Quotes by Ursula Le Guin on Writing, Reading, and Storytelling

Ursula Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin (1929 – 2018) stirred the imagination with her powerful novels and stories. Though known primarily as a masterful and influential writer of science fiction and fantasy, she wrote across many genres. The imaginary worlds she created were commentaries on our own, with the complexities of human nature.

She also spoke eloquently about the art and craft of writing, and considered storytelling as a cornerstone of human experience. Here are some favorite quotes by Ursula Le Guin on writing, reading, and storytelling in her inimitable, compelling voice.


“There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.”  The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1979

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“We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel… is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become.” — UrsulaLeGuin.com

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“A writer is a person who cares what words mean, what they say, how they say it. Writers know words are their way towards truth and freedom, and so they use them with care, with thought, with fear, with delight. By using words well they strengthen their souls. Story-tellers and poets spend their lives learning that skill and art of using words well. And their words make the souls of their readers stronger, brighter, deeper.” — “A Few Words to a Young Writer,” 2008

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Ursula Le Guin

Photo: LitHub

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“As you read a book word by word and page by page, you participate in its creation, just as a cellist playing a Bach suite participates, note by note, in the creation, the coming-to-be, the existence, of the music. And, as you read and re-read, the book of course participates in the creation of you, your thoughts and feelings, the size and temper of your soul.” — The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1979

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“The book itself is a curious artifact, not showy in its technology but complex and extremely efficient: a really neat little device, compact, often very pleasant to look at and handle, that can last decades, even centuries. It doesn’t have to be plugged in, activated, or performed by a machine; all it needs is light, a human eye, and a human mind. It is not one of a kind, and it is not ephemeral. It lasts. It is reliable.

If a book told you something when you were fifteen, it will tell it to you again when you’re fifty, though you may understand it so differently that it seems you’re reading a whole new book.”  — “Staying Awake: Notes on the alleged decline of reading,” —Harper’s Magazine, February 2008

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“I think hard times are coming, when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now, and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies, to other ways of being. And even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom: poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. The profit motive is often in conflict with the aims of art.” — National Book Awards speech, 2014

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“While we read a novel, we are insane — bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren’t there, we hear their voices … Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed.”

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“The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.” Dancing at the Edge of the World: Thoughts on Words, Women, Places, 1989

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“The use of imaginative fiction is to deepen your understanding of your world, and your fellow men, and your own feelings, and your destiny.” The Language of the Night: Essays on Fantasy and Science Fiction, 1979

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“I want the story to have a rhythm that keeps moving forward. Because that’s the whole point of telling a story. You’re on a journey — you’re going from here to there. It’s got to move. Even if the rhythm is very complicated and subtle, that’s what’s going to carry the reader.” — Paris Review Interviews, 2013

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“Rewriting is as hard as composition is — that is, very hard work. But revising — fiddling and polishing — that’s gravy — I love it. I could do it forever. And the computer has made it such a breeze.” — UrsulaLeGuin.com

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The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K. Le Guin

Ursula K. Le Guin’s books on Amazon

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“Hardly anybody ever writes anything nice about introverts. Extroverts rule. This is rather odd when you realize that about nineteen writers out of twenty are introverts. We are been taught to be ashamed of not being ‘outgoing’. But a writer’s job is ingoing.” — The Birthday of the World and Other Stories, 2002

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In reading a novel, any novel, we have to know perfectly well that the whole thing is nonsense, and then, while reading, believe every word of it. Finally, when we’re done with it, we may find — if it’s a good novel — that we’re a bit different from what we were before we read it, that we have been changed a little, as if by having meet a new face, crossed a street we’ve never crossed before.” — The Left Hand of Darkness, 1969

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… When people say, did you always want to be a writer? I have to say no! I always was a writer. I didn’t want to be a writer and lead the writer’s life and be glamorous and go to New York. I just wanted to do my job writing, and to do it really well.” — Paris Review Interviews, 2013

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“As for ‘write what you know,’ I was regularly told this as a beginner. I think it’s a very good rule and have always obeyed it. I write about imaginary countries, alien societies on other planets, dragons, wizards, the Napa Valley in 2200. I know these things. I know them better than anybody else possibly could, so it’s my duty to testify about them.” — UrsulaLeGuin.com

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“Hey, guess what? You’re a woman. You can write like a woman. I saw that women don’t have to write about what men write about, or write what men think they want to read. I saw that women have whole areas of experience men don’t have—and that they’re worth writing and reading about.”  Paris Review Interviews, 2013

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