Once asked to write a full story in six words, legend has it that novelist Ernest Hemingway responded: "For Sale: baby shoes, never worn." In this spirit, Smith Magazine challenged writers to explore a new way to tell stories when they published a novel called Not Quite What I was Planning: Six Word Memoirs from Writers Famous and Obscure.
Every page is packed full of six word phrases that strive to tell the story of your life—some part of it or all of it—in exactly six words. Smith Magazine believes six word memoirs are a powerful tool to catalyze conversation, spark imagination or simply break the ice. Whether they are happy, sad, or just plain silly, writing and reading six word memoirs offers hours of entertainment.
Here's some of my favorites:
Her dreams kept her reality warm.
I still make coffee for two.
A crush on John Kransinski. Unrequited.
Springing forward and I'm already behind.
Some cross-eyed kid, forgotten then found.
Grandma's candy jar was always full.
Sounded much better in my head.
Most powerful words: thanks and sorry.
Too much vanilla, not enough chocolate.
My second grade teacher was right.
You could spend a lifetime brainstorming.
So this weekend when you have a little free time, give six a try—and make your words count.
by Ellie Mix ('20)
I grew up in a library. My mom worked behind the scenes while I sat among stacks of books all day, devouring story after story. The heaviest reading I’ve done in my life was during these days of sunny childhood and nonexistent homework. I grew up on adventure, on dragons and lady knights and magic and courage, mostly in the form of juvenile fiction.
When I eventually made the move to young adult books, I began to find it harder and harder to pull a random book out of the shelves and want to sit down and read it straight through in a night, and it wasn’t until recently that I realized why.
An overwhelming number of YA books revolve around idealized relationships, probably because that’s what sells. Romance has its place, of course - it’s fun to read! This isn’t, in itself, a bad thing. The real issue is that these books are not marketed as romances, yet tie their characters’ happiness and fulfillment to these frequently toxic or codependent relationships, not to their own individual growth throughout the story. Their genre is labeled “science fiction” or “fantasy,” not “romance set on the high seas masquerading as an adventure novel.” More often than not, I find books (not marked as romances!) that would be virtually plotless were it not for the relationships they chronicle. You too can be enraged at the system! You can tell when you’ve found a story like this pretty easily - the action will find its resolution when the main character achieves the seemingly secondary goal of defining a relationship with the brooding hottie they embarked on their journey with (bonus points if the main character hated them for the first twenty pages, then realized their eyes sparkled a certain way in the firelight and there will never, ever be another for them). Most of the time, this pervasive “subplot” ends up taking away from the independence of female main characters - on whom most of these hidden romances are centered - by validating them only with the love of another.
This trend is not the fault of any one book or author, but the industry echochamber as a whole. Romance is a hook. But romance is also a genre - a valid one! - that is currently missing quite a few books that I’d argue have been mistaken for more plot-based publications. From where I stand now, it’s obvious that the books I read when I was an unknowing YA reader shaped my perspective on relationships for many years, and I still struggle with unrealistic expectations about what a relationship should mean to me. I was sure that finding the “perfect” relationship would grant me the happiness and self-actualization I’d seen through the eyes of so many of my favorite YA characters. I compromised my self-worth and core values constantly, not realizing that perhaps my understanding of the world was a subconscious reflection of what was probably the biggest deception of my childhood. When I thought I was reading about a girl trying to solve deadly mysteries, I was unknowingly consuming these underlying messages that would stick with me for a long, long time. I am not alone in this. When a society consumes such media to the depth and breadth that our society does, these patterns of idealizing relationships are consistently reflected in our cultural reality.
There is something so valuable about a story that empowers its main characters to succeed, regardless of their relationship status, and that’s why I’ve found myself coming back to J-FIC after all these years - stories that can be dark and fantastic without forcing their heroes into love for the purpose of ratings. I promise I’m not a cynic - I’ve just learned that relationships aren’t everything and, frankly, I think it’s a little tragic it took me 19 years to do it.
Written by Kristen H.
One of the most in-demand books from the bookshelf in my third grade classroom was a “choose your own adventure” book. It was a tattered baby-blue paperback and we passed it around from kid to kid. You chose a character at the beginning and then followed them through a haunted house story of some sort. The exact twists and turns of the story were chosen by you. Depending on how you chose, you were led to one of several possible endings.
