Book of the Weeks 5/8-5/21/2017 “Steering The Craft”
by Ursula K. Le Guin
Do you grumble at that sentiment? Are Mondays grueling, groggy days during which you are forced to drag yourself through the workday while shaking off weekend withdrawals?
Or are you like me? An unemployed mama whose weekends, while filled with moments of joyful child-parent bonding, also serve as reminders that you have a job that never ends and is rarely appreciated as it should be? Like me, does Monday offer a much needed reprieve, if only for a few brief, task filled hours, while your kids spend time at school or daycare?
Either way, whether it’s a day to stumble through, or a day to celebrate some fleeting freedoms after a hectic weekend, you should spend some time doing something you love. And if you love writing, this weeks’ selection will help you do just that; in the evening after work, or the morning while your kids are at school.
I was first introduced to this book while writing my MFA thesis, another task I managed to squeeze in around full-time momming.
For my MFA thesis, I had to submit a big creative portfolio, which I had originally planned to be a fantasy novel, but when I learned that I would be giving birth to my second child at the beginning of my thesis semester, I decided to switch to a collection of speculative fiction stories. I also had to write an academic essay that related to my studies. I decided to write it about three favorite SF luminaries whose works had predicted future events, trends, or inventions with almost preternatural accuracy: Philip K. Dick, Octavia E. Butler, and Ursula K. Le Guin. Imagine my overwhelming joy when I discovered that one of my academic thesis subjects had also written a book that would help with my creative thesis! But you don’t have to be an SF enthusiast or even a Le Guin fan to benefit from Steering the Craft (you probably do have to be a Le Guin fan to qualify as a human though; just sayin’; she’s pretty incredible).
So for this Book of the Weeks, which covers Mother’s Day, lets check out an inspirational writing tool from one of the Mothers of SF. Whether you’re an aspiring fantasy/SF writer, a blogger, or you’re working on healing your trauma through narrative fiction (guess what: I’m all three) your writing craft will benefit from this weeks’ selection.
Like all of my “Book of the Weeks” posts, this post contains affiliate links. Please read my full disclaimer at the bottom of any and every page, or in my Mission+Legal page.
Steering The Craft
by Ursula K Le Guin
If you haven’t caught on already, Steering The Craft is book-format tool about writing. And there are tons of those out there. So I’ve decided to format this post a little differently. Rather than a free-form review like I usually write about fiction or psychological resources, I’m going to split it up into a few different categories. The first being, with ALL the hundreds upon thousands upon hundreds of thousands of writing resources out there in this huge, huge world, why should you read this one?
-Who is Ursula K Le Guin and why should I read her writing advice?
If you sincerely don’t know who this author is, you should rush to your favorite book-acquiring place and just grab whichever book of hers you see first and read it. Whether it’s Steering The Craft or something else, just plop down wherever you are and immediately read it.
Okay, now that it’s abundantly clear that Ursula Le Guin is one of my favorite authors, I’ll provide you a slightly more objective description.
Ursula Le Guin is a luminary of both the science fiction and fantasy genres. If you’ve been to college (or even high school) you have probably read her at least once because her short story, “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” has made it into the collegiate cannon of fiction. The story begins “With a clamor of bells that set the swallows soaring, the Festival of Summer came to the city Omelas, bright-towered by the sea.”
In that sentence alone you can see the descriptive lyricism and unique, captivating prose which marks all of Le Guin’s works, and is the reason why you want to read her advice on writing, above all others.
She lives just a SKIP away from me (in Oregon; that’s a pun, if you know how to get to from Washington to Oregon without a car) so I often fantasize about meeting her someday in a grocery store and magically becoming her protege by somehow bonding over kale or something.
Anyway, she has written twenty-one books in the genres of fantasy, science-fiction, and at least one on writing. She has won an enormous number of writing awards, including my two big aspirations: the Hugo and Nebula awards (multiple times), and has been shortlisted for every writer’s aspiration: The Pulitzer. The first book I ever read by her was The Lathe of Heaven, which connects to this whole entire blog in that I started reading it at the same time I started hanging out with The Ex, and actually gave him my copy as a gift. It somehow, happily, ended up back in my possession and I still have it. It’s really hard to pick a favorite book by Le Guin, but if I must, it’s probably either The Word For World Is Forest or The Left Hand Of Darkness (I love her fantasy too, but I’m a hardcore SF nerd). While writing this review, I discovered that she has a blog on her website, which is amazing. Can I be on your blog Ms. Le Guin?
I recommend everything of hers that I have just mentioned, and everything of hers that I haven’t, but today we’re talking about Steering The Craft.
-What makes “Steering The Craft” unique?
You should by now have an idea why any aspiring writer could benefit from reading the advice of such a prestigious author. But still, there are a lot of writing books and autobiographies by really, really good writers. What makes this one unique?
First, it’s not an autobiography. She makes a couple mentions of herself and her process in her chapter intros, which I love, because I am (quite obviously) a fan. But they are sparse enough that, should a person have the extreme misfortune of never having read Le Guin prior, they won’t feel overbearing. And she also doesn’t have that annoying new-English-teacher trait which causes them to cite their own work in lessons repetitively. As a huge fan, I would have forgiven more mentions of Le Guin’s fiction, but she is actually very generous with her use of other people’s writings. She includes examples from Gertrude Stein, Mark Twain, Virginia Woolf, and J.R.R. Tolken, among others.
Each chapter in Steering The Craft is designed to help writers focus on a specific aspect of writing. These focal points include narrative sound, punctuation, changing point of view, and general point of view. I appreciate that the chapters shift between very basic, but important, aspects of story writing, to a few very distinct stylistic aids that Le Guin has handpicked.
Besides advising writers through scholastic narration and example, Le Guin also provides writing prompts at the end of each chapter, giving us a concrete way to explore the subject we have just completed reading. I love concrete examples; I’m always begging for them in my Fiction Fridays posts, so you must imagine how happily I devoured this section. One of my creative thesis stories actually began as a Steering The Craft prompt.
Look, I understand that people have different tastes. Not everyone loves speculative fiction. I personally believe that Le Guin’s prose is so poignant and well-written it transcends genre, but whether you agree that her fiction appeals to SF fans and non-fans alike, Steering The Craft is definitely not genre-bound. By any means. While the focus is on the craft of fiction writing, it could be extrapolated to creative non-fiction, or even just writing a really engaging blog post. It is under 200 pages long, so it’s not a textbook. It is a light read that is filled with really important information for anyone who wants to become a better writer. Because that’s just another one of Le Guin’s majesties: the ability to transmute a large amount of information within a small amount of space, without making it feel like an information overload.
I recommend Steering The Craft to anyone who writes anything. Seriously, no joke. Holding two writing degrees means that I have read a lot of texts that are supposed to make people better writers, and this is the one I deem the best, and which has helped me most. If you like Le Guin, if you like Fiction Fridays, if you like Betty’s Battleground at all, or even if you don’t, read Steering The Craft. And do the prompts. You will be a better writer for it.
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