Monday, 20 June 2022

Non-fiction - A Dance or a Poem? by Joan Lennon

A while back, I posted a blog here on how writing non-fiction is a bit like a dance. But lately, as I get further on in my non-fiction writing career*, I've started to think it's maybe more like a poem. In a poem every word has to work hard. You have to pare everything down and say what you're trying to say in as tight, concise and vivid a way as you possibly can. There are boundaries. Constraints.

Wordsworth wrote a lot - there's no arguing about that - and not everything he wrote was perfection on a stick. But in amongst the pearls and the not-so-pearls is a poem about the constraints of writing a sonnet, which begins 'Nuns fret not':

Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room;
And hermits are contented with their cells;
And students with their pensive citadels;
Maids at the wheel, the weaver at his loom,
Sit blithe and happy; bees that soar for bloom,
High as the highest Peak of Furness-fells,
Will murmur by the hour in foxglove bells:
In truth the prison, into which we doom
Ourselves, no prison is: and hence for me,
In sundry moods, ’twas pastime to be bound
Within the Sonnet’s scanty plot of ground;
Pleased if some Souls (for such there needs must be)
Who have felt the weight of too much liberty,
Should find brief solace there, as I have found.

Ever since I first read that poem many, many decades ago, I have OFTEN muttered the words 'Nuns fret not' followed by 'I bet they bleep bleep bleep do!' I have never been a nun but, sonnets or not, writers ALWAYS work within constraints. Fret as much as you like, it's still going to be the case. Fiction, poetry, non-fiction - if my experience is anything to go on, we're unlikely to suffer from too much liberty. 

And I'm sure that's a good thing. 


Talking History: 150 Years of Speakers and Speeches written by Joan Haig and Joan Lennon, illustrated by Andre Ducci.

Or, if you prefer your non-fiction in Spanish, Hablemos de Historia: Discursos Que Cambiaron el Mundo, translated by Victoria Porro.

*The book I'm working on now is only the second children's non-fiction I've ever been involved with - does that count as a career? Am I speaking with admirable self-affirming positivity, or just jinxing myself? Time will tell ...

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