Notes from An Alien

~ Explorations In Reading, Writing & Publishing ~

Tag Archives: Books about writing

Sailing the Sea of Story ~~~ Ursula K. Le Guin


I am a writer; but, I’ve rarely read books about “how” to write.

I’m from the school of read omnivorously, absorb grammar and syntax usage, rub up against all kinds of storytelling; then, write my own…

However, I did recently read Ursula K. Le Guin‘s,  Steering the Craft: A Twenty-First-Century Guide to Sailing the Sea of Story.

The book has Exercises (from workshops she did); Examples, from accomplished authors; and, Further Reading recommendations; but, of course, most of the book is Ursula talking to you about writing.

The best I can do to honor her book on this blog is to share a few choice excerpts and hope writers will read it; and, that readers will tell their writer friends about it.

First is her explanation of why Plot is not the same as Story:

“I define story as a narrative of events (external or psychological) that moves through time or implies the passage of time and that involves change. I define plot as a form of story that uses action as its mode, usually in the form of conflict, and that closely and intricately connects one act to another, usually through a causal chain, ending in a climax. Climax is one kind of pleasure; plot is one kind of story. A strong, shapely plot is a pleasure in itself. It can be reused generation after generation. It provides an armature for narrative that beginning writers may find invaluable. But most serious modern fictions can’t be reduced to a plot or retold without fatal loss except in their own words.

“The story is not in the plot but in the telling. It is the telling that moves.”

The next excerpt might be more fully understood if you first read my past post, How The Words Get On The Screen/Page

“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. If I can keep myself, my ego, my wishes and opinions, my mental junk, out of the way and find the focus of the story, and follow the movement of the story, the story will tell itself. Everything I’ve talked about in this book has to do with being ready to let a story tell itself: having the skills, knowing the craft, so that when the magic boat comes by, you can step into it and guide it where it wants to go, where it ought to go.”

One final excerpt:

“There are a limited number of plots (some say seven, some say twelve, some say thirty). There is no limit to the number of stories. Everybody in the world has their story; every meeting of one person with another may begin a story.

“I say this in an attempt to unhook people from the idea that they have to make an elaborate plan of a tight plot before they’re allowed to write a story. If that’s the way you like to write, write that way, of course. But if it isn’t, if you aren’t a planner or a plotter, don’t worry. The world’s full of stories . .  . All you need may be a character or two, or a conversation, or a situation, or a place, and you’ll find the story there. You think about it, you work it out at least partly before you start writing, so that you know in a general way where you’re going, but the rest works itself out in the telling. I like my image of ‘steering the craft’, but in fact the story boat is a magic one. It knows its course. The job of the person at the helm is to help it find its own way to wherever it’s going.”

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Writing Paradoxes


Yesterday, I re-blogged a post from Roz MorrisThree Paradoxes of the Writing LifeRoz Morris - Author

Today, I’m going to comment on those paradoxes

First, though, let me tell you a bit about Roz:

She’s an extremely successful Ghostwriter.

She’s written three excellent books about writing.

She’s written two fantastic works of fiction.

She’s available for Speaking and Tutoring.

She’s a Book Doctor.

She has her own Radio Show.

I’ve Re-blogged her numerous times.

And, I’ve written about her before

So, let’s get back to Roz’s blog post—Three Paradoxes of the Writing Life.

Obviously, I recommend you actually take that link and read her post first.

Then, my ruminations about the paradoxes she raises may make more sense

Back so soon…?

Actually, I know most of you never left—that’s totally cool—plus, her post has many links to other posts she’s written—very helpful for gaining knowledge but it will take a bit of time to read them all—though, I am comforted that there are other folks out there, like me, who do lots of internal linking :-)

O.K., I’ll lay out the paradoxes Roz wrote about and see what I can glean from my experience

1. “We must produce, but never rush.”

For many years, I thought about writing, thought I might be somewhat good at it, thought that when Life stopped yanking me around I’d make a go of it

I began serious writing in my late 50s

Since then (I’m nearly 70 now…), I’ve written and published 5 books; but, I’ve had three blogs before this one; and, this one has over 1,300 posts (that’s somewhere around 500,000 words just in this blog…).

I suppose I’ve nailed that “never rush” part—started late, have no definitive schedules, willing to wait till my Muse screams at me

Still, I hope for about 20 more years so I can be even more productive; and, the advancing years will nearly guarantee I don’t “rush” :-)

One more word about Production:

Unless you want to be sucked down a miserable materialistic hell-hole, resist the urge to write the way and publish at the speed most of the “experts” tell you to.

Well…

If you really want to produce work that folks can read swiftly, that won’t rock their boat at all, and that will soon be completely forgotten, go ahead; but, hang on tight when that hell-hole starts sucking

2. “We learn from others, but teach ourselves.”

I think that learning from others first means a writer had better read as many of the books of as many “good” writers as possible.

Defining “good” depends on the kind of writing you want to do; but, if you’re not yet sure what kind of writing you need to pursue, my advice is to read the “Classics” (ancient and modern) and read authors that you think write well

Obviously, as you progress in your reading/learning, your conception of what’s well-written will change

Still, reading a massive amount of books isn’t, by far, the only way a writer learns from others—just wake up, get dressed, and walk down the street; or, wake up, and start watching YouTube—Life activities should be learning experiences (except for those who aspire toward severe depression…).

“teach ourselves”?

For me this is simple:

You sit down and write something—anything

Perhaps you then get up and do a few chores

You sit back down and read what you wrote and, perhaps, change it

If you really get into a stint of writing, you may have to do a bit of research

Just be sure to sit back down and incorporate the research into what you’ve already written

Keep this kind of activity up for prolonged periods and you just might become a good writer.

I can’t help but say, though, that a particularly good way to learn from someone else while teaching yourself would be to study Roz Morris’ books about writing.

3. “We make our own rules but recognise when we’re wrong.”

Obviously, if you’re just starting out as a writer, you may have a very small kit of “rules”; and, I certainly hope you haven’t “borrowed” those “rules” from the ever-present and exceedingly pushy “WebWritingExperts”

Crafting a story may be relatively easy—crafting your own endurable rules of writing is a labor of love.

If you’re intent on nailing down some rules for yourself, try starting by making sure you’re somewhat clear about Why you want to write

Hows are meaningless without Whys.

But, even my own all-time fav fiction writer, C. J. Cherryh, finished her short set of “rules” with, NO RULE SHOULD BE FOLLOWED OFF A CLIFF…

So, there are a few of my thoughts on those writing paradoxes.

Now, I heartily encourage you to go read Roz
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Read Some Strange Fantasies
Grab A Free Novel…
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For Private Comments or Questions, Email: amzolt {at} gmail {dot} com

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