TED Conversations

Rachel Lehmann-Haupt

Senior Editor, TED Books, TED Books


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Can you define your life in just six words?

This is the challenge Larry Smith presented to his online community, SMITH MAGAZINE, in 2006. His quest was inspired by the legend that Ernest Hemingway was once challenged to write a novel in just six words. His heart-breaking result: "For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Giving the form a personal twist, Smith reimagined the six-word novel idea as the Six-Word Memoir, challenging contributors to create a half-dozen words of self-reflection. The constraint, it turned out, fueled rather than inhibited creativity: "Sometimes lonely in a crowded bed." Inspired by the form's popularity in schools, Smith recently called for submissions for illustrated Six-Word Memoirs, in which he asked students, whether in grade school or grad school, to create a piece of artwork that enhanced their memoirs. The voices in Things Don't Have to Be Complicated are younger than typical, but no less profound:

"Big Dream, Big Heart, Big Mouth"
"I'm a Muslim. not a terrorist."
"Life is better with headphones on."

At its core, the Six-Word Memoir offers a simple way for anyone of any age to try to answer the question that defines us all: Who am I?

Here's an excerpt of the book in the Washington Post:

You can buy it on:

Kindle: http://tinyurl.com/b35x88g

iOS: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/things-dont-have-to-be-complicated/id588129395?ls=1

Nook: http://tinyurl.com/cy8pdae

Author Larry Smith will be joining us for a one hour Q&A January 15th, at Noon Pacific / 3pm Eastern. Mark your calendars!


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    Jan 15 2013: That's really cool. The thing that has really struck me about this book is that it kinda makes you see that age doesn't matter. ..A 7 year old can be very wise and in a way seem wiser than some adults! Don't you think?
    • Jan 15 2013: For sure, and you really see how "the wisdom of babes" really can be true. At my first "talk" I was at my nephew's third-grade classroom and heard six-word brilliance such as:

      “Tried surfing on a calm day."
      "Life is better in soft pajamas."
      "Nine years stacked within my soul."

      This kids are eight and nine -- amazing, right?
      • Jan 15 2013: Piece of work ! These are amazing sentences. Open for interpretation. It shows how simple and yet how complex our existance and decisions in life are! Great project Larry!

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