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

4.06 of 5 stars 4.06  ·  rating details  ·  1,116 ratings  ·  91 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
55th out of 516 books — 939 voters
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 2,826)
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Eveningstar2
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
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Suzanne
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
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melydia
Nov 14, 2008 melydia rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
Nikki
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
Wendy
The book that will make you wish you could take a writing workshop with Ursula K. LeGuin.
David Contreras
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
...more
sarah gilbert
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
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Krys
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.
Nicole
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
...more
Sarah
Mar 23, 2008 Sarah rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
...more
Kath
Apr 24, 2008 Kath rated it 5 of 5 stars
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
...more
Micah
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.
Kate
Pithy and practical. I'll come back to this again and again.

So many books on craft are written by critics, agents, or writers who've not written anything I care to read. But I've been reading Ursula K for 20 years now.

She keeps it to the point. Her thoughts on the various aspects of writing she covers are chewy and illuminating, and the passages she chooses as examples are spot-on. (And Woolf-heavy! Ah, so much Woolf.) As for the exercises, it's stuff that a beginning writer or someone who's pu
...more
Paula
This is the best book I've seen for authors, new or experienced, wanting to avoid the cliches and explore the realities of writing fiction that reaches, moves, delights the reader. A brilliant, creative, and original author herself, Le Guin in this book reminds us that craft rules are, rather, guidelines, that a change of point of view can open a new world, that a story in the traditional (and flexible) past tense will usually seem more present to us than a story told in present tense, and that ...more
Ollie
This is a straight forward book on the creative writing process, with an emphasis on exercises, grammar and the understanding of structure. It's actually quite refreshing to read someone's take on fiction writing which doesn't treat it like a mystical experience, but a skill that needs to be perfected and exercised like a muscle. That doesn't mean Le Guin's take is dry and formal; she brings enough of her own insight and wisdom to the chapters to give any aspiring writer enough encouragement to ...more
Stacy Nyikos
I enjoyed Le Guin’s candid, practical approach to the art of writing. The chapters that caught my attention most were the ones on: 1) adverbs/adjectives; 2) use of tense; and 3) plot, especially plot. I have been chewing on the issue of plot ever since I reread Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Le Guin differentiates between plot and story, with story being “a narrative of events” and plot “a form of story which uses action as its mode, usually in the form of conflict, and which closely and intrica ...more
Laurel
If you are a teacher of language arts at ANY level, you really need to read this book. While it is directed at writing groups, Le Guin's explanations of the structures and mechanisms of story-telling are clear and well-organized. Also, her appendix about, of all things, VERB FORMS is amazingly useful for students (early readers and writers, as well as EFL adults).
Roz Morris
Short book of exercises and writing prompts. It was a pleasure to spend time in Ursula's writing world, in the company of her mind as she examines what works, what doesn't, and how you can challenge your default writing techniques and become more versatile. There's something here for experienced and new writers alike.
P.A.
This book is witty, entertaining and informative. If you've never had the chance to experience the wisdom of UKL here's your golden opportunity! It's not just for writers or writers to be, anyone who wishes to better understand the books they love and the authors who write them would benefit from this read.
Elfscribe
Excellent book. Ursula K. LeGuin is one of my favorite authors and she writes beautifully. This book has the most sophisticated and yet sensible analysis of different types and approaches to point of view I've ever read. Lots of good exercises that I haven't had a chance to try yet, but would like to.
Mia McInnis
Jan 30, 2012 Mia McInnis rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Writers
Shelves: research-fantasy
I always enjoy skimming through this book as I always find something new to help with my writing. I enjoy Le Guin's books, and her advice, and this book has helped to enrich much of my own writing over the years and I strongly recommend it to someone looking to write in a more flowing manner.
Annette
A bit flowery, slightly preachy, but a great chapter on P.O.V. and some useful tips... Thanks Ursula, I loved reading about your ideas and methods.
Cathy Douglas
This is one of those books where what you get out of it is more or less a matter of how much effort you put into the exercises. The book itself is small, and a lot of the content is writing examples rather than instructive text. It doesn't cover plot, structure, genre, or other bigger issues; mostly it focuses on language, style and viewpoint. The sections on point of view are probably the most involved.

LeGuin includes instructions for groups, like how to critique specific exercises and discuss
...more
Lindi
OMG! The chapter on point of view alone knocked my socks off! Le Guin is an effing genius.
LemontreeLime
Always have been a huge ginormous fan of Earthsea. I owned this unread for years, decided i'd never read it, gave it away, decided i DID want to read it after all, interlibrary loaned it... and then ignored it for two solid months (and one renewal). Since it had to be returned tomorrow, I finally broke down and read it today, which of course means I could not do any of the exercises justice. I was surprised by it, entertained, and encouraged. In spite of my foot dragging behavior, this is a good ...more
Chila Woychik
a must-have for writers
Ryan Townsend
Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew by Ursula K. Le Guin was about what I expected it to be. I was not entirely enthralled with reading it, although, I did find it fairly helpful. Le Guin's advice on improving the physical sound and flow of one's work was probably the section I took a liking to the most. The author set out to accumulate examples and techniques for improving one's writing and show how to use them effectively, ...more
Jen
If you love to write, you must read this book! There are 10 brief lessons with exercises at the end of each. Even if you have been writing for a while, Le Guin's exercises are just what I needed when I'm stuck in a story. I loved this book because it is to the point, and even funny (just look at the title!). I found myself inspired by a master storyteller who doesn't take herself too seriously; it's filled with examples from literature and her wry humor. Sometimes goofy and always interesting, e ...more
Kara Hartz
Very different than I expected. Less plot and character and more language and sentence structure level of advice. Still interesting and some of the exercises were more challenging than they sounded. I ended up skimming the second half because it was due back to the library, but I will probably try to get it again to finish properly.
Henry McLaughlin
In less than 175 pages, LeGuin covers an amazing amount of territory on the craft of writing. From grammar to style to Point of view to story structure and word and verb usage. Her exercises are excellent. Her examples from other authors help clarify and expand on her major points. Her discussion of critique groups is particularly insightful.
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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...
A Wizard of Earthsea (Earthsea Cycle, #1) The Tombs of Atuan (Earthsea Cycle, #2) The Farthest Shore (Earthsea Cycle, #3) The Left Hand of Darkness (Hainish Cycle, #4) The Dispossessed (Hainish Cycle, #5)

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“Collaborative workshops and writers' peer groups hadn't been invented when I was young. They're a wonderful invention. They put the writer into a community of people all working at the same art, the kind of group musicians and painters and dancers have always had.” 2 likes
“Crafty writers...don't allow Exposition to form Lumps. They break up the information, grind it fine, and make it into bricks to build the story with.” 0 likes
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