Writers who want to grow in their writing do well to spend their time actually writing. But sometimes when I’m feeling burned-out in my keyboard work, I take a break and read books on the writing craft. Yes. Writing requires attention to details, just as painting or carpentry does, but writing also requires stepping back from work and looking at the resulting efforts from a distance to see how even and whole it is.
During a recent lull in my productivity I turned to four splendid books on craft and I can recommend them highly. For the next four weeks, I will present some thoughts on each of these books. Here they are in no particular order, other than the order in which I plucked them from my reading desk. I offer just enough information to whet your appetite for more, I hope.
Week One: Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin.
This week let’s look at the craft book, Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin, because this is a wonderfully useful book filled with common sense discussions and exercises whether you are, as Le Guin says, “the lone navigator or the mutinous crew” in a writers’ group seeking to improve a story. She says that the title comes from a workshop she gave by the same title in 1996 and that “. . . exercises are consciousness raisers: their aim is to clarify and intensify your awareness of certain elements of prose writing and certain techniques and modes of storytelling.”
In ten short chapters, Le Guin deals with setting your sails, sheets, and jibs for keeping your writing – on course. She offers the usual attention to basic writing elements, such as grammatical issues, but explores more complex issues like point of view and voice, with great humor and examples from master writers that can help even more experienced writers stay their course. I found that Chapter Ten, “Crowding & Leaping” – and the exercises – “A Terrible Thing To Do” helped me take a new look at one of my current stagnant writing projects.
Le Guin says, “Some people see art as a matter of control. I see it mostly as a matter of self-control. It’s like this: in me there’s a story that wants to be told. It is my end; I am its means.”