The acclaimed science fiction novelist Ursula Le Guin, revealing that she no longer has the â€œvigour and staminaâ€ to write another novel, has launched an online fiction writing workshop â€“ and has been inundated with questions from aspiring writers.
The award-winning author of novels including The Left Hand of Darkness and the Earthsea series for children was last year presented with a medal for her distinguished contribution to American letters by the National Book Foundation. But in a piece for the Book View Cafe, a cooperative of authors that she co-founded, Le Guin said that while she is still writing poems, â€œit takes quite a lot of vigour and stamina to write a story, and a huge amount to write a novel. I donâ€™t have those any more, and I miss writing fiction.â€
She also said she has given up teaching, but, missing â€œbeing in touch with serious prentice writersâ€, she is experimenting with â€œa kind of open consultation or informal ongoing workshop in Fictional Navigationâ€. After opening the doors to questions from writers, Book View Cafe has since temporarily closed them, citing the â€œenthusiastic responseâ€ from those keen to learn from Le Guin.
The novelistâ€™s first response, taking on the â€œawfully bigâ€ question, â€œHow do you make something good?â€, has already been posted, and sees her warn that there are no easy answers for success.
â€œInexperienced 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 SoufflÃ©!â€ she writes. â€œWouldnâ€™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.â€
Sticking to her cooking metaphor, Le Guin says that a writer will find it helps to have â€œextra goodâ€ ingredients, such as â€œvivid proseâ€ and â€œfascinating charactersâ€ â€“ but it is how the ingredients are used that counts. Something â€œextremely goodâ€, she writes, can be made from â€œthe most ordinary ingredientsâ€.
â€œEven 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 â€“ itâ€™s a good story. A lot of memorable sf [sic] has been made that way,â€ she tells aspiring writers.
Keep â€œworking at itâ€, advises Le Guin, and listen to the opinion of trusted or qualified readers, but steer clear of â€œthe rules of whatâ€™s currently trendyâ€.
â€œMost such rules are hogwash, and even sound ones may not apply to your story. Whatâ€™s the use of a great recipe for soufflÃ© if youâ€™re making blintzes?â€ she asks. â€œThe important thing is to know what it is youâ€™re making, where your story is going, so that you use only the advice that genuinely helps you get there. The hell with soufflÃ©, stick to your blintzes.â€
Trust yourself, and have courage, she tells writers. â€œIt 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. Thatâ€™s as good as I can make it,â€ she continues. â€œAnd 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, itâ€™s there, itâ€™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.â€
Le Guin and the team at Book View Cafe plan to run the writing workshop every other Monday, with the novelist promising to â€œuse the lash only when forced to itâ€ on her recruits.