On Tuesday, April 3 at 7:00 pm at Sixth & I, contributors to SMITH Magazine’s Oy! Only Six? Why Not More?— Six-Word Memoirs on Jewish Life book will tell the stories behind their 6-word memoirs. We caught up with Larry Smith, the founder and editor of SMITH Magazine, best known as the creator of the Six-Word Memoir® project, who talked to us about entrepreneurship and the inner monologue.
KS: What inspired you to start SMITH Magazine?
LS: I was inspired to start SMITH Magazine by my grandfather. The codename for the original prototype of SMITH was Smitty, after Morris “Smitty” Smith, a great storyteller in his day. Smitty became “SMITH” as Smith is not only someone who works to create something (a blacksmith or a wordsmith), but is the most popular last name in America. SMITH represents us all, person-to-person, story-to-story.
SMITH is infused by something I witnessed with my grandfather—he loved to tell stories. He rarely did until he was asked. That was an important lesson for me: everyone has a story, but often they aren’t asked, or made to feel their story is important.
KS: How has storytelling shaped your life? Do you go about your day internally narrating each moment?
LS: Storytelling shapes all our lives, whether we’re having a deep conversation around our dinner tables or sharing a short-short story via a Six-Word Memoir or well-crafted Facebook status update. Storytelling has always been the whole deal, what makes us human, from the hieroglyphics of Egypt to the overheard conversations at the next wedding or barbecue on our schedules. What’s better than calling your best friend and saying, “I’ve got the most wonderful story to tell you….”?
I see stories everywhere and I love asking people for their own life stories. Sometimes my brain does go a bit haywire with it all, which is one reason my wife keeps begging me to take up meditation. I’m working on that.
KS: What do you think people find so appealing about a Six-Word Memoir?
LS: We’re all writers. All of us. All of us, whether we know it or acknowledge it or not. Still, a blank page is a scary thing. When a blank page is filled by just six words it becomes less intimidating—so six words is a great way to get your words moving. On SMITH, you can write one or many Six-Word Memoirs; the teens over at SMITHteens.com do dozens a day as a way to document their always-changing lives. And while six words can indeed tell an entire story (“Ex-wife and contractor now have house”), it often becomes just the start of a longer story. People started using the comments area to write more, so we added a “backstory” feature on SMITH where they can do just that. At our live story shows, such as the April 3 Jewish-themed show at Sixth & I, we’ll see how each storyteller will use his or her six words as a jumping off point for the longer narrative.
KS: Do you have any advice to offer aspiring media entrepreneurs?
LS: You have got to love what you do, and wake up every day obsessed or you’re sunk. A startup or any personal passion you’re trying to turn into a living is both a marathon and a sprint, but probably more of a marathon. If you’re smart and just want to make money, pick something else—there are so many easy ways to make a living. But if you can’t live without bringing a project into the world, then go for it.
Also, don’t wait to make sure everything is in place to get started, just start. I wasted three years trying to raise the big bucks to launch SMITH Magazine and then I finally took the advice of some of the people I admired most and just launched SMITH as a small, scrappy site and built it, slowly but surely, from there.
Then once you’re off the ground, don’t be shocked if your project takes paths you hadn’t expected. I first launched SMITH intending to be a new kind of web-print magazine. Now I would describe it as a community of storytellers—and I like this notion much more than my original concept. Allowing yourself to veer off the path you think you’re supposed to be on won’t slow you down, but in fact open you up to new experiences, new places, new people and new ways of seeing.
KS: What can we expect at the Oy? Only Six Words? Why Not More? event at Sixth & I?
LS: We’ll see a really great bunch of storytellers—some pros, others taking the stage for the first time—taking a nugget of their Jewish life and opening that up into stories that are uniquely personal, yet will resonate with the audience in a more universal way. Because SMITH is meant to be a participatory experience, our shows always end with an audience “Six-Word Slam,” in which anyone and everyone is invited to share six words on the evening’s theme. The “slams” are wild, weird, and wonderful and often the part people are buzzing most about later.
Then again, every story show is different, so I never know what to expect.