The story goes that Ernest Hemmingway was once challenged to write a complete work of fiction in just six words. His response? An eerily evocative:
“For Sale: Baby Shoes. Never Worn.”
Years later, the challenge was issued worldwide by the storytelling website SmithMag.net: Write your life story in just six words! The result was more than 15,000 submissions and a book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure by Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser. Then NPR featured the phenomenon in its piece: Six Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled, and the LA Times published a commentary Short on Words, Deep in Meaning. Publishers Weekly wrote:
Can you describe your life in six words? That’s what the editors of storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers in 2006; the results, though decidedly uneven, make for compulsive reading and prove arguably as insightful as any 300+ page biography. Taken as a whole, this cascade of quotes from contributors famous and unknown creates a dizzying snowball effect of perspectives and feelings.
Can I describe my life in 6 words? I took up the gauntlet that was thrown at my feet.
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The Beginnings of my 6-Word Diary
In this blog-happy world of blathering writers ~ of which I am shamelessly one ~ words flow all too freely. As writers, we tend to focus our energies on ways to produce MORE words, not less. The idea of compressing a life into a succinct 6 word message inspired me. Like the fiercest of editors, this exercise calls you to drill down to WHAT IS truly most relevant, important and real.
Intrigued, I committed to try my hand at it in a year-long experiment that began on September 1, 2008. Initially, I created a page to record my attempts on my other blog: Potential Within, a site dedicated to yoga, reflective writing and inspiration. After several months, I was enjoying the process so much that I decided to make the exercise into its own blog, and this site was born.
At the time I started this, the folks at Smith had recently issued another request for 6 word submissions on the topic of motherhood. They called them the “Mom-oirs.” My friend Diane ran with the ball (or more aptly, the keyboard) and suggested that I call my entries “Pam-oirs” and so they were deemed.
I’ve toyed with the idea of explaining the six words in the post that follows ~ sort of a Paul Harvey-esque “Rest of the Story” ~ but I’m not sure if that wouldn’t take away from the mystery of just 6 words. We are intrigued wondering what happened to Hemingway’s baby. Just think how disappointing to find out it was only an ad on Ebay for some ugly baby shoes he’d received as a gift?!
In addition to the daily Pam-oirs, I’ve created another page on this site ~ Monthly Review ~ to track the patterns and themes that reveal themselves, and the insights that I’ve gleaned from this process. Can you summarize your life in exactly 6 words? Now that’s an interesting question.
Making all days and words count,
Pamela McFarland Walsh
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To view my daily entries, click on the black “home” button above or go to Pamoirs
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UPDATE — January 2, 2010
Six Word Memoirs Newest Book Released … And I’M in it!
It’s been a little over a year since I first became fascinated with six-word memoirs and started this blog. Some 15 months and 400+ entries later, I received word that one of my memoirs has been selected for a new book of this unique story form. It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure will be released this month, January 2010, and they are kicking off their book tour in Austin with an event at BookPeople this coming Friday night, January 8, 2010 at 7:00 p.m …
Thousands of memoirs are written every year, most of them clocking in at over 40,000 words. In It All Changed in an Instant, writers (both famous and not) are challenged to write their own six-word memoirs. The results range from funny to poignant. Authors Larry Smith and Rachel Fershleiser will be here at 7 PM. We are running a six-word memoir contest in honor of this event, so bring your brief memoirs to the reading where will award prizes to the winners! Here’s our six: Reading of short memoirs inspires, entertains. Our readings are fun, participatory, and short! We start on time & end 45 minutes later.
Six Word Memoirs are intriguing. Can you concisely tell a story in EXACTLY six words? But one of the things that I particularly enjoy about this genre is their inherent mystery. While sometimes the story behind the memoir is quite obvious, often times the reader is left to wonder, “what’s this really about?” Many times I have had folks say to me,“Oh, I know what THAT one was about,” only to be wrong in their assumption. For me, that is the fun. The interpretation can be so universal, but if you know the story, it’s a bit like pulling back the curtain on the Wizard of Oz.
So, if any of you are interested in seeing this art form in action (not to mention celebrating the book’s release), I’d be so honored to share the evening with you. BookPeople is located in downtown Austin at 603 N. Lamar, next to Whole Foods. Additional book events are scheduled for Brooklyn, Milwaukee, San Francisco, Seattle & New York City. For dates and more information, please check out the book tour schedule. And finally, pictured below is MY page, PAGE 123! Woo-hoooooo!
Get your copy soon! It’s great bathroom reading material! And remember …
Today the Toilet, Tomorrow the Coffee Table!