“I LIVED. I WROTE. I REWROTE.”
The story of my life. My epitaph. My autobiography. My six-word memoir. Have you ever heard of six-word memoirs? They’re the brainchild of Larry Smith, the co-founder and editor-in-chief of the online publication, Smith Magazine. The idea behind both the magazine and the memoirs is to provide a platform for storytelling, in all its forms.
It’s been said that Ernest Hemingway had once been asked to write a short story in just six words. The result was: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” Larry Smith was inspired by it.
So he decided to create his own version of the challenge. And in November 2006, he and his colleagues at Smith Magazine partnered with Twitter. They developed a month-long contest: Tell the story of your life in just six words.
Yeah, you read right. Sum up your entire life in six words. Like it was the title of a book. The winner would win an iPod. The results were amazing. The famous red-headed chef, Mario Batali wrote: “Brought it to a boil often.” I have a copy of the book. It is one of the most inspiring books I’ve ever owned. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve re-read it.
Anyway, the six-word memoir idea really took off. Teachers, from grade schools to the Yale Law School, started adapting it for use in their classrooms, sometimes using just words and sometimes having students include illustrations.
Over the years Smith’s published three books of six-word memoirs. “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs from Writers Famous & Obscure”, “Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure” and “I Can’t Keep My Own Secrets — Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure.”
And then he was approached by TED. In case you’ve not heard of it, TED is is a global set of conferences owned by the private non-profit Sapling Foundation, formed to share “ideas worth spreading.” They wanted to know what kind of book would get him the most ‘jazzed’. “A book that celebrated the artful works of students. One that would be an even more effective catalyst for educators everywhere”, was his answer.
So they put out a call for submissions. And this time they added a twist. They included artwork. They got about 2,000 entries. The result is “Things Don’t Have To Be Complicated: Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs By Students Making Sense of the World”. Just a few include “There’s no such thing as secrets.” “Life is better with headphones on.” “Break the rules now and then.” “Feeling small in a technical world.” Another, “They said to follow my dreams” showed an empty bed and a trail of those six words leading out a window and into the world.
Pretty intense, some of them.
I woke up this morning, thinking of Smith and his idea. Why, God only knows. I decided to give myself the challenge. When I first heard about him years ago I submitted one online and it got published. It was, “Never too old to feel young”. I does describe my approach to life. But when I read it now it means much more because it totally describes my late mother. And I realize it’s part of the inheritance she left me. A zest for life. A desire to ‘taste’ as much of it as I can. A commitment to stay current and relevant, always.
But today I wanted to sum up my purpose. “I lived. I wrote. I rewrote.” I’ll let you form your own conclusions as it what it means. Beyond the obvious, of course.
For the record, this is not an easy exercise. It is very difficult (but tons of fun, and quite addictive). It reminds me of one of my favourite Mark Twain quotes. One I think every writer should have tattooed on our brain. “I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one”. When it comes to writing, brevity and clarity are everything.
Take a crack at writing your six-word memoir. I’d love to see what you come up with.