How to Write a Haiku

Haiku poetry hails from Japan and uses strict syllable guidelines rather than focusing on meter or rhyme. Because the poem is short -- only three lines with 17 total syllables -- writers must choose words carefully to create meaning. Haiku poetry is typically simplistic, but its meaning can have great depth.


Each of the three lines in a haiku has a set number of syllables. The first allows for five syllables. The second line features seven syllables. The final line goes back to five for a total of 17 syllables. Writing within this structure can be a challenge. Choose short, simple words with one or two syllables so you get more words in each line. Traditional haiku poems include a brief pause after the first or second line.

Poem Theme

You can choose almost any topic for your haiku poem, but traditional haiku poetry follows some general theme guidelines. Haikus often relate to nature. They generally include a seasonal word, known as a kigo, in the text. The kigo is often not obvious but rather a subtle nod to the season. For example, a haiku might mention leaves on the ground for a fall theme or a white blanket as a reference to snow in winter. Choose your general theme and consider what time of year it might relate to. A haiku about fishing can fit with summer, for example.

Text Features

In traditional haiku poetry, similes and metaphors don't make the cut. Get to the point quickly to maximize your syllables without the need for either comparison technique. Write your haiki in present tense to emphasize a particular moment. Avoid writing in first person to stick with the traditional format. The poem should create a strong image in the reader's head based on the words. Use words that stimulate the five senses to create images with your poem. Haikus often include a twist, sudden contrast or enlightening spin on a common item or event. When writing your haiku, approach your theme from a different perspective to give readers a novel insight on the idea.

Writing Procedure

Once you have your theme in mind, jot down some key words that relate to the theme. Use as many descriptive words as possible: The more powerful the words, the more value you get for their syllables. Start writing your three lines, referring to your word list as needed. Don't get too caught up in the syllable count for your rough draft. Get your ideas on paper in three short lines. Go back through to count your syllables. You might be able to rearrange the words slightly or replace one word with another to stay within the five-seven-five syllable pattern.