Whenever I get really really stressed, doing something creative always helps me unwind. With finals looming ahead, everyone might need a little literary study break! When you find yourself feeling frazzled, I encourage you to try some out some blackout poetry.
All you need is a loose newspaper article, a book page or a magazine you are willing to part with, and a sharpie! Your goal—create a brand new story using the existing text in front of you. To begin, glance down at the page and box in any phrases that for whatever reason, really strike you. Now, see if any of these phrases fit together. The catch? You can’t move any of the text and you still want the poem to read correctly from left to right. You can choose whether you want to make a broad story out of just "big" words like nouns, verbs, and adjectives or if you want to create a more coherent narrative using big words and little words like "is," "of," and "the" to move the story along. Once you have a stanza or two marked out, you are ready for the fun part! Blackout EVERYTHING ELSE on the page, and feel all of your angst instantly melt away. If you want to get super fancy, you can even create pictures on the page to match the feel of your brand new poem.
I love blackout poetry because you can create something uniquely your own that stems from writing that’s already out there. There is something special about finding secret messages in unlikely places, and I swear the entire process is ridiculously therapeutic.
Have fun & happy last week of classes!
Written by Ellie M.
For the entirety of this semester, I have been trying to read one book (an ambitious goal for an English undergrad, I know). The book sits on my desk with a bookmark a laughable third of the way through. While I’ve finished more books this semester than I ever have, I can’t get through this one. The wrinkles around the crushed base of its spine look like a furrowed brow.
The book is House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski. I honestly can’t really offer a good summary (the Wikipedia page makes a good effort: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/House_of_Leaves), but the bare bones of the story involve a mysterious death, Russian-nesting-doll-like layers of stories and their narrators, a lost documentary about a hallway, and a house that defies the laws of physics.
It belongs to a class of books termed “ergodic literature”. This format requires extra work on the part of the reader. You have to search through the piece to read it properly, perhaps skipping forward or backward, or turning the book around to see the words. In House of Leaves, this ergodic element comes in the form of misplaced text and footnotes. So many footnotes. Sideways footnotes, hidden footnotes, footnotes in different languages. Footnotes with their own footnotes, footnotes left by different narrators. Footnotes that spiral outwards from the center of the page, footnotes that are poems and pictures, footnotes that cite books that don’t exist.
That is what’s amazing about this book: it can’t be reduced. It is dependent on the format that it takes. The experience of reading it is so integral to what the book actually is that you can’t separate the two. It defies Cliffs Notes and eBook format. In an age that prizes convenience and digital, there is something so fascinating about forcibly returning to the analog. It feels like a new genre, yet it takes an almost old-fashioned approach.
I’m wading through the book at a snail’s pace. The plot and the format require it. It’s confusing and challenging and convoluted, but incredibly immersive. It makes me think about the physicality of reading. Searching through the footnotes makes me feel like part of the story. I am confused along with the characters. I explore the mystery with them. When they do research in the story, I do research, too. The confusing layers of narrators couple with this ergodic effect to blur the lines between the reader and the story to create something that’s unlike anything I’ve ever seen.
Reading in small chunks is new for me. I’m a self-professed speed reader. I can honestly say that I have never been so defeated by a book. But I really, really have enjoyed it. While reading slowly originated in my frustration, it has morphed into a kind of purposeful rationing. I like this story and I don’t want it to be over. I’m saving it, savoring it.
Reading in a new way and challenging myself has made me fall more in love with books all over again. A lot of times, I think we tend to limit ourselves when it comes to literature. We say “I like this kind of book” or “I read in this way” and then self-confirm by seeking out only what we know. But the experience of reading outside of your comfort zone is too good to pass up.
So if you feel stuck in a rut with your reading or writing, try something different! Try a new format. Read a different genre, or read in a different way. Think about the process and purpose of reading in a new way. And if you’re feeling particularly adventurous, pick up an ergodic novel. You won’t regret it.
Written by Megan G.
Yesterday was the start of one of my favorite-and-least-favorite months of the year. It’s now November, which means National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo, as you may have heard it called) has officially begun. For anyone not familiar with this challenge, writers around the world will be spending the next 30 days attempting to write 50,000 words, roughly the length of a novel. As someone who has won NaNoWriMo a few times before, I wanted to share a few of my tips and tricks.
