July 29, 2015
Ursula Le Guin launches a fiction workshop, is inundated with requests within a day
by Nick Davies
At age 86, acclaimed fantasy/sci-fi writer Ursula K. Le Guin is still eager to help aspiring authors work on their writing. To that end, Calvin Reid reports for Publishers Weekly, she’s launching an online workshop to offer advice on how to write fiction.
Over the course of her career, Le Guin has won slew of writing prizes, including Hugo, Nebula, and Locus Awards; and last year, she won the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the National Book Awards, where—as David Ulin reported for the Los Angeles Times—she “stole the show” with her acceptance speech, describing Amazon as “a profiteer try[ing] to punish a publisher for disobedience.” She’s probably best known for her novels like the Earthsea series, but in a post on the blog for Book View Café (the cooperative publisher which she co-founded), she writes:
I have enough vigor and stamina these days to write poems, for which I am very thankful. It takes quite a lot of vigor and stamina to write a story, and a huge amount to write a novel. I don’t have those any more, and I miss writing fiction.
Reliable vigor and stamina is also required to teach a class or run a workshop, and so I had to give up teaching several years ago. But I miss being in touch with serious prentice writers.
That desire to be in contact with burgeoning writers is what drove Le Guin to start the workshop, which is still in very preliminary, experimental form. She describes it as “a kind of open consultation or informal ongoing workshop,” hosted on the Book View Café website. Le Guin puts forth some guidelines: questions must be about fiction; for example, “a problem you have met, or keep meeting as you write. A question of technique. An uncertainty about how to write something you want to write.”
She asks submitters to keep their questions to a maximum of 200 words, and preemptively shuts down any whining about that by pointing out that honing a question to make it more specific might be part of the learning process. Le Guin also shuts down the possibility of industry talk: “Questions about how to publish, finding an agent, selling a book, self-publishing, marketing, etc etc, will be ignored. We won’t be talking here about how to sell a ship, but how to sail one.”
Le Guin has already taken on the first question—“How do you make something good?”—and answered with a (rather appetizing) cooking analogy, but within just a day of launching the workshop, the response has been so enthusiastic that she’s had to disable the question submission form, with possible plans to reactivate it once she gets through the first batch of questions.
Nick Davies was a publicist at Melville House.