Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin


How-to books by famous writers are often vague at best and condescending at worst. STEERING THE CRAFT is neither. Le Guin has opinions and isn’t afraid to share them, but her advice is practical and backed with examples. More importantly, she treats her audience as if they are her peers.

Le Guin’s love for writing comes through the page and it’s clear she understands how much dedication it takes. This isn’t “Ten Rules for a Quick Bestseller.” This is the real thing, meant to help writers dive in deeply and become fully engaged. STEERING THE CRAFT is a workbook, with exercises that are meant to be done in sequence, preferably with a critique group.

The problem is, STEERING THE CRAFT is way too basic. For example, any serious writer already knows the difference between first and third person point of view. However, Le Guin never goes beyond a simple definition into the advantages of using one over the other. At other times, it takes her pages and pages to make a simple point like “vary the length of your sentences.” Some of her statements are just head-scratching. Like when she says, “Plot is much discussed in literature and writing courses, and action so highly valued…” Not in my experience. Most MFA programs treat plot like a dirty word.

The examples Le Guin uses are all from nineteenth-century classics you remember from high school English class; not something contemporary writers can relate to or aspire toward. However, the exercises really shine. They are the best part of the book, and probably the entire point of it. They are not your standard “warm up” exercises assigned in a typical writing class. They are meaty, interesting, and would be valuable for writers at all levels to do. She even teaches how to critique each exercise if you’re working in a group.

STEERING THE CRAFT would be a good workbook for a class or club of very young writers. But those of us with even a little bit of experience would be better off sailing solo.


STEERING THE CRAFT can be found here.


rating: 3 stars


This book is best for: beginning writers


I recommend this book or Chapter After Chapter by Heather Sellers or The Right to Write by Julia Cameron

5 thoughts on “Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin

  1. Not sure I’d read her how-to book regardless of how much I adore her fiction. She seems to come from a classical background, which I appreciate. It’s evident in her writing. Don’t think younger authors would get that.

    • As an (aspiring) young writer, I would like to say that I get it and appreciate it very much. I see no reason why we can’t relate to nineteenth-century classics; although it might not be wise to try to copy their style we can certainly learn from them.

      • Oh I totally relate – some of my favorite authors. I was a creative writing/lit major. And I think it’s good to be familiar with the basics – and with multiple styles and genres before setting out on your own. But the style is a tough sell for today’s audience.

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