Creating Haiku


There are many different paths up haiku mountain.

Some prefer the traditional approach, talking about nature, sudden enlightenment, 5-7-5 syllables, staying within "the rules", and so on. Others prefer to implement minor or major tweaks on the topics and even the structure of the traditional haiku. Some like using pen and paper and others prefer computers.

Here are some approaches that I like when I think about and create haiku. Of the poems that I've written (which can be found here), of them are haiku.


I like to literally look out the window, or go outside, go for a hike, work in our garden, etc., and get inspiration. I mentally or literally take notes. In the "traditional" way I tend to follow the 5-7-5 syllable structure. I sit down and write or type. I do try to stay within the "rules" and talk about nature.


In this approach, the structure is typically 5-7-5, but can vary (especially considering that 5-7-5 itself is technically not traditional). More importantly, the topics themselves can be anything, not just nature related.

Completely Random

In this approach I use a spreadsheet I created (see below) and use a random selection "as is". Every now and then a good 5 or 7 line gets created which I will then "collect", set aside, and possibly use later. It is extremely rare to use an entire haiku generated in this manner, as it tends to be complete gibberish. But every now and then... One of the most useful tasks this random approach can be used for is to do the equivalent of reaching into the depths of your brain or dictionary to grab a word that you completely forgot about or didn't even know existed.

Traditional, Modern, or Random, with Tools

In this approach I can follow the traditional, modern, or random approach, and I use various tools, such as online dictionaries, thesaurus, rhyme collections, and so on. Also, following my Mathematics of Haiku article, I use my spreadsheet which lists and selects words from 1 to 7 syllables. In this approach I would never use a selection "as is", but more for inspiration and tweaking before making my haiku. The "modern + random + tools" is the path I most often take up haiku mountain. I like to be creative as possible and not limit myself by artificial rules, topics, and methods unless I choose to.

Here is a link to download my haiku creator spreadsheet as of the writing of this article. Enjoy! Please do credit if you use the spreadsheet however.


This approach I call a "bootstrap" poem, and since we are looking at haiku, a "bootstrap haiku". I create a new 5-7-5 haiku from randomly sampling from my collection of 5's and 7's from previously created haikus or lists of 5 and 7 lines, thus creating a completely new and unique haiku. This is like a "cento" poem, where the lines are from different writers, except there is only one writer and it is me, and the lines are randomly sampled, with perhaps some minor editing. The mathematics of a bootstrap haiku are as follows. If I have M 5s already created and N 7s already created, then the total number of possible bootstrap haikus is M*N*M, or M2*N. Using my current numbers from creating haikus, the total possible number of bootstrap haikus I can create is . Actually, the number should be slightly less because I've already written bootstrap haikus that are included in the total haiku count N. See my Haiku 96 and Haiku 108 for some examples of bootstrap haikus. You get extra points if you find the original haikus they were sampled from at the haiku page.

Note that the bootstrap method can be applied to any type of poem. At my bootstrap page I have bootstrap poems that I have created from randomly selecting lines from all of the poems I've created.

An interesting question might be "how many haikus do I need to be able to create, say, 1,000,000 bootstrap haikus?" Here's the, I believe surprising, answer, 63. You simply solve M*(M/2)*M = 1,000,000, which is M3/2 = 1,000,000, so M = 2,000,0001/3 = 126. The variable M, remember, is the number of 5's needed, so M/2 is the number of 7's, and hence the number of haikus, you need, so 63.

A side note just to clarify the notation. Note that N = M/2 in the case where you have M/2 haikus created. If you have some haikus created and a collection of other 5 and 7 lines (the ones you "set aside for later" I mentioned above) then N and M/2 can be different, which is why I wrote it as N in one paragraph and M/2 in another.

Here is a general list of ideas for haiku content:

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