Urban legend has it that once, Ernest Hemingway was challenged to compose a novel in only six words. He came up with "For sale, Baby shoes, Never worn," thus winning the $10 bet and making everyone sad using only 25 characters.
While this tale may be apocryphal, it demonstrates the power of a succinct, carefully crafted, six-word message. Captivated by the construct, Larry Smith (yes, Piper Kerman's husband), founder and editor of SMITH Magazine, began soliciting people's best six-word stories for SMITH's Six-Word Memoir project. He later expanded the construct to include advice as well as memoir and has now collected the counsel of celebrity and non-celebrity sages for his new book, The Best Advice in Six Words: Writers Famous and Obscure on Love, Sex, Money, Friendship, Family, Work, and Much More.
"When I first launched the Six-Word Memoir project, I was surprised by the quantity of responses, then delighted by how well people could describe their lives in just six words," Smith tells us. "The constraint fuels creativity. The same holds true when we’re given just six words to sum up the best advice we’ve given or received: We can read massive, impressive tomes on the downside of technology, or we can be reminded in just a half dozen words, 'Your phone does not love you.'"
Smith first put out the call for six-word pieces of advice to the "the awesome and engaged community at SixWordMemoirs.com," he says, and then went on to reach out to people in "the arts, comedy, food, science, writing, wellness, and more" who he thought might have juicy, concise nuggets of guidance to offer. As for the celebrities featured in the book, some reached out to Smith, while he asked others (Allison Williams, Taylor Schilling) to contribute on the spot.
"The trickiest celebrities to land are often some of my favorite writers," Smith adds. "I get the sense that, because they are so well known for their words, they never quite feel their six words are good enough. But when someone such as Jeannette Walls ('Face your demons, then harness them') does finally get back to me, it is so worth the wait."
Click through for 19 mini-hits of advice that may shift your thinking. You'll be surprised at what six little words can do.