As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’ve been writing a lot of haiku lately. I find it endlessly fascinating and it really is amazing how many different ways you can come up with to say something using as few syllables as possible. Today I thought I’d write about my own technique for writing haiku. I’ve made mention of the fact that I’m not a teacher. In fact, I’m a student. I make it a point to keep learning what I can about haiku by reading what are considered to be the Japanese masters and also reading haiku by ordinary people who love to write. I am an ordinary people, and hopefully what I write, will help someone else.
I’ve been writing haiku for several years; I think my first haiku post on this blog dates back to 2014. My first attempts were not as refined as today’s are, and I still have a long way to go. But the more I do it, the more I understand. Keep in mind that what I’m writing here are my own opinions and yours may differ, and that’s just fine. I certainly don’t believe that I know it all and my way is the best. That’s completely untrue. Your way, is the best for you, and if others like what you write, that’s even better. But gaining insight about how others write in invaluable information that I use all the time. This may help you as well. So, how do I write haiku? Well, I’m glad you asked.
The “rules” of writing haiku are many, and varied. Ask ten people what they are, and you’ll get ten answers. Actually you’ll probably get two answers because the other eight have never heard of haiku, and that’s another good reason to write it and write about it, so others can find out what it is. I have guidelines that I go by for writing haiku because I like them. They are not hard and fast rules for me, nor should they be for you. Writing haiku is personal, and you should write it the way you think is best. If your haiku are turning out the way you want them to, then you’re writing good haiku. If others like them, that’s a win win situation. Here are the “rules” that I use for writing my haiku.
I use a 5-7-5 or less, syllable rule. Why? Because I like it. In fact, my favorite haiku give me all the information I need with as few words as possible. The fact that the Japanese language has word “sounds” as opposed to English “syllables” means that Japanese haiku can never be accurately translated into English and therefore the rules for Japanese haiku should be looked at as guidelines rather than hard rules. I don’t like haiku that use too many syllables. They are too wordy and almost become sentences rather than fragments and phrases, which brings me to my next guide. I try to stick with the fragment and phrase rule. And because I go by that guide, I don’t use punctuation, or capitals, because fragments and phrases aren’t sentences. Except when it comes to apostrophes. For example, the word “boys” is a plural and “boy’s” is a possessive, so you have to use the apostrophe if you want the word to mean the right thing. Apostrophes are the only punctuation I use.
When I first started writing haiku I used season words and wrote only about nature, as the Japanese masters had done. I’ve since abandoned that and write about a variety of subjects, like, people, emotions, etc. I recently bought a book titled, Elemental Haiku by Mary Soon Lee. The author has written haiku about the elements on the periodic table so yeah, you can write haiku about anything.
I also try to use descriptive words. I try not to use words that the majority of people won’t understand without looking them up. I want my haiku to be meaningful but without pretense. The words should be understandable so you get the meaning easily. I also try to make my haiku in a way that makes you think. Sometimes words, phrases and fragments can have more than one meaning and that’s just fine. You can choose to have them mean whatever you want, and that makes them more personal. I want my haiku to leave you with emotions that are meaningful to your life. Are they all like that? No, they’re not. Some are just celebrations of ordinary things, and some are more thought provoking. Mixing it up with variety is a good way to stay fresh. I don’t want you to read my haiku and think that this one is just like all the others he writes.
Those are my rules, or guidelines. I try to stay within them, but sometimes you have to write the best you can even if your haiku stray outside your comfort zone. And doing that sometimes helps you find new ways to write which you end up liking. If you want to write good haiku, you have to read haiku, lots of them. I’m constantly on the lookout for haiku books by the masters and by ordinary people. I look online, on social media and in books. If you look on the right hand column of my blog’s home page you’ll find my Twitter feed. I recently started a new Twitter account just for this blog where I write my haiku. Click on the feed and you can follow me there. I’ve found lots of good haiku on Twitter. Keep reading and writing.