Non-Fiction Prompt #23

April 5, 2016 at 7:02 pm  •  Posted in Contest by

When Hemingway was famously challenged by his friends to write a story using only six words, he wrote the following:

For sale: Baby shoes, never worn.

Apparently he’s called it his best work.

You may not agree that this is really a story, as after all, the reader does have to infer much of the narrative on their own. On the other hand, one could argue that it possesses the most essential elements of a story: it contains a conflict, and gives the reader an emotional reaction.

An interesting result of the six-word story is ambiguity: this may be the story of a mother having a miscarriage, but couldn’t it also be a story of parents buying shoes for their baby, finding that they don’t fit, and posting an ad on Craigslist?

This effect gets a little weirder when applied to non-fiction.

In 2006, Smith Magazine took Hemingway’s concept and applied it to the memoir, asking readers to submit six-word memoirs to their magazine. They received an overwhelming response, and now the six-word memoir has become an ongoing project (learn more here).


“I still make coffee for two.” -Zak Nelson

“Never really finished anything, except cake.” -Carletta Perkins

“After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.” -Robin Templeton

“Afraid to write the wrong poems.” -Syra Ortiz-Blanes

For this exercise, you’ll write your own six-word memoir. If you’d like to follow a step-by-step process, you can try this. The challenge is to be succinct while creating an emotional impact. Consider, too: how much ambiguity do you want this piece to have?

Got more to say? Enter our 2016 annual Non-Fiction Contest for the chance to win $1500 and publication in EVENT.