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A Simple Haiku Writing Formula

JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician, and author of books for children and adults.

The most famous haiku by Bashō, composed sometime in the 1680's, reads: Furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto - which translates roughly as: The old pond: a frog jumps in – the sound of water.

The most famous haiku by Bashō, composed sometime in the 1680's, reads: Furuike ya kawazu tobikomu mizu no oto - which translates roughly as: The old pond: a frog jumps in – the sound of water.

Want to write your own haiku or write a dozen of them? You probably know that haiku is a Japanese form of poetry written in three lines of 5, 7 and 5 syllables each. Writing one haiku may not cause you too much difficulty, but if you want to be able to write haiku at any time, whenever the mood takes you, it might be useful to have some sort of template to follow. This article will give you a simple formula you can use to enable you to write haiku until the cows come home—or until you get fed up with writing them.

How to Write a Haiku

Traditionally, haiku were written about subjects around nature, with the changing seasons being a constant source of inspiration. It's not necessary to restrict any haiku you write to nature only, although you should feel free to do so if the mood takes you. The most important thing to remember is that your haiku needs to have a definite subject, but whether that subject is something in the natural world, something in your office, something in your car, or something in your mind, is entirely up to you.

Here's your haiku writing formula condensed into five simple steps:

  1. Choose a subject
  2. Describe your subject
  3. Tell how it affects you
  4. Find a different perspective
  5. Fit into the 5-7-5 structure

Now let's examine each of these steps in a little bit of detail.

What's a Haiku?

What's a haiku? It's

a seventeen syllable

verse; topic's your choice.

Haiku is both the singular and plural form of the word.

Choose Your Haiku's Subject

Your haiku can be about anything, from how you feel to what the weather is like outside your window. Or it can be about the window itself. No subject is taboo as long as you can find something to say about it.

Choose a subject that either interests you intensely or that you think you might be able to write about with some ease and assurance. For example, looking out the window right now, everything’s dull and uninspiring. Huge charcoal-colored clouds are being tossed across the sky by a cruel wind, threatening to deposit their wares and make matters worse. But they don’t release any precipitation just yet, so obviously someone somewhere along the line’s going to get a soaking.

It's overcast, it's windy, and it's likely to get wet. But, despite that, there are still plenty of birds in the air. More about that later...

Storm clouds illustrate nature's power and unstoppability

Storm clouds illustrate nature's power and unstoppability

Describe Your Haiku's Subject

As you can see, once you've chosen your subject, describing it is easy. A quick look out the window has produced a subject—storm clouds—and their speedy movement suggests that they might be someone else's problem before too long. Are they dark clouds, black clouds, angry-looking clouds or threatening clouds? What is their movement doing to the environment in general? Is anything else affected by them other than you?

Don't worry about getting caught up in describing what you see; just write down whatever comes to mind. That's half the fun.

How Does the Subject Affect You?

What will those storm clouds force you to do? How will you behave? Like most people, you'll probably take shelter. You'll want to get out of the wind and potential rain before you get drenched. You'll head indoors, whether that's into your house or your place of work, or under a nearby bus shelter. That's what you would normally do in a storm, so to make your haiku stand out or be a little bit different, you need to give it a twist.

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Threatening weather forces us to seek shelter

Threatening weather forces us to seek shelter

Give the Subject a Different Perspective

Let's do a quick recap. You've chosen your subject, and you've written a few lines about it, describing what it's doing and how it's behaving. You've also taken note of how the subject might affect you.

The next thing to do is to try to think outside the box. For example, might the subject affect you in one way and some other creature in another way? I noticed that as the gathering, threatening clouds were being whipped up by the wind, there were still birds in the air. That fact provided me with an idea for the ending of the poem.

Despite approaching storms, birds still rule the airways

Despite approaching storms, birds still rule the airways

Put Your Haiku Together

It's time to turn all this thinking and writing into something more concrete. I started with the clouds blowing across the sky, which became the following:

  • Storm clouds drifting by (5 syllables)

Next, I focused on the hope that they'd KEEP drifting by and not deposit any precipitation anywhere near me:

  • On their way to someone else (7 syllables)

Finally, I added a comment about how little the feathered community seemed to be bothered by it all:

  • Birds keep on flying (5 syllables)

Put it all together and you get a haiku:

Storm clouds drifting by
on their way to someone else;
birds keep on flying.

Write About Experiences

A haiku can come from something you see or from something you remember. Chances are you've been to the seashore at some point, or at least seen it on television or in a movie. The power of water can be a fascinating thing, as majestic as it is frightening. Thinking about it I realized a couple of points:

  • It's fun to watch the waves crashing on the shore
  • The water soaks everything in its path

After a little bit more thinking time I remembered strolling down the beach as the tide was going out. The sand was still wet and stuck to everything. Putting these ideas together gave me the basis for another haiku, which goes like this:

Watching waves crashing
soaking everything they touch;
wet sand’s hard to shift.

