LeGuin's works
Recommended to Kath by: a writing instructor
Shelves: non-fiction
Beyond pure enjoyment of LeGuin's voice and style, this book offers writing exercises to help discover/refine your own voice and style. Many of the exercises strengthen poetical writing, some prose, some help with voice and tense. All of them challenge you to stretch your skills, and all come with fabulous, often fascinating examples. I've worked through this book twice now, and have come away with something different each time.

It's a different sort of 'how to write' book ... in it, LeGuin treat
Elinor Caiman Sands
Aug 01, 2016 Elinor Caiman Sands rated it really liked it
Excellent book. The chapters on person and tense and viewpoint I found particularly useful. And I love that Ursula Le Guin picked some of my favourite passages to quote; in particular the opening section of Bleak House which is surely the best bit of novel writing anywhere.
Mar 29, 2015 Micah rated it really liked it
A great little writing book. She's encouraging yet sharp and points out some stuff that I haven't seen anywhere else yet. I was lazy about the writing exercises, it seems like the kind of thing where instead of checking it out from the library I should just get it for myself for practicing them without any kind of time restraint.
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As of 2013, Ursula K. Le Guin has published twenty-two novels, eleven volumes of short stories, four collections of essays, twelve books for children, six volumes of poetry and four of translation, and has received many awards: Hugo, Nebula, National Book Award, PEN-Malamud, etc. Her recent publications include the novel Lavinia, an essay collection, Cheek by Jowl, and The Wild Girls. Forthcoming ...more
More about Ursula K. Le Guin...

Other Books in the Series

About Writing (4 books)
  • Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places
  • The Wave in the Mind: Talks & Essays on the Writer, the Reader & the Imagination
  • Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin (Literary Conversations)

Share This Book

“To make something well is to give yourself to it, to seek wholeness, to follow spirit. To learn to make something well can take your whole life. It’s worth it.” 3 likes
“Ultimately you write alone. And ultimately you and you alone can judge your work. The judgment that a work is complete—this is what I meant to do, and I stand by it—can come only from the writer, and it can be made rightly only by a writer who’s learned to read her own work. Group criticism is great training for self-criticism. But until quite recently no writer had that training, and yet they learned what they needed. They learned it by doing it.” 2 likes
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