A Simple Haiku Writing Formula
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:
- Choose a subject
- Describe your subject
- Tell how it affects you
- Find a different perspective
- 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...
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.