A sandy beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

A sandy beach in Koh Samui, Thailand

Use photographs to help you find the inspiration you need. They say a picture's worth a thousand words, so it shouldn't be too difficult to get seventeen syllables out of a good one.

Like everything else in life, the more haiku you write, the better you'll get at writing them. I look forward to reading your collected poems at some point in the future.

Take the Technique Quiz!

For each question, choose the best answer. The answer key is below.

  1. What's the plural of haiku?
    • Haiku
    • Haikus
    • Haikeaux
  2. Which of these represents the usual haiku structure?
    • 3 lines of 17 syllables each
    • 3 lines of any desirable length
    • 3 lines in 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively
  3. Which of these poets is perhaps the most famous writer of haiku ever?
    • Byron
    • Basho
    • Blake
  4. What can you do to make your haiku stand out from the pack?
    • Write it backwards
    • Come up with a different perspective
    • Print it on quality paper
  5. Which subject was most popular with traditional haiku verse?
    • Nature
    • People
    • Tractors
  6. What's the first step you need to take when writing a haiku?
    • Find somewhere to write
    • Find a pen or pencil
    • Find a suitable subject

Answer Key

  1. Haiku
  2. 3 lines in 5, 7 and 5 syllables respectively
  3. Basho
  4. Come up with a different perspective
  5. Nature
  6. Find a suitable subject


JohnMello (author) from England on July 22, 2020:

Thanks, Linda, for the story and the haiku :))

Linda Zebert on July 21, 2020:

As a soft breeze stirs

tendrils of fanciful thought

so does nature's voice.

Thank you for the informative article. I have loved Haiku since a young girl upon finding a book by Peter Beilenson/Harry Behn. Titled Haiku Harvest.

Many many years later my fourth sister and I were talking about writing poetry and I showed her my book of Haiku. Immediately she proclaimed she had always wondered what happen to HER book. Finders Keepers, I told her and never would let her have it back. She passed away not long afterward and it is one of my favorite memories.

Perspycacious on November 26, 2016:

I suspect time will bring each persisting poet of good haiku to a realization that fine haiku is inspired, not formulaic.

JohnMello (author) from England on June 13, 2016:

Hi Shyron. Glad you liked it and that it helped you get a better understanding of haiku. Keep on writing :)

Shyron E Shenko from Texas on June 11, 2016:

JohnMello, I am so glad I found this, it explains a lot, making it clear and I wrote at least 5 this morning.

Thank you, I am so glad I found this.

JohnMello (author) from England on January 27, 2016:

Hi Jodah. Thanks for the compliment... and glad you enjoyed it :)

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on January 27, 2016:

This is one of the best articles I have read on how to write haiku, John. I have written two hubs that contain collections of with Spring and Autumn Rain as the subject and other is Australian Christmas Haiku. They were my first attempts but I really enjoyed the writing experience. You are write the more you write the easier and more natural it gets.

JohnMello (author) from England on December 09, 2015:

Thanks swalia. Write a few and it gets a lot easier :)

Shaloo Walia from India on December 09, 2015:

Very helpful hub for those new to this form of poetry!

JohnMello (author) from England on July 23, 2015:

Thanks haikutwinkle :)

haikutwinkle on July 22, 2015:

I love Haiku! It gives me Twinkles in my eyes ;)

Nice hub about haiku.

JohnMello (author) from England on February 08, 2015:

Glad you enjoyed it Melissa!

Melissa Orourke from Roatán, Islas De La Bahia, Honduras on February 08, 2015:

I really like this! I am going to try using your method! Thank you!

JohnMello (author) from England on January 02, 2015:

Thanks Stargrrl... let me know how it goes :)

Stargrrl on January 01, 2015:

Excellent hub. I can't wait to use what I have learned here with my students!

JohnMello (author) from England on December 28, 2014:


Roger on December 27, 2014:

I came up with this the 6th grade. The wind in the fall.

So fast you can't walk at all.

Wind please leave me now!

Neetu M from USA on September 30, 2014:

You know, it is funny that I have never attempted to write Haiku. I don't know why! Maybe it's the structure that I think will confine my thinking, or just my rebellious nature that refuses to conform to the norm (saying this with a smile). Either way, after reading your hub, I might give it a try. Just for fun, really. Maybe I will come back and post it right here in a comment box. :)

JohnMello (author) from England on August 09, 2014:

Thanks ajwrites57... glad you liked it.

AJ Long from Pennsylvania on August 08, 2014:

JohnMello, enjoyed your take and simple formula for writing haiku! Interesting Hub!

JohnMello (author) from England on June 01, 2014:

I understood that a haiku could technically be any short poetic observation but that the 5-7-5 version was the template, if you like. No reason why you couldn't change the overall structure... maybe even come up with your own new poetic form. If you write poetry, that's part of the fun :)

Ericajean on May 26, 2014:

To Lee Strong: I have been reading around and I second that comment. Haiku's syllabic count is different for Japanese than for English and so I guess the question remains: Should we go off the "spirit" of haiku or follow it strictly based off the original form?

