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

(About Writing)

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  3,709 ratings  ·  441 reviews
Ursula K. Le Guin generously shares the accumulated wisdom of a lifetime's work.
Paperback, 173 pages
Published April 1st 1998 by The Eighth Mountain Press
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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
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
Sep 23, 2017 rated it really liked it
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
May 31, 2014 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
Aug 09, 2011 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.
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.
Oct 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
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
Jun 24, 2008 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
Jan 31, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Ursula LeGuin 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 LeGuin 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 opportu ...more
Jun 04, 2008 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
Mario the lone bookwolf
Mar 16, 2018 rated it really liked it
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
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.
Ksenia Anske
Sep 18, 2015 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.
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
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.
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
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
Robert Case
A prolific storyteller and writer shares her wisdom.
Jun 08, 2019 added it
Shelves: non-fiction
"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."
Oct 12, 2007 rated it really liked it
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
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
Sep 22, 2014 rated it liked it
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
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  ·  review of another edition

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.

Beth Cato
Oct 23, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Halley Sutton
Nov 23, 2015 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
Paula Cappa
Sep 10, 2015 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.
Mar 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book is worth owning and keeping by one's side during each edit of each draft. Fortunately, my library has it, and so I (hope that I) can get it back out for an exercise re-read once I start my editing.

She was incredibly well-read, and put every bit of that reading to excellent use in a clear and concise work on how to write and what pitfalls to avoid as a new novelist, or an experienced writer of all types of work.
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.
Sep 23, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2015
Makes me wish I wrote fiction. Recommended to those who do!
Jun 05, 2018 rated it liked it
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 feed ...more
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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

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About Writing (4 books)
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  • The Wave in the Mind: Talks and Essays on the Writer, the Reader and the Imagination
  • Conversations with Ursula K. Le Guin (Literary Conversations)

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18 likes · 10 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.” 14 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.” 10 likes
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