Well, that about wraps it up for the Le Guin text-- though having worked through it, I think Steering the Craft is one of those books a writer can easily revisit regardless of ability or experience. It's not a manual of one-time, one-lesson exercises, where if you've done them, you've done them, and a return wouldn't pose much challenge. Steering the Craft wears well. You need it the way you need a cheese grater, or a can opener, or a big wooden spoon-- there'll always be a use for it.
Here's another exercise I've been thinking about, which the instructor of a poetry workshop I took earlier this summer used during the first session:
You take two nouns, and two verbs. Ideally you draw these blind out of a hat, though picking them randomly out of a dictionary will do. You write down all four words, consider them for a bit, and then pair them off in different combinations-- write them down, or connect them by drawing a line between them.
Once you've done that, try writing a sentence, using your favorite combinations; try to use all four words in your sentence. Then rewrite the sentence: elevate the language, be poetic, be gorgeous, be rhythmic.
If you're writing poetry, the final step of the exercise is to then write a short poem, eight to twelve lines, using the rewritten sentence; I'm thinking the exercise might work equally well for narrative prose. In that case, the final step would connect up with the very first Le Guin exercise, where you write a paragraph that's meant to be read aloud: make a gorgeous sentence, then follow the sentence into another, and then another, for a paragraph or so. Follow the line: wherever the thought takes you, or the language rhythm takes you.
I've been considering this exercise specifically in terms of a collaborative art project I've been drawn into (read: thrust myself upon, like some enraged squirrel after an unattended bagel), but I've been using pictures instead of nouns and verbs; the theme is night garden.
I like to riff off photos when writing poems, especially those I go out with my own camera to find. Poems are all about ideas married to images, anyway, which I think is why the trick works so well; it's how I came up with the poem about Mothra, and another one about watching birds*. Paintings work, too-- one of the last poems I wrote for the workshop was a response to John Singer-Sargent's Venetian Interior. (The woman at the center of the painting is fascinating, isn't she? What's she saying?)
I've had a lot of different, vagueish ideas and images flitting around in my head about night garden, but nothing really came together till I started taking pictures and thinking about them. I've been really intrigued by tree bark lately, thanks to Nathalie's wicked 'fluence-- particularly sycamore bark. There are a lot of huge, old sycamores around here, which have been shedding their stiff, paperlike bark for months and look sort of naked and vulnerable underneath.
I like the busy ant on this one, carrying off his little piece of bark like some ant-nest contractor. I had to resist the temptation to photoshop a little hard hat on him. I don't have time to put hats on ants. Bees and spiders, and even crabs, are one thing, but I won't do ants. That way madness lies.
There are also a lot of big, and very old, silver maples lining the streets around here. It's hard to capture in a photo what it's actually like to stand under the tree below: how the leaves rustle, and the way the sunlight filters through, and the hush that falls-- there's a quiet space under the tree, even with cars driving up and down the hill, not two feet away. If you ever want to feel like an especially small hobbit, stand right under one of these guys and look straight up.
If you've never met a silver maple, the leaves really are silvery underneath-- though it's not a shiny silver. This photo probably shows it best of all those I took yesterday, as well as what the leaves do to the light when you're standing under them. At least, I'm pretty sure this is another silver maple-- this is from a different tree, and as we have oaks around here, too, I'm bound to confuse them. In most cases I'm pretty certain that the silvery underside is the giveaway.
I also found a lucky nickel while I was out. I'd like to say that I only took a picture, and left the coin to benefit someone else's luck. But I'm not that nice. I pocketed it.
Lots more from my neighborhood photo safari here.
*Which I can't re-post, unfortunately, as I'm still waiting to hear back from Coal Hill Review about it.