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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: In looking at the sample via the Washington Post, I was struck by how so many of the older students focused their tales on dreams and breaking free of rules and boundaries, pushing for themselves to be accepted for who they are, whereas the younger ones are very straightforward, dealing with life (afraid of bears, wanting to go to college). Is this typical of book?
    • Jan 15 2013: That's a great observation. I think the younger kids, especially ones who haven't hit puberty, are in their own way more rational (that's not exactly the right word). But they're very much in the moment. Broadly (very) speaking older kids have more angst but also more dreams. And this is not only typical of this book but very consistent with what we see on SMITHmag and SMITHTeens, and what I hear when I do workshops or go into classrooms.

      And I did a project with AARP Magazine a few years ago and the memoirs from older folks tended to be really positive ("Sixty. Single. Rich. Call me collect") and full of life lessons ("When cookies are passed, take one" "Sign the card, eat the cake").
      • Jan 15 2013: I suspect that part of the beauty of being a young kid is that you live in the moment. To a certain degree i guess the seniors do to some degree as well. In between we spend maybe too much of our time thinking of the consequences that our choices today might bring...

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