1. Make your NaNo experience yours.
It can be hard to motivate yourself to write if you aren’t going into it with a clear goal about what you want to get out of the challenge. NaNoWriMo is a set challenge – 50,000 words in 30 days – but it’s also an entirely flexible framework. You can take advantage of all the excitement of the month and the tremendous support NaNo writers get, even if you aren’t attacking the challenge directly. Maybe it would be more meaningful to you to try something different. Let me give you some examples – my own experience.
The first time I did NaNoWriMo, it was just because it seemed like a really exciting challenge to me. I wrote a book in 30 days and managed it quite well; at the end, I did have a complete book. However, when I decided to attack this process for the second time, four years later, I realized that I didn’t need to write a first draft of a novel in a month. What I did instead was devote myself to a more challenging month – 65,000 words split up over working on and wrapping up three or four projects I’d been working on for years. I got a lot out of both of these experiences, even though I didn’t technically achieve what the goal of the program was.
Last year, my third NaNo win, I decided that my writing pace had gotten to the point where 50,000 words wasn’t going to be enough to constitute a real challenge. I’m a pretty disciplined person, so I stuck myself with 75,000 words towards a new project. This was a welcome break from my primary novel project, which I’ve been slaving over for years, but looking back, I only have about half a book out of that project. Even though I hit my word limit – 75,000 words – I don’t have a complete project yet, and the story has sat untouched in my Dropbox for a year now.
This year, therefore, I’m prepping myself for a writing challenge that will really address my goals at this precise moment. Instead of NaNoWriMo, I’m tackling “NaNoEdMo,” aka the month I edit 10-11 pages of my novel per day. I don’t need to generate new material; I need to work more diligently with the material I already have.
The point is this: NaNoWriMo is supposed to be a fun and challenging exercise that helps you grow as a writer. Whatever that may mean to you is an entirely personal process; don’t feel like you have to do the same thing as everybody else.
2. Get some support.
The NaNoWriMo website (http://nanowrimo.org/) has lots of opportunities built into it that can help you find some people in your area also attempting NaNo this year, or you can just designate a friend who will help motivate you throughout. Having some sort of group message that you can just rant your NaNo problems to can be extremely relieving, and you get to celebrate together when you’re done.
It’s also really important to make it clear to your family and friends the challenge you’ve set yourself up for. I’ve been preparing for NaNoWriMo for about two weeks now by working through some writing exercises every day and by telling everybody around me that I’m doing NaNoWriMo. Your family will thank you when they have an explanation for your stress over Thanksgiving, too!
3. Forget "inspiration" - just write.
Every writer can cite a time when writing has seemed like the hardest thing in the world. Dispel the myth right now that a writing burst or mood will just “come to you,” because maybe inspiration can work like that sometimes, but you don’t have to wait on a magical sparkle of divine energy in NaNoWriMo. My advice in this situation (and in general) is just to sit down, take a deep breath, set yourself up with music or snacks or whatever you need, and write. Write until your fingers bleed and you can’t look at the words on the page anymore (or you hit your wordcount, whatever comes first).
And have a backup if you really get stuck. Last year, my 75,000 word story for NaNoWriMo was about pirates. I cannot tell you how many times I got slightly stuck and sent my main character walking across the deck talking to various other characters until I found a place to go with the story. Have one of these types of “when-in-doubt” cards you can play. If even that doesn’t work, you can always just break the fourth wall and start writing about how awful this whole writing thing is; you’ll probably hit your word count eventually.
4. But what if I really need inspiration?
Check out these resources, which may help to get your brain up and going in that writing mood again or can guide your interests and stories!
http://fantasy-faction.com/ (for fantasy)
http://www.springhole.net/index.html (articles about writing, also a whole bunch of random generators for names, objects, settings, everything you can think of)
http://www.charlottedillon.com/characters.html (character development documents)
http://alyssahollingsworth.com/2015/08/06/100-questions-for-character-couples/ (if you’re trying to develop a realistic romance)
http://100-prompts.livejournal.com/692.html (a whole bunch of prompts)
And, if you want your writing inspiration in small doses:
Good luck, NaNoWriMo community! Happy writing!
Written by Erika S.
Need a way to unwind? Looking for a new way to procrastinate? Have no fear--The List App is here! Created by B.J. Novak and Dev Flaherty in 2015, “The List App” is a quirky new social media platform that I have been spending way too much time on lately.
