Saturday, October 6, 2012

Tips for writing Spoken Word

Spoken word is a form of poetry that often uses alliterated prose or verse and occasionally uses metered verse to express social commentary. Traditionally it is in the first person, is from the poet’s point of view and is themed in current events. Spoken word poetry originated from the poetry of the Harlem Renaissance and blues music.

Since its inception, the spoken word has been an outlet for people to release their views outside the academic and institutional domains of the university and academic or small press. The spoken word and its most popular offshoot, slam poetry, evolved into the present day soap-box for people, especially younger ones, to express their views, emotions, life experiences or information to audiences. The views of spoken word artists encompass frank commentary on religion, politics, sex and gender, often taboo subjects in the world of contemporary academic poetry.

Spoken word is used to inform or make an audience conscious of some human aspect pertaining to life.*

Honestly, I cannot remember how I discovered spoken word but I do remember the first poem I listened to and fell in love with was Sarah Kay's "Private parts". I remember I couldn't stop watching her poems that day, and  I spent the following week indoors checking out as much spoken word as I could find on line. Eventually I found out about Russell Simmons Def Poetry and I also checked those series, which I found amazing. It was so amazing, def poetry a.k.a spoken word had so much meaning into it, it could go so deep and resonate with what's inside your mind or it could be carefree- make you smile, laugh. There's always that story behind someone's poem which I find amazing and genuine

At one point I heard about Sarah Kay's "Project Voice" and I also listened to this broadcast where she explained how she teaches spoken word. She gave a few tips on how to start writing spoken word and she kept on insisting it was so easy that I fell for it. I got to admit, it was a bit hard in the beginning but just because I was expecting too much from me. I was listening to poets that had years to improve their skills and  I was comparing my poems with theirs. Like everything else, poetry writing takes practice... and it improves in time.

Anyway, spoken word is a really great way to put your brain to work. It also brings out the genuine, creative person inside you, and I also find it to be a good way to get a load off your chest. Each spoken word poetry can become your world for five minutes, and you can invite anyone in to share your feelings. 

So here are some tips (some of them I learned from Sarah Kay and some of them are from my own personal experience) on how to write spoken word:

1. Start off with something easy.
Sarah Kay gave some suggestions on how you should start writing poetry by writing lists. For example, start writing a list of 5-10 things I know to be true, or I should've learned by now. Also try 10 things I love/want/had.

2. Don't try too hard. 
Don't try to write super complicated filled with emotions and metaphors poems from the beginning, you'll only end up waisting time and feeling disappointed. Your first poems should go naturally, easy, that way you'll be amazed to see how far you've come after a while. One of my first poems started like this: 
"I am a believer 
I believe in sunrise and sunset,
In stars and oceans, waves and summer breeze.
I believe in achievements and wisdom, love and fear..." 

Seriously guys, it was that lame. But, with patience and practice hopefully I evolved. Take your time being a caterpillar before you are ready to turn into a talented, unique butterfly and spread your wings to fly. 

3. Inspire yourself
Look around you for things to inspire you. For example you can listen to some poetry, maybe one word or one phrase someone recites triggers something inside your brain. Listening to music is also a great inspiration source -at least for me. When I listen to music I can picture the story behind the song (but mostly only when I listen to instrumentals). Also, try to look at the world from a different perspective. When you take a walk try to observe as many things as possible, a funny incident, a person you like, a beautiful view on the landscapes. Inspire yourself from everything around you.

4. Read/watch as many spoken word/poems as possible
Pay attention to what suits you better, which artists do you like most and why. Understand it and go in that direction. For example if you like an artists that always has funny poems you may be prone to write funny poems, it's likely they'll make you feel more comfortable. You can always experience other types of poems if you want to!

5. Read your poems out loud 
I know it sounds like no big deal but trust me it makes a difference.

6. Revise and rewrite your poems 
If it doesn't sound very good right after it's done that's alright, just give it some time. Focus on writing other poems and come back to revise this one after a while, you'll have a different perspective after you took a brake from it. It'll help you see the bigger picture.

7. Use your imagination.
That's what I love most about artists, they CREATE their world however they want it to be, and they can drag you into their stories faster than you can even realize it. So use your imagination, create whatever you wish and do your best to convince the audience (even if the audience is just you or a couple of friends of yours.) that world you're writing really exists. 

