Short on words, deep in meaning

Larry Smith, founder of the online magazine SMITH, and Rachel Fershleiser are the co-editors of "Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure." Read/submit memoirs at

Everyone has a story. That’s the tag on the masthead of SMITH, our online magazine. Yet until we asked the world to send us six-word memoirs, even we had no idea how true it was.

We took a page from Ernest Hemingway. According to legend, he was challenged to write a novel in only six words and came up with “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” We posed the same challenge online, but we asked for true-life stories -- in just half a dozen well-chosen words.

To launch the challenge, we posted examples from names we figured most readers would know, such as “Eat, Pray, Love” author Elizabeth Gilbert (“Me see world! Me write stories!”; she naturally e-mailed hers in from an airport runway in Indonesia) and celebrity chef Mario Batali (he sent seven, each enlightening but none as pitch-perfect as “Brought it to a boil, often”).


More than 15,000 (and counting) submissions later, we arecontinually struck by what proves possible in just six words.

The short, short life stories keep coming in. As we type this, a quick glance reveals that Emily Hambridge “wanted to write but feared failure.” With half a dozen words and a few clicks of the keyboard, she’s just rewritten the story of her life.

What’s yours?

Ex-wife and contractor now have house.

-- Drew Peck

Wasn’t born a redhead; fixed that.

-- Andie Grace

Chinese immigrant loathing drama in Anaheim.

-- Eric Wong

Can’t tonight, watching “Law & Order.”

-- Rory Evans

Found true love, married someone else.

-- Bjorn Stromberg

Fifteen years since last professional haircut.

-- Dave Eggers

One tooth, one cavity, life’s cruel.

-- John Bettencourt

Must remember: people, gadgets. That order.

-- Brian Lam

Made a mess. Cleaned it up.

-- Amy Anderson

Hockey is not just for boys.

-- Alexandra Duplin

Put whole self in, shook about.

-- Melissa Delzio

My second-grade teacher was right.

-- Janelle Brown

Well, I thought it was funny.

-- Stephen Colbert

Where the hell are my keys?

-- Brady Udall

Dad wore leather pants in Reno.

-- John Falk

Secret of life: Marry an Italian.

-- Nora Ephron

Little bit Lucy, tempered by Ethel.

--Tami Maus

I think, therefore I am bald.

-- Dickie Widjaja

Took scenic route, got in late.

-- Will Blythe

Being a monk stunk. Better gay.

-- Bob Redman

Became my mother. Please shoot me.

-- Cynthia Kaplan

Should not have eaten those mushrooms.

-- Emilie Raguso

Was father, boys died, still sad.

-- Ronald Zalewski


-- Jancee Dunn

It’s pretty high. You go first.

-- Alan Eagle

Me: consistently avoiding death since 1978!

-- Daniel Fowlkes

New Jersey to California. Thank God.

-- Ayelet Waldman

I still make coffee for two.

-- Zak Nelson

It was embarrassing, so don’t ask.

-- Alex Lindquist