Made up of a ridiculously vibrant and positive community, the List App is a place to share your experiences, opinions and expertise about anything and everything. The best part? It has to be in bullet form.
Leading voices in TV, film, music, sports, comedy and fashion have already hopped on the bandwagon, sharing lists about a whole plethora of topics like “Memorable Bad Dates,” “Von Trapp Children, Ranked by Sass” and “Pictures of Barack Obama Eating Hot Dogs.”
The app’s FAQ page states, “Human beings are innately inclined towards structuring information; it’s one of our primary means of understanding. Lists are simple, powerful; the gold standard of sorting and sharing information for thousands of years.”
The structure of the app resembles other social media apps we already know and love—a news feed tab, a search function, a notifications tab and your own profile. Lists can be about anything, but the app offers a few suggestions to get you started, including “Go-to karaoke songs,” “Things that will improve the world, according to me,” “Misconceptions I had as a child,” and “Three happy moments from today.” Lists can be liked, re-listed, and commented on. You can even suggest additions to other lists, which the creator can approve and give you credit for (low key fangirled when BJ Novak added my idea to his list!).
Included below are some of my favorite lists!
If Parks and Rec Characters Wrote Autobiographies
Days of the Week, Ranked, According to “Friday I’m in Love”
Grey; break my heart; heart attack; stay in bed (Note: Wednesday is identical to Tuesday but worse because it is the second straight day)
Grey; break my heart; heart attack; stay in bed
I don’t care about you; doesn’t even start; never looking back; watch the walls instead
Blue; you can fall apart; black; you can hold your head
Always comes too late
I’m in love
By @elliemix (yours truly)
7 Tips I Use to Spark my Creativity
2. Follow my interests.
Instead of focusing on what I “ought” to be doing, I allow myself to wander—by buying an odd book, poking around the internet, or exploring an unusual place.
3. Buy supplies.
I encourage myself to make an occasional creativity-supporting purchase.
4. Draw an idea-map.
This is a process of writing down ideas in a way that helps you see new relationships and possibilities.
5. Enjoy the fun of failure.
Telling myself I can enjoy the “the fun of failure” has made me (somewhat) more light-hearted about taking risks.
6. Read random magazines.
7. Indulge in my magpie impulses.
When I have the urge to collect materials, articles or information, I now indulge it. Although I generally fight against any stuff that could become clutter, I find find that these collected materials help spur my creativity.
Have a great week! Happy listing!
Written by Ellie Mix (Class of '20)
Since the beginning of time, creative writers have been divided into two camps: Plotters and Pantsers. Plotters carefully plan their pieces and stick to outlines. Pantsers write on the fly, “by the seat of their pants” so-to-speak, letting the story flow naturally. Neither group quite understands the other.
My fellow Plotters believe that writing means research-- lots of research. It means meticulous plotting sessions, careful outlines, decisions on where the story is going before even sitting down to write. Plotting is a useful way to creatively explore a world or a scene before even beginning to write.
And yet, sometimes I enviously glance over to the other side. There, the Pantsers live, crafting stories on a whim. They discover the plot as it comes to them, making decisions in the moment. Pantser-land seems like a magical place, but I know it comes with its own struggles.
George R.R. Martin, author of the A Song of Ice and Fire series, identifies these two groups using different terms. He characterizes Plotters as architects and Pantsers as gardeners, saying:
“I think there are two types of writers, the architects and the gardeners. The architects plan everything ahead of time, like an architect building a house. They know how many rooms are going to be in the house, what kind of roof they're going to have, where the wires are going to run, what kind of plumbing there's going to be. They have the whole thing designed and blueprinted out before they even nail the first board up. The gardeners dig a hole, drop in a seed and water it. They kind of know what seed it is, they know if planted a fantasy seed or mystery seed or whatever. But as the plant comes up and they water it, they don't know how many branches it's going to have, they find out as it grows.”
Initially, it does seem like this is a divide that can’t be breached. But it really just comes down to how you best create. There’s no right or wrong way to write; there’s only what works for you. After all, we all have the same goal: staving off writer’s block as long as possible. Be you Plotter or Pantser, architect or gardener, I wish you well in your quest.
Written by Megan G. ('19)
R2: The Rice Review
Rice University's undergraduate literary magazine. Here you can find event updates, monthly writing contest winners, and opinions by the R2 staff on what's new, interesting, or subject to discussion in the literary and arts world.