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4.6 out of 5 stars
45
Lavinia
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on 4 September 2015
This slim, functional book is an updated and rewritten version of Steering the Craft: Exercises and Discussions on Story Writing for the Lone Navigator or the Mutinous Crew.

While the commentary in the book is lively and interesting, the emphasis here is on exercises and on helping the writer find their own voice, so keep in mind you have to put in the work to get the most out of it. (And by you I mean me!) This isn't Stephen King's On Writing - its a primer to get your fingers tapping on the keyboard, and to encourage you to play with things like POV, tenses, rhythm, to read your own work aloud and generally enjoy writing.

All the points are illustrated with examples, drawn from real books like The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Bleak House, and Jane Eyre. The book also has some wise advice on writers critique groups whether online or offline. If you're thinking of running your own group, you could use this to get you started.

I'm sure I will be referring back to this one and using the exercises to help my own writing. It won't be the only writing book you need in your how to writing library, but it is a good one.
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on 13 April 2017
A wonderful book. It's probably not the best choice for someone starting out, but, as the author says herself in the introduction, if you already have some good writing experience, it's wonderful to help you improve your skills, get out of writer's block, or fix a problem in one of your texts by doing the various exercises. Great fun and really useful.
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on 27 January 2018
I try to make a habit these days of writing a review of every book I read as soon as I can after I complete it, but reviewing "Steering the Craft: A 21st-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story" by Ursula K Le Guin was always going to be a hard job. It's a book about how to write by one of the best authors of our time, and I only play at being a writer in my spare time.

This week's sad news of the death of its author makes my review of this little book even more daunting. Where even to start?

Ursula K Le Guin wrote so many excellent books that have entertained and informed me. They taught me about story, they influenced my writing style, and they showed me aspects of thought and politics in that ever-so-subtle way of dropping details into plots that was one her trademarks.

So, with this background I started to read "Steering the Craft". And I did not like it! Here was a successful and respected author telling me with the lightest of touches that I should practice my writing, hone my skills, and pay more attention to what I do. And she put exercises at the end of each chapter. And she illustrated her points with extracts from famous (although typically long-dead) authors. It was really too much!

Surely you don't teach advanced aeronautics to a hawk. You don't explain gliding, swooping, and hovering to a magnificent bird of prey. But I am not a hawk; I am not even a pigeon; to be quite honest with you, I can't actually fly. That I spend some time in the air is probably only thanks to having climbed a particularly tall tree with a fine view, or perhaps I am like Amélie Nothomb in "Fear and Trembling" looking out from the window high above Tokyo and imagining myself flying.

And it took a while for me to come round to Le Guin's tutelage. But, at the end of the second chapter she said: "Writing a sentence that expresses what you want to say isn't any easier than plumbing or fiddling. It takes craft." And I started to get the point.

But I am a slow learner. Those things that I flatter myself I already do passably well seemed like needless inclusions, while those things that are beyond me appeared to be irrelevant and frustrating.

The single thing that resonated most was the metaphor of the story as a magic craft. You don't have to lean into the tiller and plot a detailed course; you can simply step aboard and lightly help the boat follow the path along which it already wants to sail. This is both a comfort and a challenge! It is nice to know that as writers we can relax a little and let the story take charge, but it is also disconcerting to be told that we still need to learn the skills of seamanship.

But anyway, the image of the magic boat adrift in the sea of story so resonated with my image of Ged aboard Lookfar sailing the West Reach in Earthsea that I was quite won over and started to pay attention.

Maybe I would have liked to see more encouragement to read. Of course, Le Guin does provide examples and suggestions, and of course this book is about writing, but it is surprising (to me) how little and how narrowly many would-be authors read. Osmosis is a fine principal, and authors may subconsciously develop their style and their repertoire simply by watching and learning. On the whole I found the examples to be heavy and rather American in style (even when they are from British authors), but perhaps that is just personal taste.

At the end of the day, however, I suspect this book is rather good at being what it sets out to be: a guide for groups or individuals who seriously want to work at understanding and improving their writing skills. I think it would work better as a workbook for a group of committed collaborators (what Le Guin calls "The Mutinous Crew") where there is a support organisation and peer pressure to do the exercises and provide critiquing feedback, than it does for an under-motivated individual ("The Lone Mariner"). Although I believe I have learned a lot from the book, I must confess that I have not attempted any of the exercises.
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on 8 June 2016
This held my attention throughout, a comprehensive acknowledgment of the importance of Lavinia in story of Aeneas. I particularly enjoyed the involvement of 'the poet' which was dealt with in a novel and engaging way, it's not often a character speaks directly to its creator, to gain insight and guidance. The writing is brilliantly evocative of the time (it stands alone as a story and is not a history lesson) and a thoroughly good read.
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on 26 September 2017
Excellent book if you're an author or want to improve your writing.
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on 18 January 2013
As I see it, one of the best books by my favourite author. Beautifully and subtlely written - restrained, not sentimental yet full of emotion. I had no knowledge (nor interest) of Virgil or the poem or of this particular history, but the book conjured up landscapes, personalities, even household routines, so realistically and colourfully that I just fell in love with it. I hope Ms LeGuin continues to write and write and write more.
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on 5 April 2018
Great advice from an independently-minded thinker and writer.
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on 7 September 2013
I liked this.. Le Guin is a fine story teller and she easily brought me into the world of ancient Italy and the primitive lives of the mythology. I like that it was centring on an unsung female character. There were lots of battle description (the Aeneid is full of that anyway) but I found the whole thing a page turner and couldn't put it down.
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on 24 February 2018
a book I enjoyed.
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on 16 January 2015
Ursula le Guin cleverly spins a story based on a character to whom Virgil devotes two lines in the Aeneid, Aeneas's Italian wife Lavinia. Written in her usual delightful clear prose, this is a wonderful feat of imagination. Don't let the cover put you off!
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