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

(Six-Word Memoirs)

3.90  ·  Rating details ·  3,274 ratings  ·  463 reviews
Deceptively simple and surprisingly addictive, Not Quite What I Was Planning is a thousand glimpses of humanity—six words at a time.

When Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn," he proved that an entire story can be told using a half-dozen words. When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, they proved a

Paperback, 225 pages
Published February 5th 2008 by Harper Perennial (first published February 1st 2008)
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Richard Derus
May 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
Rating: 3.75* of five

My Review: Deceptively simple and surprisingly addictive, Not Quite What I Was Planning is a thousand glimpses of humanity—six words at a time.
When Ernest Hemingway famously wrote, "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn," he proved that an entire story can be told using a half-dozen words. When the online storytelling magazine SMITH asked readers to submit six-word memoirs, they proved a whole, real life can be told this way, too. The results are fascinating, hilarious, shocking,
☘Misericordia☘ ⚡ϟ⚡⛈⚡☁ ❇️❤❣
Warning: This is not a book.
Disclaimer: Who cares?

The 6-word experiment produced some interesting results. See below:
Danced in Fields of Infinite Possibilities.
Boy, if I had a hammer.
After Harvard, had baby with crackhead.
Born in the desert, still thirsty.
No future, no past. Not lost.
Fourteen years old, story still untold.
One long train ride to darkness.
Stranded by ten-thousand-mile crush.
Oldest of five. Four degrees. Broke.
Made a mess. Cleaned it up.
My family i
Jun 26, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, wordplay
During NaNoWriMo 2006, SMITH magazine issued a challenge - write a six-word memoir. From published writers, celebrities and undiscovered authors came the responses.

The stories they (briefly) told were philosophical:

"Afraid of everything. Did it anyway." Ayse Erginer
"Found great happiness in insignificant details." Alisdair McDiarmid
"Started small, grew, peaked, shrunk, vanished." George Saunders

Occasionally inspirational:

"Followed rules, not dreams. Never again." Margaret Hellerstein


Feb 13, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: writers
I love this book, if only because it makes me want to write a six-word memoir for my life. My junior American Studies students wrote their own:

A little rough around the edges.
My conscience: brought to you by…
Dear mom, how is your cell?
I love god. Love me more.
I wonder what my cat’s doing.
What’s broken can always be rebuilt.
I am not quite there yet.
Would you like fries with that?
When do I get to leave?
Homesick for somewhere I’ve never been.
Wherever I go, fun follow me.
Milk in a cup of oil.
It’s n
Nov 03, 2018 rated it really liked it
I think this is very cool. It inspired me to write a couple of my own. :)
Feb 15, 2008 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
Kind of cute; got old quickly.

And for all you wise-crackers out there - that's my review of the book, not my own six-word memoir.

Smith magazine, inspired by Hemingway's six-word story "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn" invited its readers to submit their own six-word memoirs. The results were published in this book, along with some submissions by famous writers and celebrities.

Here are some that I liked:

Couldn't cope so I wrote songs. Aimee Mann

Would you like fries with that? Scott Northrup

Apr 26, 2008 marked it as to-read
My attention span only lasts about five words these days, but when I work up to six, I'll give this a shot. ...more
Jun 28, 2008 rated it it was amazing
I like that this collection mixes famous authors with unfamous ones.

"I asked. They answered. I wrote." --Sebastian Junger

"The psychic said I'd be richer." --Elizabeth Bernstein

"I thought I was someone else." --Tysa Goodrich

"Happiness is a warm salami sandwich." --Stanley Bing

"I'm enjoying even this downward dance." --Column McCann

"Dad died, mom crazy, me too." --Moby

"Fight, work, persevere--gain slight notoriety." --Harvey Pekar

"Mushrooms. Clowns. Wands. Five. Wig. Thatched." --Amy Sedaris

May 03, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Lisa by: MeggieBree
Shelves: memoir
Thank you Meghann for recommending this book. I loooooved it. It is what it is: writers give their memoir in six words. Fabulous. I'll give you just ten of my faves:

