WRITING ONE’S STORY IN SIX WORDS

It is widely believed that the legendary author Ernest Hemingway wrote six-word stories about his life. This is in sharp contrast to the conventional view of long autobiographies that are published in the form of books. While these are no substitutes for full-length biographies, six-word stories do in fact have a tremendous impact.

First, a six-word sequence is easy to remember. And second, if a person has to express one’s life in six words, those would perhaps be the most carefully chosen words that pertain to the most significant aspect of one’s history or character.

Hemingway wrote, “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.” Such a sequence is meant to be thought-provoking, giving rise to a variety of questions in the reader’s mind, while providing very little in terms of concrete information.

Upon reading it, one might say that the writer purchased shoes for a child, and perhaps lost the child to a misfortune. And hence, the shoes were never worn. Another interpretation might be that the writer had an extremely difficult life that made him reach emotional maturity at a very young age, and therefore there was not much in his life in terms of a childhood. That is, the writer had to start wearing “adult” shoes while still a child, and the “baby shoes” were “never worn.” There is no limit to the ways this six-word sequence could be interpreted.

As a passionate writer, I believe that shorter pieces of writing are some of the most effective ones. Unless someone is writing a long academic or professional paper or a novel, writing smaller articles often leave a greater impression on the reader’s mind.

Many professional and educational standards do in fact require concise, to-the-point, and short pieces of writings. Examples include, but are not limited to, an abstract, a letter to the editor, and a foreword or preface to a book.

In this day and age, it is often believed that the attention span of readers has decreased. Electronic gadgets like smartphones and tablets have contributed to this decline. Therefore, writers must adapt, with attention-grabbing shorter pieces of writings that could be consumed by readers in entirety without spending too much time. Just another argument in favor of short writings.

Going back to Ernest Hemingway’s six-word stories, I do believe that this format is extremely powerful. Not everyone is interested to, or has the skills or patience to, write his or her life’s story in details. But if people are asked to express their stories in six words, I am pretty sure that many would make an attempt to do so. And that is a great way to engage people in a thoughtful process.

Finally, I certainly am a fan of six-word stories, while also being an avid reader of full-length books. I continue to think of various six-word sequences to talk about my life and my experiences, and I would encourage others to do the same. Pick up a pen and paper, and start thinking about six words that would tell your story. Do it now!

2 comments

  1. I’m a fan of Hemingway so thanks for presenting this perspective on concise writing and referencing him as a master of it. It certainly is a relevant approach to writing in this day and age, and a worthy challenge to tell one’s story in six words. I’m going to give it a try. Thanks!

    1. Thank you for your comments Anne! I am happy to know that you will try writing your story in six words. I also have been trying to come up with a six word sequence for my own story. It takes a lot of careful thought and concentration. But it’s a process worth spending time on 🙂

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