In my opinion, I like the English 5-7-5, but the stricter, shorter form could be a great challenge.

I think I need to research this more myself as well. Thanks!

JohnMello (author) from England on May 25, 2014:

Thanks for the update Lee... I didn't know that.

Lee Strong on May 25, 2014:

It's good to see haiku promoted. Thank you. One current topic of debate is the 5-7-5 structure; the contemporary theory is that the syllable count is actually not accurate or best for English haiku, and so many published haiku are shorter. There are even one-line haiku being published regularly now.

Lewis Jian from Taoyuan City on April 09, 2014:

You're most welcome

JohnMello (author) from England on April 09, 2014:

Glad you enjoyed them Lewis Jian!

Lewis Jian from Taoyuan City on April 09, 2014:

Thanks for those useful tips

JohnMello (author) from England on February 06, 2014:

You're very welcome ignugent17!

ignugent17 on February 06, 2014:

Thanks for the information. it is very useful.

JohnMello (author) from England on January 21, 2014:

Thanks Vhanfire. Hope it makes the process easier for you!

Ian A. LAlusin from Lipa City, Batangas, Philippines on January 20, 2014:

very useful , I am writing Haiku and find it really difficult, this will surely help

JohnMello (author) from England on October 23, 2013:

Thanks Ericajean. Glad you enjoyed it - and thanks for reading!

Ericajean on October 23, 2013:

Thank you for sharing your insight on Haiku. I hunt around for different ways of creating haiku- and I loved the quiz! Great hub!

JohnMello (author) from England on September 17, 2013:

Thanks Calvin. More of a senryu, I think... but still comes under the haiku umbrella :)

Calvin on September 17, 2013:

Thanks John for the helpful and interesting write. You just give an inspiration to give a try. I wouldn't know it's the right way. Anyway, here it goes:

Trumpets blasted loud

Day of rekoning draws nigh;

Lives keep on going.

Is it more a senryu (suggested by Richard) than a haitu?

JohnMello (author) from England on September 17, 2013:

Thanks krisnicole198 and Richard for your kind remarks and information!

Richard on September 17, 2013:

A haiku that is not about a nature topic is called a senryu. Format is the same.

Tin Tin The Impulsive from Pearl River, LA on September 12, 2013:

Awesome article, I haven't written a haiku since I was in elementary school, often enjoying simple poetry while keeping a personal journal. Lately I've been searching for a different form of expression. With meditation being a pass-time this will be more than useful! Thank you and please continue to dish the creative advice, it is much enjoyed.

JohnMello (author) from England on September 07, 2013:

Many thanks to you all for your lovely remarks... KenWu, tnderhrt23, pstraubie48, hyp, heidithorne, KenDeanAgudo, RTalloni.

RTalloni on September 06, 2013:

Congrats on your Hub of the Day award for this useful post on creating haiku. You've caused me to give it a try tonight:

Haiku is formed small,

large picture often results,

an exploding dawn.

Kenneth C Agudo from Tiwi, Philippines on September 06, 2013:

Wow, great hub! I was looking for an example of haiku that you have right here but i didn't find anything.

Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on September 06, 2013:

I did some haiku writing in high school and enjoyed it. After seeing some great hubs here on HP about it, I've got to give it another try. Thanks for the helpful hub and congrats on Hub of the Day!

hyp on September 06, 2013:

I'll try to write my own haiku. Congratulations on your Hub of the Day!

Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on September 06, 2013:

Congrats on Hub of the Day. This would be good to use in the classroom. Your directions are clear and easy to understand. Thanks for sharing Angels are on the way ps

tnderhrt23 on September 06, 2013:

Excellent, well-written, informative hub about Haiku! You have inspired me to give it a try! Thank you!

KenWu from Malaysia on September 06, 2013:

I am quite amazed with people that can write poetry .. they are so artistic..... ! For Haiku, it's the first time I heard such word.

JohnMello (author) from England on September 06, 2013:

Thanks Scott and moonlake for your kind remarks!

moonlake from America on September 06, 2013:

I like writing Haikus but I don't think I'm that good at it and they are hard to keep going on HubPages. Congrats on your HOD.

Scott P Williams on September 06, 2013:

pretty cool!

JohnMello (author) from England on September 06, 2013:

Thanks Just Ask Susan, rebeccamealey and Kathleen Cochran! Really appreciate your comments.

Kathleen Cochran from Atlanta, Georgia on September 06, 2013:

Exceptional HOD from a site that is becoming known as anti-poetry. Great choice!

Rebecca Mealey from Northeastern Georgia, USA on September 06, 2013:

Nice job! This would be great for English comp. teachers to use.Congratulations!

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on September 06, 2013:

Congrats on your well deserved HOTD!

JohnMello (author) from England on April 09, 2013:

Thanks DreamerMeg. Enjoy!

DreamerMeg from Northern Ireland on April 09, 2013:

Very interesting. I had heard of haiku and read a few that people had put on the net but had no idea about how to try writing them. Will have a go at some now. Thanks.

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