Being a monk stunk. Better gay.
Happiest when ignoring huge financial debt.
Lived in moment until moment sucked.
Nothing profound, I just sat around.
It was embarrassing, so don't ask.
Thought I would have more impact.
Can't tonight, watching Law & Order.
Anything possible - but I was tired.
Rebel librarian on sabbatical from boys.
No shit I
Apr 23, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2008
i love work that is driven by the method, not the material. this is often my biggest complaint about crafting books. well, this is definitely not a crafting book. however, it is decidedly driven by the method and not by the materials! challenging a bunch of writers *famous & not* to write their own memoirs in exactly six words, not quite what i was planning is a peek into the thousands of different ways people can tell their stories. i think that having some very strict rules and limits can give ...more
Dec 05, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book comes out in January 08 but I just read the galley. And yes, it really is a collection of 6-word memoirs. About 1,000 of them. They're compulsive reading and many hold the mystery of a good haiku (but shorter!). The people at the great non-fiction web site, Smith Magazine put this together. To my surprise, I have one in here too (if you ask nicely I'll share it). I remember submitting it months ago but never heard back. Strange.
But I'm excited to be in it, right after Myfanwy Collins (
Aug 12, 2009 rated it liked it
Shelves: poetry

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was challenged to write a story in six words. "For sale: baby shoes, never worn."
In 2006, Smith Magazine offered to its readers the opportinuty to write a six-word memoir. This book contains some ot the entries they received.

Cursed by cancer. Blessed by friends.
I was born, some assembly required.
Creative and destructive in many ways.
On her birthday, my life began.
We walked barefoot in wet cement.
I wrote it all do
Apr 08, 2012 rated it really liked it
This is not your typical book. It is a fun read that portrays many different emotions throughout the stories. Each story is 6 words and that is all. By this style of writing you are leaving the interpretation of the story to the reader. They can interpret it many different ways. Some are happy while others are sad. You can easily relate to a handful. By reading this it makes you think of some of your own that you can write.

Each story is completely different some are about relationships while so
Oct 30, 2012 rated it liked it
I cannot exactly say this is high quality writing, but do we care? Undoubtedly, some better than others- from funny to serious, scary to infuriating, clever to stupid; and some are nothing but weird. It is a novelty of the idea that appeals. And an entertaining way to demonstrate how it is often much more difficult to be succinct than verbose. Rare is the author that can eloquently convey the same information with a fraction of the words.

Six-Word Review:

Authors' Reflections: Sometimes, Less is
May 17, 2008 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Claudia by: Teacher Leader Network
Shelves: nonfiction
I heard about this book from a listserv that challenged us to sum up our career in six words. Mine: "My students enrich my life daily." The book is at times funny, irreverent, reflective. Other times it's off the mark. But when this many authors are involved, the quality will be spotty. I had my seniors, who are winding down their last week of public school, write their own six-word memoirs. My favorite: "Done. Let's not do this again." ...more
Oct 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Quick, cute and depressing read, from one six word memoir to the next. It takes you all over the place. Glad I read it and there were a few really stand out quotes, which I didn't add every time I came to one, because it would have blown up my feed. Worth a look-see, maybe a good library book option. 4 solid, glad I read it, stars. ...more
Jun 19, 2008 rated it it was ok
I was disappointed. It was neither as pithy nor as funny as I had hoped.
I think I have a thing or two for books written in different formats and experimental writing as such.

Inspired by Ernest Hemingway's iconic "For sale: baby shoes, never worn", these were the submissions sent to a magazine called SMITH during NaNoWriMo in 2006. A compilation of 6 word memoirs. Maybe, size doesn't matter after all.

I loved reading these and made notes too, for later use. Recommend reading it.

Here are a few(?) favorites -
I am trying, in every regard. —Lionel Shriver
Took scenic ro
Feb 12, 2009 rated it really liked it
Talk about economy of words!!! The editors of Smith magazine issued a challenge to its readers to write a summary of their lives in a single sentence of six words--no more, no less. The resulting book (Not Quite What I Was Planning) is delightful and depressing; humorous and morose; endearing and disenchanting. I love words and their power, so this book spoke to me on that level alone. It is amazing how much you can say without saying hardly anything (was that a double negative? If so, I'm sorry ...more
Jan 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
This was a quick and delightful read that I would recommend to everyone.
The stories are funny, thoughtful, thoughtless, heart-breaking, confusing, all condensed down to the bare bones. It's amazing how much you can reveal in only 6 words!