8. Spoken word doesn't have to rhyme
So don't struggle to find rhymes. But, if you have a good rhyme in mind. don't hesitate! Make it part of your poetry, find your flow.

9. Make a special notebook for poetry writing.
I bought my poetry notebook just because I liked the cover of it. Every time I pull it out of my bag it makes me smile. Also one more thing I did was to write quotes from my best poems on colored post it notes and stick them on the first page of the notebook. That way every time I open the notebook to write I can read pieces of my best creations and feel proud. It really boosts up your morale. 

10. Be honest with yourself
If something hurt you and it still does let it out, don't back from your thoughts and feelings. If you worry your poem will be too cheesy or too sad, stop worrying! just let it be. Acknowledge the fact that those thoughts were haunting your brain for some time now. Get to know them and set them free...and what better way is there to set thoughts free than by poetry?

11.  Write as often as possible
And this is, the most important thing of all. Write constantly, even if you have just one or two sentences in mind, just write them down. Also, carry the notebook with you all the time. You never know when something will trigger the inspiration in you.

Wishing you the best,



  1. really helpful rachel! thanks alot :)

  2. You know what? I have always really enjoyed spoken word as a hip-hop fan, but for some reason I never even tried it once! I've always loved to free-style, and, although I have written a few times, I found it to be more of a struggle than the pure release of just rapping. BUT, last night I was listening to this rapper I recently discovered, and he had a song that was a 1000 word poem over a light guitar---which I enjoyed and found myself wanting to try out. And, although I didn't find that specific instrumental, I sat and wrote for over two hours, and it was the most incredible experience (almost like the release I've always gotten from freestyling, yet it had an element of control that I found liberating--almost the "journalistic" feel, because I was free-writing instead of mastering just one poem----is this a good strategy?).

    Anyway, I decided to google "write a spoken word" and this is the first site I clicked. I just want to say thanks for the wonderful article and for the practical advice! I know this is something I will do for the rest of my life, and I am so excited to see that there is someone like you out there who loves and advocates the art enough to inform me!

    I was wondering if there were any books you'd recommend about writing poetry or just collections of poetry? I realize that poetry that is spoken is a distinct in the performance aspect, but still, I would like to go and learn what the greats did.

  3. First off, I would like to thank you for the kind words and let you know that I am just as glad to see people that still believe in art. Second off, I believe whichever strategy you decide to apply is great as long as you feel it, as long as it feels right. And on the topic of spoken words books I'm ashamed to admit I didn't read such things. I feel like the whole magic of spoken word is the spoken part so I watched hours of poetry, and it inspired me greatly.
    I do however recommend you my post "Slam poets you just have to check out !", where I wrote about some of the spoken word artists that inspired me and you should probably check them out as well. After that, there's always Russel Simmons Def Poetry Jam, which was a great show, and last but not least, I also follow UrbanaPoetrySlam's on youtube. Hoping that'll get you inspired I'm sending you my best wishes.
    PS: I would love to hear your poems so feel free to share them with me if you feel like.

  4. This is very useful article. For me, the stressful part of performing is that feeling you just can't shake of being stared at! Be confident in your work.

  5. really great, I came across this website a lot, you are helping tons of people, god bless

  6. hello rachel thank you so has been really helpful i recently started writing and would really love some pointers was wondering if maybe you could take a look at my stuff and let me know what you think and what i should do to improve i would truly appreciate.

    1. Hello and sorry for the super late reply. I would be more than glad to help you with your writing and promise to reply sooner than this :). You should email me at whenever you want.

      Have a great day !

  7. Hellow Rachel, I am so pleased with the articles,it inspires me alot. So far i posted some poems in wordpress and i would for you and other people who have the same passion to see my work and comment....Also, i believe i will make spoken word poetry though I am little bit scared but that won't hold me back...i have decided to chase my dreams no matter what...
    Thanks again and i am expecting to hear from you.

  8. Please go through (newauthor)...
    I really need your advice and comments.

    1. Hello,

      I read your poems and would love to give you my feedback, but I would rather not do it on either my blog or yours, and that's why please feel free to send me an email at and we'll be in touch.

      Wishing you the best,

  9. Work out the structure. Most songs have a recognizable formula: The intro, a verse or two with a chorus, a bridge, followed by another verse and chorus, and then out.


  10. These tips is very info-able and very interested for me check also ,I have to say that for the last few of hours i have been hooked by the impressive articles on this website. Keep up the wonderful work.