Writing Tip: Observing People

Photo 12She inserted a new piercing into her body whenever she felt an internal pain. Some were a memorial to the ones she lost, while others were to mask her own agony. She would touch them and sometimes pick at them as if to remind her who they were for. Maybe she felt that if she put more holes in her soul, the pain would eventually seep out.

This description is not about me but observations of someone encountered in my life. Not to insult her or demean her methods, but to delve deeper into how she coped with the demons she was fighting. I ended up writing a poem about her, posted it on social media, and it received great feedback. So many others could relate to the poem, as it was similar to the way they dealt with pain, and some were surprised to find out it was not about me.

I am not always my poems.

There’s absolutely nothing wrong with writing poems about our own lives, but from tapping into memories of those who have passed us by or observing a stranger on the street, we can capture another unique soul and put a moment of their lives into words. Life is full of so many interesting people waiting to be poetry.

Edna Millay

Portrait By a Neighbor by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Make it a habit to notice behaviors in a waiting room, or recall a conversation from the chatty cashier at the grocery store, and maybe even observe a few people at a park or mall. We encounter people every day and there has to be a few who we find fascinating or leave us more curious than before.

Edna St. Vincent Millay included some very detailed observations in her poem “Portrait By a Neighbor.”  From the title of the poem, with the use of “by” rather than “of,” it is unclear if the author speaks of herself or an actual neighbor. She leaves the poem open to interpretation, but her description is quite precise and paints an interesting portrait of a woman just doing her chores. (pictured right)

Like many poets who use nature as their muse, people we don’t even know can be used the same way. Pay more attention to a co-worker, a cab driver, or a neighbor as Millay did and it could possibly yield an amazing poem. Use the gift of observation to get those creative juices flowing when you have exhausted writing about yourself.


Written By: Donna J. Sanders

• Donna J. Sanders, author of Ataraxia, This is my Therapy, and Emotions in Barbed Wire was born in the Caribbean island of Trinidad and relocated to the United States in her teenage years. She has a MA in English Literature from Mercy College, and a BA in the same field from NYIT. View Donna’s work at: www.ctupublishinggroup.com/donna-j.-sanders.html

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  1. Writing Tip: Observing People | TheRaven6825

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