Some of my favourites were:
I still make coffee for two. -Zak Nelson
Followed white rabbit. Became black sheep. -Gabrielle Maconi
Found true love, married someone else. -Bjorn Stromberg
Came, saw, conquered, had second thoughts. -Harold Ramis
I coloured outside of th
Ooh ooh! This project from the Smith Magazine web site now has a book form! How can a life be summarized in six words only? These are addictive and more thought-provoking than you might guess. Sort of like haikus, or fortune cookies.

I wrote down a few dozen (!!) favorites, but here's the one that rose to the top:

I live the perfect imperfect life.


Learned everything from words, pictures, love.
Put whole self in, shook about.
Fearlessness is the mother of reinvention.
We were each other's
Apr 10, 2008 rated it really liked it
Interesting to compare this kind of concision, mostly about what we want others to think of us, to the concision of, say, Basho or Issa - those pebble in a well words that just expand. The things in this book are so often reductive, rather than reflective or expansive. er... But still it is interesting, and a wonderful excercise, or party game, or whatever the hell you'd call it. Lots and lots of fun. And I just love little snippy things. Like Georg Lichtenstein's The Waste Books, Feneon's Novel ...more
Dec 22, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is the most hilarious book ever!!! It was inspired by a challenge issued to Ernest Hemingway to come up write a story in six words. He wrote,"For sale: baby shoes, never worn." Celebrities and regular people submitted their own six word memoirs in response to a Smith Magazine post. Some of my favorites include:
She walked barefoot in wet cement
My life's a bunch of almosts
Fact checker by day, liar by night
After reading this you won't be able to resist writing your own and your friends' six wo
Aug 21, 2008 rated it liked it
Interesting, probably closer to a four, if only because it makes you want to try and write your own memoir in six words. Only issue was how did none of the editors notice that one of the "memoirs" was, verbatim, an Oscar Wilde quote: "I can resist everything except temptation" and not made up by the girl who submitted it?? ...more
Jessica Jeffers
Mar 14, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography-memoir
My six-word memoir?

Always manages to fuck it up.
May 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
I love this book so very much. It makes me smile, and it makes me think.
Dec 12, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: own, non-fiction
Mildly amusing but got old quickly.

(See what I did there?)
Elizabeth O
A fun and fast read. Here are some favorites--- what would yours say?

Followed yellow brick road, disappointment ensued. Kelsey Ochs

Verbal hemophilia. Why can't I clot? -Scott Mebus

I am awfully bored at work. -Chris Ponchak

I ate, drank, and was hairy. -Yianni Varonis

In a Manolo world, I'm Keds. Colleen Cook

Liars, hysterectomy didn't improve sex life! -Joan Rivers
He wanted much, he feared more. - Randall Currey
Underachieving pleasure punk seeks constant gratification. -Dennis Elj
Lapsed Catholic; f
Jan 23, 2018 rated it liked it
When I first heard about this book, I was intrigued.
It took me far longer to "read" than I had intended, mostly because the majority of the memoirs were not as striking as the Hemingway story: "For Sale: Baby Shoes, Never Worn." Takes your breath away, right? I was anticipating more along those lines, but instead stories not quite so exciting were included, like: "I grew and grew and grew." -Randy Newcomer and "In the office. It smells here. - Meera Parthasarathy.
The book was still pretty good.
Sep 12, 2017 rated it really liked it
I'm in love with this little book of teensy, tiny books! So poignant. Many funny, many sad, too much regret. Makes you think about life much more than I expected it would when I picked it up. Don't skip the introduction, and definitely try your hand at writing your own. ...more
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See top shelves…
Our book features nearly 1,000 six-word memoirs by famous folks, as well as unknown writers from SMITH Mag's storytelling community.

More than 200,000 people have submitted Six-Word Memoirs at SMITH Magazine ( and its younger cousin, SMITH Teens ( Thanks to the devoted admiration of writers, critics

and educators alike, the six-word memoir concept has spread to classroom


Other books in the series

Six-Word Memoirs (8 books)
  • I Can't Keep My Own Secrets: Six-Word Memoirs by Teens Famous & Obscure
  • Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak: by Writers Famous and Obscure
  • It All Changed in an Instant: More Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous & Obscure
  • One life. 6 words, what's yours? : six-word memoirs from Smith magazine
  • Oy! Only Six? Why Not More? Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life
  • Things Don't Have To Be Complicated: Illustrated Six-Word Memoirs by Students Making Sense of the World (TED Books)
  • Six Words About Work

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