If you had exactly six words to describe your life, what would they be?
That's the question I've been asking people across the world for more then six years at the personal storytelling community SMITH Magazine, home of the Six-Word Memoir® project.
The Six-Word Memoir is a modern spin on a literary legend. As the story goes, Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a whole novel in just six words--"For sale: baby shoes, never worn." At SMITH Mag we gave the six-word conceit a personal twist, asking people to describe their lives in exactly six words. People across the world shared smart, funny, and moving stories in just six words: "I still make coffee for two,” “Mom’s Alzheimer’s: She forgets, I remember,” "One tooth, one cavity, life's cruel," and “Married by Elvis, divorced by Friday.” Nearly one million brief life stories later by people of every age, nationality and description, Six-Word Memoirs have become an international phenom, hailed as "American Haiku" and especially popular in schools (all of the examples you see in this post are by students, like this illustrated six by Rachel Ruiz Levit).
Why does the form work so well? Above all, because it's simple. We all have a story to tell, though it's often hard to know how to start. But fear subsides when you chip away at a blank page one word at a time (and it's filled in just six). Don't like what you've come up with? Start over. Or just keep writing more.
Six works because anyone can do it. In schools (a writing prompt), churches and synagogues (six-word prayers and atonements), veterans groups and speed-dating sessions, Six Words have become a way to catalyze conversation, spark imagination, or simply break the ice. Celebrities from Stephen Colbert ("Well, I thought it was funny") to HuffPo's own Arianna Huffington ("Fearlessness is the mother of reinvention") have gotten the six-word bug, too. (Watch a short talk for more about how Six Words has spread.)
The heart and soul of the Six-Word project is about asking anyone and everyone to get to the essence of who they are and what matters most. So as 2013 draws to a close, I challenge you to think about your grand plans and high hopes for 2014--and then break them down, one by one, to just a half-dozen well-chosen words. Share your "Six-Word Resolution" in the comments below--and take a little bit of inspiration from Sonia M. (above), age 10, who kicks things off with six words to live by.