just reach out

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. Somebody asked Willie Nelson where he got his songs, and he said, “The air’s full of melodies, you just reach out.” The world’s full of stories, you just reach out.

– Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft

read it: steering the craft


I thought I already had a “read it” post on Steering the Craft by Ursula K. Le Guin because I think about this book quite a lot. But apparently I hadn’t written one yet, even though I’ve certainly quoted (and will continue quoting) from this book frequently.

It’s one of those books that I’m never quite done reading. After I finished it cover to cover, I have found myself coming back to it here and there, discovering something new each time. Le Guin encourages you to think about how your writing is put together, the granular qualities of your prose and how those grains come together to form something bigger than their sum. Each chapter is accompanied by excerpted text illustrating the concept and ends with exercises to practice that particular element of the craft.

If you already write, I think you’ll find something in this book useful. It is not a book that will teach you exactly how to tell a story (check out Damn Fine Story if that’s what you’re looking for–post on that here), but it is a book that will help you think about how the clockwork bits of story, the actual words, fit together and work.


writing recap 2018: w40

Week one of the flash fiction inktober thing down!

I’ve found this week very productive, despite the tempting distraction that is a brand new copy of The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild and an egregiously huge TV. Building in the flash fiction bit to my morning has allowed me to feel more playful and experimental in my writing again, which was something I had been missing during my more recent Large Project slog.

Some days were certainly easier than others, but each day brought with it a new little idea. Most of them I was happy to just visit the once, but there are a couple in there that I want to polish and hoard and maybe expand.

Since each piece is so short, it’s given me an opportunity to look at the finished first drafts and pick out the problems I have a tendency to repeat — it’s much more obvious when you have several drafts to look at than when you are in the midst of the one big one. I’ve gotten some perspective too on what made a couple of my other larger projects not work so well. So now, I can be a little more deliberate in how I piece things together, and I can direct my attention more consciously to my weak points.

All in all, educational so far. I do need to come up with a plan for what I’m going to do with all these first drafts at the end of the month though…

And now, a rant.

For some reason, I’ve seen an excess of articles this past week once again espousing writing “rules” in that particularly prescriptive hard-and-fast tone of voice that I find grating. This week I’ve seen a confluence of attacks, once again, on adverbs. And sometimes even adjectives.

On the one hand, I get it. All things are now STATED with AUTHORITY because qualifiers make you weak. Even though dealing in absolutes obliterates all nuance (that every aspect of everything has). That includes the unnecessarily harsh prohibition against using adverbs. (Use even one, and — egads! — you will become a Bad Writer™!)

And again, I get it. Mostly, when this rule is repetitively bandied about, it’s frequently about annoyingly using adverbs excessively and gratuitously. I get it.

But it’s said in this way, this looking-down-my-nose-at-your-ly-suffix way that makes me want to… I don’t know, glare at a houseplant (Sorry, houseplant. It’s not your fault.).

When it comes down to it, the writers that I most admire and wish to emulate are not afraid of or averse to using adjectives and adverbs. Those things are, as with any of the other aspects of language, merely tools. The writing that I like uses these tools and wields them skillfully and with great intention.

Here is Ursula K. Le Guin’s more moderate perspective on adjectives and adverbs:

Adjectives and adverbs are rich and good and nourishing. They add color, life, immediacy. They cause obesity in prose only when used lazily or overused.

I recommend to all storytellers a watchful attitude and a thoughtful, careful choice of adjectives and adverbs, because the bakery shop of English is rich beyond belief, and narrative prose, particularly if it’s going a long distance, needs more muscle than fat.

– Ursula K. Le Guin, Steering the Craft

And maybe, this more measured take on it is what people mean. But it’s not what they say.

(Incidentally, if you haven’t read Steering the Craft, I highly recommend it. It is a small, powerful book that can be revisited over and over again.)