Drafting a 6 word story

The Mayborn Literary Nonfiction Conference offered attendees a chance to have a little fun this past weekend (besides sitting in on some pretty great sessions on the craft) with a six word story contest. Based on the apocryphal Hemingway legend, the Mayborn asked for us to tweet our entries with the hashtag #maybornbabyshoes attached; the winner would receive free registration to next year’s Mayborn Conference.

My entry took second place. Here it is:

6 word entry

If you have a Twitter account, you can check out all the entries by searching for the #maybornbabyshoes tag. If you’re curious about which story won, comment and I’ll tell you, but for now I’ll let you decide which ones you like best.

Also thought some of you might be interested in seeing the process of how I created my story. Here’s a pic of the work:

drafting pic

I began with a throwaway “hold my beer” joke, but didn’t submit that one as I figured humor would be plentiful in this contest and thus cheap. I was correct. The first real step to my eventual entry was a thought about a leash hanging by a door, worn but stiff from lack of use. A bit morbid, sure, but I wanted to affect the judges in some way.

I moved away from the leash image fairly quickly as I thought an empty collar would strike a richer chord with readers, but was still looking at a home setting. BRP was sitting next to me and I pointed to the bracketed line in the middle of the page telling him I needed to get that idea down to the six word limit. He nodded and then went back to listening to the session. I was pretty much gauging his reaction to the line, attempting to confirm that the idea had merit.

The next couple lines narrowed it down to six words but I thought both could be explained by something other than the pet’s death, or more importantly a death that might not allow for the dignity I wanted to give to the animal. This led to the movement of the setting from the home to the veterinarian’s office. Also, I had named the pet to give the pet a personality. You might notice I never specified the pet as a dog or cat – I purposely left it open after doing away with the leash idea.

The last couple lines toward the bottom were attempts to avoid the passive tense (and the “only Finn’s collar…” line seemed overly dramatic and bit nonsensical). I wanted to have some image of action and that’s about the time I decided I’d get the vet involved, which also helped drive home, in my mind, the lifetime of memories the owner and pet had along with the relationship they had with their vet.

The two attempts on the lower right side of the page show me getting close to the finished product, but the second I felt could’ve been interpreted in a few ways. It was when I struck on the word “afterward” that really nailed it down for me – any pet owner who has given their companion a dignified death would understand what had just occurred.

So there it is – about 40 minutes of work for 6 words. Six words I felt told a pretty involved story that we as pet owners suffer through yet celebrate because we love and know love.

Also, writing is rewriting. Because your first draft is crap.



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