While she is known for her bestselling sci-fi and fantasy novels, Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing advice on good writing is nothing short of practical: There are no recipes.
The award-winning, prolific American author, who is getting on in years but remains ageless in wisdom, has offered an online writing workshop called Navigating the Ocean of Story. The page has gained warm reception from aspiring writers.
Let’s navigate the ocean of story with Ursula L Guin.
No cut-and-dried formula
Inexperienced writers tend to seek the recipes for writing well. You buy the cookbook, you take the list of ingredients, you follow the directions, and behold! A masterpiece! The Never-Falling Soufflé! … Wouldn’t it be nice? But alas, there are no recipes. We have no Julia Child. Successful professional writers are not withholding mysterious secrets from eager beginners. The only way anybody ever learns to write well is by trying to write well. This usually begins by reading good writing by other people, and writing very badly by yourself, for a long time.
She adds, however, that something extraordinary can be made from the simplest ingredients such as vivid prose and fascinating characters.
Keep it simple
Even with undistinguished language and predictable characters, if a story has interesting, convincing ideas or events, good pacing, a narrative that carries the reader to a conclusion that in one way or another satisfies – it’s a good story.
Use only the advice that you need
… even sound ones may not apply to your story. What’s the use of a great recipe for soufflé if you’re making blintzes? … The important thing is to know what it is you’re making, where your story is going, so that you use only the advice that genuinely helps you get there. The hell with soufflé, stick to your blintzes.
It helps to remember that the goal is not to write a masterpiece or a bestseller. The goal is to be able to look at your story and say, Yes. That’s as good as I can make it … And then, once in a while, none of that sweat and trial and error and risk-taking is necessary. Something just comes to you as you write. You write it down, it’s there, it’s really good. You look at it unbelieving. Did I do that? I think that kind of gift mostly comes as the pay-off for trying, patiently, repeatedly, to make something well.
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