Steering the Craft

A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story

by Ursula K. LeGuin
Steering the Craft book cover
Find it on Bookshop


Ursula K. Le Guin, a master of narrative and the craft of writing, shares a lifetime’s worth of writing tips. By sharing her expert advice in such a public form, she really is steering the craft.

Main Points

Throughout the course of the book, she continually blew my mind with her ability to explain a writing concept using her mastery of that concept. Here is a short example:

There is no optimum sentence length. The optimum is variety.

It is not a book for beginners; it meant for people who have mastered their grammar and other basics and want to elevate their writing to the next level. What comes next, beyond the basics, includes the sound of the prose,sentence construction, voice, point of view, and more.

Writing a sentence that expresses what you want to say isn’t any easier than plumbing or fiddling. It takes craft.

Each section comes with examples from other masterful writers. Le Guin has also created one or more workable exercises for each skill to help you practice.

Once we’re keenly and clearly aware of these elements of our craft, we can use and practice them until—the point of all the practice—we don’t have to think about them consciously at all, because they have become skills. A skill is something you know how to do. Skill in writing frees you to write what you want to write. It may also show you what you want to write. Craft enables art.

Getting feedback from others can be useful to help you improve, especially if you feel stuck. Le Guin provides some useful advice for members of peer group workshops on how to give and receive criticism. But remember that you write alone, and ultimately you are the only person who can judge your work.


I can’t possibly reproduce the finer details of Le Guin’s advice in a thorough yet shortened manner. She is a much better writer than I am. This is a short book. If you are serious about your writing, you should buy it, read it, reread it, and work each example several times. You will notice a difference in the quality of your writing: it will be more beautiful, purposeful, and complex.

I still have a long way to go.

Want to read more? Find Steering the Craft here: Bookshop

The quotes above were gathered using Readwise. It’s a truly amazing app to help you remember what you read. If you want to try it out, use my link and we both get a free month 🙂

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