“For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

“Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.”

Earnest Hemmingway may be better known for what he does not say, than what he does say. His brevity of words was perhaps one of his greatest strengths as a writer. His style has been coined as “hard boiled.” According to nobelprize.org, “hard boiled” means to be unfeeling, callous, coldhearted, cynical, rough, obdurate, unemotional, [or] without sentiment.” Rather than describing an emotion, Hemmingway strove to describe the event that evoked the emotion, and leave the emoting to the reader. Hemmingway says in his book Death in the Afternoon, “If a writer of prose knows enough about what he is writing about he may omit things that he knows and the reader, if the writer is writing truly enough, will have a feeling of those things.”

Hemmingway’s concise writing, known for penetrating the heart of the issue without delay, is what allowed him to be the center of a famous urban legend: it has been said that while in a bar with some buddies, Hemmingway bet that he could write a novel in six words. His buddies took the bet, and after scribbling six words on a napkin, Hemmingway showed his friends and collected his winnings. The famous six words: “For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

This urban legend is in fact a legend—there is no evidence of this actually occurring as it is fabled. In fact, the story and similar stories have been traced to pre-Hemmingway. However, the succinct style Hemmingway demonstrates in his writing is worth immolating for anyone who finds their work crammed with long, awkward, invasive, superfluous, and unnecessarily adjective laden sentences. It also helps one meet word counts.

One way to practice this style is with a six-word memoir, pioneered by Smith magazine in a contest where they challenged people to write their memoirs in six words and submit them. They got so many wonderful submissions they published them in a book titled, “Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure.”

Therefore, I challenge you to write your six-word memoir, and I will leave you with mine: “Saving my six words for later.”




3 thoughts on ““For sale: baby shoes. Never worn.”

  1. alecsakazenas April 16, 2015 / 6:53 pm

    “Writing concisely: the struggle is real.”

    I loved how you used such a prominent writer to illustrate the importance of showing the reader, not telling the reader how to feel. Coupled with the urban legend, this was a fun read backed with ethos and examples. I also liked how your sentence regarding awkward sentences was, in fact, an awkward sentence; juxtaposed immediately with a proper, concise example.
    Loved the call to action, as well. Six-word memoirs seem like fun exercises with a fantastic pay off.


  2. jesslangone April 21, 2015 / 5:49 pm

    The six word memoir is a fantastic idea! Here are a couple of my tries:

    “Living life like a lion: Sleeping.”

    “That river is like a railroad.”

    “Is that your truck still running?”

    “Sandals make excellent war shoes, newbie. ”

    “Twitter has word counts for a…”

    “Michelle would have been her name.”

    “My dad hates tattoos and me.”

    I think when it comes down to it, Hemmingway’s style emulates what the six word story/memoir does, it shows the reader how to feel. The six word story example is a great way to start the thinking process to simply fanciful writing.


  3. stephaniebaur April 23, 2015 / 11:52 pm

    Really enjoyed both of your memoirs! Thanks for responding 🙂


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