Six-Word Memoirs: Life Stories Distilled
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Once asked to write a full story in six words, legend has it that novelist Ernest Hemingway responded: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn."
In this spirit of simple yet profound brevity, the online magazine Smith asked readers to write the story of their own lives in a single sentence. The result is Not Quite What I Was Planning, a collection of six-word memoirs by famous and not-so-famous writers, artists and musicians. Their stories are sometimes sad, often funny — and always concise.
The book is full of well-known names — from writer Dave Eggers (Fifteen years since last professional haircut), to singer Aimee Mann (Couldn't cope so I wrote songs), to comedian Stephen Colbert (Well, I thought it was funny).
The collection has plenty of six-word insights from everyday folks as well: Love me or leave me alone was scrawled on a hand dryer in a public bathroom; I still make coffee for two was penned by a 27-year-old who had just been dumped.
Larry Smith, founding editor of Smith magazine, and Rachel Fershleiser, Smith's memoir editor, talk about the experience of capturing real-life stories in six words — no more, no less.
Fershleiser's six-word memoir? Bespectacled, besneakered, read and ran around. And Smith's: Big hair, big heart, big hurry.
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Not Quite What I Was Planning
Six-word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure
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Excerpt: 'Not Quite What I Was Planning'
Edited by Smith magazine
After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
- Robin Templeton
70 years, few tears, hairy ears.
- Bill Querengesser
Watching quietly from every door frame.
- Nicole Resseguie
Catholic school backfired. Sin is in!
- Nikki Beland
Savior complex makes for many disappointments.
- Alanna Schubach
Nobody cared, then they did. Why?
- Chuck Klosterman
Some cross-eyed kid, forgotten then found.
- Diana Welch
She said she was negative. Damn.
- Ryan McRae
Born in the desert, still thirsty.
- Georgene Nunn
A sake mom, not soccer mom.
- Shawna Hausman
I asked. They answered. I wrote.
- Sebastian Junger
No future, no past. Not lost.
- Matt Brensilver
Extremely responsible, secretly longed for spontaneity.
- Sabra Jennings
Joined Army. Came out. Got booted.
- Johan Baumeister
Almost a victim of my family
- Chuck Sangster
The psychic said I'd be richer.
- Elizabeth Bernstein
Grumpy old soundman needs love, too.
- Lennie Rosengard
Mom died, Dad screwed us over.
- Lesley Kysely
Painful nerd kid, happy nerd adult.
- Linda Williamson
Write about sex, learn about love.
- Martha Garvey
Excerpted from Not Quite What I Was Planning from Smith magazine, edited by Rachel Fershleiser and Larry Smith. Copyright 2008. Reproduced with permission of the publisher, Harper Perennial.