Creative Writing Advice #8: Make Your Poetry Concrete


Today’s WEbook Writing Secret comes from WEbooker Moot_Caroo. Mr. _Caroo is a senior at the University of Illinois, studying poetry and rhetoric. In his previous life, he served in the United States Navy; studied radio, television, and film at the University of North Texas; and worked as a journalist, photographer, and essayist.

Connect Your Poetry with an Audience: Make it Concrete

One of the most valuable things my poetry mentor ever told me has to do with one simple word. It is the most commonly used word in poetry, and it’s also a pitfall for new writers. Why? Two reasons:

1) Writers know the word intimately, yet they don’t know how to write about it.

2) By using the word, writers fail to connect with the reader, because the word automatically invokes the reader’s own associations, including associations from watching movies and TV, hearing songs, and reading other poems and books.

Do you know what the word is?


The next most commonly used word is soul. Love and soul are abstract concepts, along with denial, anger, fear, faith, and despair. Loneliness, depression, elation, and lust are others.

Suppose you have a feeling – an emotion that only you have experienced in your own particular way. Many readers out there have had similar experiences, but their experiences aren’t identical to yours. How can you connect?

Make your poem concrete. Fill it with facts, objects, sounds, and smells, instead of abstract concepts. Your abstract emotion will translate into something vivid and real, and your reader will relate to the actual experience you’re writing about, instead of imagining all the times he or she has experienced love, or even seen it on TV.

Here’s an example:

Poet “A” writes the line, “My love is envious.”  There are two abstracts here: love and envy. Of course the reader might relate to envious love, but only in an abstract, impersonal way.  How does the reader connect to the writer, instead of to his or her own understanding of envious love? Poet “A” has a personal relationship with envious love, but cannot convey that to the reader on an intimate level.

Poet “B” is also familiar with envious love, but decides to take this route instead: “My love is a sharp-eyed raven; it covets all things shiny and new.” There are several concrete, specific words in this line, such as raven and sharp eyes, as well as objects that are shiny and new.

Poet “C” takes things even further, eliminating the word love as well as envy: “I am a sharp-eyed raven, and I covet all that is shiny and new.”

Love is an overused, abstract word that writers have been attempting to describe for thousands of years.  If you want your reader to understand what you know about love, you’re going to have to make it concrete.  Otherwise, we’ll all write about love, and yet we will never learn about love from somebody else.  Just like real life.

WEbook Writing Secrets

WEbook Writing Secrets is a regular feature of the WEbook blog. WEbookers, readers of this blog, and other writers and writing teachers are encouraged to submit their tips on the craft by visiting my profile and sending me a message titled “WEbook Writing Secrets." Submissions should be no more than 500 words long, and should focus on practical elements of writing – the more nuts n’ boltsy, the better! The best submissions will be published here and in the WEbook Toolbox, and authors will receive credit, a bio, and links to their personal blogs or other writing. Good luck!

-- Melissa

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