The solitary and elusive mountain lion. See how the author uses this animal to creatively portray and explain parts of his life. He uses only six words to sum it up. How could you use a specific animal - or a fish or an insects -  to tell your life story? Please read on. 

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Ernst Hemingway – the famous American writer – was asked to sum up his life in six words. This iswhat he came up with for his biography:

For sale: baby shoes, never worn.  

 You probably are thinking: that could mean so many things. You are right. He probably never had the opportunity to be an infant – had to be an adult at a young age. Forced to grow up fast? Another interpretation is that a family member could have died before or during birth – never had the opportunity to wear the baby shoes. His brother or sister could have died prematurely, affecting his life. A third interpretation is that the baby shoes were too small. He could not wear it. Could that be an indicator of his life as a writer? For example, he never had the opportunity to slowly develop into a writer. There was pressure from other sources (external). We can continue to speculate on other possibilities. You probably have some ideas too. The six-word-biography got me thinking. Very smart indeed. The question arises: what could my biography look like? And, what could your six-word-bio look like. However, before you take some time to ponder your own bio – in six words – here are a close friend’s bio and my bio:

Badger overcame desert: changed into intimate-eagle.

And, here is mine.


Changed salmon: morphed into disciplined mountain-lion.


The use of animal symbolism – and parallelism – are cleverly used to produce a rich six-word-biography. I wonder what you are thinking of the two biographies? Let's look at the salmon and mountain lion bio. As you probably know, a salmon always go upstream; maybe challenging ideas, maybe challenging the status quo, and more. This behaviour – or thinking – of the author has evolved. A mountain lion is a loner of an animal. The mountain lion—also known as the cougar, puma, panther, or catamount—is a large cat species native to the Americas. Mountain lions are large, tan cats. Their bodies are mainly covered in tawny-beige fur, except for the whitish-grey belly and chest. It is very stealthy. Unlike other large cats, the mountain lion cannot roar. Instead, they growl, shriek, hiss and purr, similar to house cats. Mountain lions are territorial and solitary. You hardly ever see the mountain lion. See the section on about the author to learn more.

I will give you one more 6-word-childhood-memoir of mine:

Dim-lit-dungeon: Innocent wars with teenager weapons.

See the  Author's Profile on this website to learn more about the dimly lit dungeon and the teenager's weapons of little destruction.

Now it is your turn; stop reading and reflect on your own life. Jot down a couple of keywords. Now, use punctuation like colons, semi-colon, m-dash, dash and more to create depth for your six-word-bio. Take time to refine it. Write it down in your diary. It is very useful and you could use it to dissect your life and to plan your future. It is very useful! It brings perspective. You could consider taking the keywords and analyse them: write a paragraph about every word. You will learn lots about yourself.



Credit: Steve Bowbrick. Are you intrigued by the image? There are many interpretations to Hemingway's baby-shoes-memoir! Do you want to learn more? Do you want to create your own six-word biography? You will learn heaps about yourself. Visit Five House Publishing for a free copy of this lesson. Have fun! Now it is your turn: When you are ready, create your 6-word memoir.

Ernest Miller Hemingway (1899 - 1961) was an American journalist, novelist, short-story writer, and sportsman. His economical and understated style—which he termed the iceberg theory—had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his adventurous lifestyle and his public image brought him admiration from later generations. See his ingenious six-word story. If you are interested in the Iceberg Theory of Hemingway (Spark Notes) read a very short explanation here:  




This website contains some of the resources of William van Zyl as an educator, writer, photographer, and poet.


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