A Simple Haiku Writing Formula

Updated on September 2, 2013
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JohnMello is a writer, composer, musician and the 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. | Source

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 | Source

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.

Threatening weather forces us to seek shelter
Threatening weather forces us to seek shelter | Source

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 | Source
The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa (Essential Poets)
The Essential Haiku: Versions of Basho, Buson, & Issa (Essential Poets)

Fresh translations by an American poet the essential poems of the three greatest masters: Matsuo Basho in the seventeenth century; Yosa Buson in the eighteenth century; and Kobayashi Issa in the early nineteenth century.

 

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.

Haiku Writing Video

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 | Source

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.

Haiku Technique Quiz!


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    • profile image

      Perspycacious 12 months ago

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

    • profile image

      Mark 15 months ago

      Small post with a haiku that describe life

      http://ladies-lifestyle.com/articles/how-would-you...

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 18 months ago from England

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

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 18 months ago from Texas

      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 profile image
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      JohnMello 22 months ago from England

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

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 22 months ago from Queensland Australia

      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 haiku..one 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 profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

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

    • swalia profile image

      Shaloo Walia 2 years ago

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

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Thanks haikutwinkle :)

    • haikutwinkle profile image

      haikutwinkle 2 years ago

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

      Nice hub about haiku.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Glad you enjoyed it Melissa!

    • Melissa Orourke profile image

      Melissa Orourke 2 years ago from Roatán, Islas De La Bahia, Honduras

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

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

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

    • profile image

      Stargrrl 2 years ago

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

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 2 years ago from England

      Cool...

    • profile image

      Roger 2 years ago

      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!

    • wordswithlove profile image

      Neetu M 3 years ago from USA

      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 profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Thanks ajwrites57... glad you liked it.

    • ajwrites57 profile image

      AJ 3 years ago from Pennsylvania

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

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      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 profile image

      Ericajean 3 years ago

      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 profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

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

    • Lee Strong profile image

      Lee Strong 3 years ago

      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 profile image

      Lewis Jian 3 years ago from Taoyuan City

      You're most welcome

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      Glad you enjoyed them Lewis Jian!

    • Lewis Jian profile image

      Lewis Jian 3 years ago from Taoyuan City

      Thanks for those useful tips

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

      You're very welcome ignugent17!

    • profile image

      ignugent17 3 years ago

      Thanks for the information. it is very useful.

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 3 years ago from England

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

    • Vhanfire profile image

      Ian A. LAlusin 3 years ago from Lipa City, Batangas, Philippines

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

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

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

    • Ericajean profile image

      Ericajean 4 years ago

      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 profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

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

    • profile image

      Calvin 4 years ago

      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 profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks krisnicole198 and Richard for your kind remarks and information!

    • profile image

      Richard 4 years ago

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

    • krisnicole1987 profile image

      Tin Tin The Impulsive 4 years ago from Pearl River, LA

      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 profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

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

    • RTalloni profile image

      RTalloni 4 years ago from the short journey

      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.

    • KenDeanAgudo profile image

      Kenneth C Agudo 4 years ago from Tiwi, Philippines

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

    • heidithorne profile image

      Heidi Thorne 4 years ago from Chicago Area

      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 profile image

      hyp 4 years ago

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

    • pstraubie48 profile image

      Patricia Scott 4 years ago from sunny Florida

      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 profile image

      tnderhrt23 4 years ago

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

    • KenWu profile image

      KenWu 4 years ago from Malaysia

      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 profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks Scott and moonlake for your kind remarks!

    • moonlake profile image

      moonlake 4 years ago from America

      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 profile image

      Scott P Williams 4 years ago from Miami, Florida

      pretty cool!

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

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

    • Kathleen Cochran profile image

      Kathleen Cochran 4 years ago from Atlanta, Georgia

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

    • rebeccamealey profile image

      Rebecca Mealey 4 years ago from Northeastern Georgia, USA

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

    • Just Ask Susan profile image

      Susan Zutautas 4 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Congrats on your well deserved HOTD!

    • JohnMello profile image
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      JohnMello 4 years ago from England

      Thanks DreamerMeg. Enjoy!

    • DreamerMeg profile image

      DreamerMeg 4 years ago from Northern Ireland

      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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