I downloaded Ursula K. LeGuin’s Steering The Craft this weekend. I thought I was getting a little bit of a how-to on writing, some good advice. You know, something like Steven King’s On Writing, or E. M. Forster’s Aspects of the Novel. That wasn’t what I got at all, and it was the best discovery.
Steering The Craft is much more like a workbook than it is like a how-to book. In fact, LeGuin’s writing is so much like being in class that I feel like I’ve actually decided to take one. Her clear narrative voice feels like she’s talking straight to you, and the exercises are fun and just challenging enough to make you think, but not daunting to complete. So great. Bonus points for her rampant feminism. I appreciate that SO MUCH.
I mean, “The grammarians started telling us [that using ‘their’ as a singular] 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 and abortion, he should be required to tell his parents.'”
How can you not love that? Such a well thought out burn.
Not only that, but I give myself so much grief over my work (agonizing over whether it’s publishable quality, flogging myself to find the right word, giving another pass at the imperfect draft that feels like it will never be perfect); it was amazingly nice to just write and not worry about it. I found the fun in the words again.
I’m only about 1/3 of the way through, but I thought I’d post some of the exercises as I finish them. They’re vignettes, so I would imagine they aren’t publishable. But even if they were, I’m not sure I’d want them to be.
This one is from Exercise 2, in which I was supposed to write a paragraph of 100-350 words entirely without punctuation of any kind, even paragraph breaks. For those who are counting, this is about 190.
A sock a shoe a buckle slips over her ankle and a voice on a speaker calls a cue but the zipper broke and she’s gonna miss that cue for sure listening to the other guy fumble around with his lines while the three costume girls fumble with safety pins and come up short like the guy is doing vamping to the audience trying not to say um and trying not to be silent but she’s trying to be silent and so are the costume girls as one stabs her finger with a pin and a bead of blood gets onto the expensive costume they rented and their teacher will be so mad but there isn’t anything any of them can do now except try not to get any more on the dress and get the actress pinned as fast as possible they fumble again and the back of the dress gapes the actress struggles through the black drapes of the wings anyway with her back cheated away and her fingers crossed and the guy breathes a sigh of relief because there’s finally someone else there to do some talking
I think it sorta works. I’ll be posting more soon, so stay tuned.