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Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

(About Writing)

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  4,312 ratings  ·  542 reviews
A revised and updated guide to the essentials of a writer’s craft, presented by a brilliant practitioner of the art

Completely revised and rewritten to address the challenges and opportunities of the modern era, this handbook is a short, deceptively simple guide to the craft of writing. Le Guin lays out ten chapters that address the most fundamental components of narrative
Paperback, 160 pages
Published September 1st 2015 by Mariner Books (first published April 1st 1998)
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Dee Le Guin says in her introduction to the updated version: "All the material has been rethought, made clearer, more accurate, and more useful to writers…moreLe Guin says in her introduction to the updated version: "All the material has been rethought, made clearer, more accurate, and more useful to writers of the twenty-first century. The exercises profited from a great deal of feedback from users of the book... Peer group workshops are now so important to so many writers that I enlarged my discussion of them... and included more about online groups."

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Mar 04, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Spencer Orey
This is a deceptively simple writing book.

On first read, I thought it was too simple for where I was at as a writer. I wanted direct instructions about how to get the opening of a novel right and how to attract agents and publishers.

I still have a lot to learn as a writer, but I'm glad I've grown into seeing how helpful this book is.

On my re-read three years later, I found this book grounded, useful, and sometimes magical. There are answers here to very specific questions about writing and lan
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
Aug 09, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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. ...more
Dec 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: writing, favorites
This is a book about writing. It collects some of the exercises LeGuin used as a creative writing instructor. It also presents examples of how each of the mentioned elements work in a narrative.

I write and like this book. It's practical but it is also aspirational.

And if you want to learn about writing why not to do it from someone who did it really well.
Oct 27, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction
Most creative writing exercise books I've read collect idea exercises; Steering the Craft, as the name suggests, collects craft exercises. This is preferable to me as my best writing ideas come from within, from careful thinking, rather than "Your first sentence is 'She preferred the salad bar', and the piece must contain these three objects: a toothbrush, a zebra, and a lighthouse." I hate those. I really hate those. (I really, really hate those.) You don't learn anything from those types of ex ...more
Rebecca Renner
This is low-level nuts and bolts stuff. I think it might be useful for teaching high schoolers, but I teach more high brow stuff in my class, so who knows.
Ursula Le Guin said in her introduction to Steering the Craft: A Twenty-first-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story that it "is not a book for beginners. It’s meant for people who have already worked hard at their writing." I think Le Guin sold her book short. I am not a serious writer, even though I often spend hours many days writing. I certainly don't write fiction. Nonetheless, I learned a lot in the course of reading Steering the Craft, both about writing and teaching, as it is an oppor ...more
Jun 24, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Mario the lone bookwolf
The importance of speech melody and interlocking of individual aspects in a nutshell

Please note that I put the original German text at the end of this review. Just if you might be interested.

A primary focus of the work is the interplay of perspectives, characters, and sentence structures to create dynamic and intoxicating sceneries. It becomes clear how important and challenging it is to balance the right order of all aspects. To avoid idling and recognize a novel as a complex nested construct.
I don’t feel qualified to judge this book - not with regard to its purpose anyway.
It is Ursula Le Guin’s material from her workshops in creative writing - not for amateurs - as she says, and I am certainly an amateur, but to justify my interest, I also am an avid reader of her fiction, and non-fiction and science-fiction and always loving it, and wandering, how did she do it?

So in this book, where writers find tools to improve their craft, I find Ursula LG, for a moment lifting her veil, to sho
Ginger Bensman
Apr 14, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-writing
A short book for writers on the craft of writing. I found Le Guin's suggestions, methods, and exercises energizing and sometimes inspiring. Her selections of samples of prose to illustrate points she was making were on target and reminded me why I love the written word. ...more
Ksenia Anske
Sep 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
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.
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Most of what was in this book was not new for me, but it was still an enjoyable and educational read. Great for beginning writers. It also has group exercises for each chapter/section, so it's ideal for classes or writing groups. ...more
Tanya Gold
Reading this book is like watching Ursula Le Guin teaching a workshop on crafting prose. And that in itself is kind of awesome.
Malcolm Everett
Jan 13, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, writing
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
Beth Cato
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2017, writing
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 t
Robert Case
May 14, 2020 rated it it was amazing
A prolific storyteller and writer shares her wisdom.
"No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing. Change is the universal aspect of all these sources of story. Story is something moving, something happening, something or somebody changing." ...more
Oct 12, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The book that will make you wish you could take a writing workshop with Ursula K. LeGuin.
Ross Blocher
Jul 31, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A book about writing by one of the best. Ursula K. Le Guin shares tips from decades of writing and working with small groups of authors to improve their craft. Pitfalls to avoid, exercises to develop your skills, and practical advice and commentary all along the way. I'll admit I didn't follow along with the exercises: I just thought briefly about what I would write if I were following the prompt, and then moved on. I'm sure I'll be tempted in the future to go back and do the assignments, when I ...more
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
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
I started these writing exercises on my own in January and then my writing group decided to take on the challenge as well. Whether as a sole navigator or with a mutinous crew, the exercises were enlightening. We really enjoyed doing them. Personal favorites were “chastity” (no adjectives/adverbs), A and B and the Queen in the Tower.
Dec 20, 2019 rated it really liked it

The last couple chapters on POV, story, and voice is where the gold is for me. It’s not prescriptive; instead, it invites you to examine what too often goes unexamined, and possibly unlearn what’s been learned. There’s personal vindication in here for me, as someone who’s struggled with conflict = plot.

Climax is one kind of pleasure, plot is one kind of story.

In fact, it’s as much about reading and listening as it is about writing, which I happen to think is the way to write well.

Sep 23, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
incredibly helpful
Apr 27, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Excellent primer on the craft of writing. Steering the Craft is short but the power of the book lies in the concepts and the writing exercises that accompany each chapter. I purchased the physical copy so I can reread and redo at my pleasure, and I'd encourage any hobby writers to do the same. ...more
Vanessa Fuller
Oct 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing
I clearly need to read more from Ursula K Le Guin.

I picked this book up based on the review a friend and colleague posted about it several months ago. As an instructor for PhD students and postdocs who seek to improve their writing skills, this seemed like an interesting read and possible source for new ideas and tips to share.

I'm delighted to say this book proved more than useful and highly insightful, and already appears to have influenced my own teaching as well as revising for various clie
Nov 26, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Halley Sutton
Nov 23, 2015 rated it really liked it
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
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Ursula K. Le Guin 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. She lived in Portland, Orego ...more

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 and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination
  • Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin (Literary Conversations)

Articles featuring this book

  It's almost November, which can mean only one thing in the writing community: It's time to get ready for National Novel Writing...
80 likes · 13 comments
“And here’s an example of deliberate violation of a Fake Rule:   Fake Rule: The generic pronoun in English is he. Violation: “Each one in turn reads their piece aloud.”   This is wrong, say the grammar bullies, because each one, each person is a singular noun and their is a plural pronoun. But Shakespeare used their with words such as everybody, anybody, a person, and so we all do when we’re talking. (“It’s enough to drive anyone out of their senses,” said George Bernard Shaw.) The grammarians started telling us it was incorrect along in the sixteenth or seventeenth century. That was when they also declared that the pronoun he includes both sexes, as in “If a person needs an abortion, he should be required to tell his parents.” My use of their is socially motivated and, if you like, politically correct: a deliberate response to the socially and politically significant banning of our genderless pronoun by language legislators enforcing the notion that the male sex is the only one that counts. I consistently break a rule I consider to be not only fake but pernicious. I know what I’m doing and why.” 20 likes
“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.” 11 likes
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