To make a long story short

I value concise language. I try to keep my posts under 500 words, so they take only a few minutes to read. But writing short can be harder than writing long.

French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal expressed this sentiment in 1656 when he wrote in his Provincial Letters, “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” The quote has since been attributed to many, including Mark Twain.

A modern example of writing short is tweeting, with its 140-character limit. While I sometimes admire the imaginative ways tweeters stay within those confines, I’m not sure that narrating the minutiae of our everyday lives is worth writers’ or readers’ time.

Given my minimalist tendencies, it’s no surprise I’m drawn to the “Six-Word Memoir” project founded by Larry Smith, whose online storytelling community gathers at Smith Magazine. As Smith explains in a video on his website, Ernest Hemingway was once challenged in a bar bet to write a novel in six words. Here’s what he supposedly came up with:

For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.


That Hemingway anecdote is likely an urban legend, but it inspired Smith to start asking people, “Can you describe your life in just six words?” Indeed they could, and the “Six-Word Memoir” project was born.

Told to marry rich. Married Richard.

Life’s GPS keeps saying recalculating, recalculating.

Son’s autism broke and rebuilt me.

Interest in the six-word memoir surged. Teens participated in the project:

Mom just revoked my creative license.

Smith visited his nephew’s third-grade classroom in New Jersey and gave the kids a chance to write their own six-word memoirs. One little girl’s solemn response awed him:

Nine years stacked within my soul.

“I didn’t know whether to call her parents—or The New Yorker,” Smith says.

Smith has taken the project to AARP conventions and music festivals. He has worked with veterans and green activists and suicide prevention groups. He has asked celebrities to try the six-word form. Novelist Amy Tan offered this gem:

Former boss: “Writing’s your worst skill.”

I wondered, could I paint a picture of a volunteer experience with just six words?

How about this one:

Dementia stole speech. Still, she sings.

You can say a lot in six words.

Copyright © 2016 by Paulette Bochnig Sharkey
All rights reserved.

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8 Responses to To make a long story short

  1. Jessa says:

    Do you know who Kim Kardashian is? She just accepted an award with a 5 word speech. You can google it. 😉

  2. June ritchie says:

    Knowing the Payettes there’s no chance!

  3. Riff Noggin says:

    Love your 6-worder, Paulette (AKA “Kim K”).

    Then there’s the maybe true story that someone bet they could get Calvin Coolidge to say more than two words; he responded, “You lose.”

  4. Aunt Evie says:

    Friday night I had dinner at old friends Madah and Barry Tuttle’s home in St. Augustine. One of Madah’s college friends was there (among others), and she and Madah sang along with a recording they had made as a trio in college. The amazing part is that Madah remembered almost all of the lyrics and melodies, even tho she has advanced dementia. I know you’ve seen examples of this in your volunteer work, too. (Sorry, this was way more than 6 words.)

  5. I’m so glad you shared this story — thank you. It’s a perfect illustration of my 6-word story.

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