One, two, three, four, five, six. 

Six words to tell one story. Jo Ann Daniels has written thousands. 

Daniels, 75, is from Fort Worth. She’s retired — just moved to Crowley. Before, she worked at Kite’s Cleaners

Since then, she’s been writing memoirs. Each one is six words long. Daniels loves to write, she said. The memoirs help her express herself. And, they create space for relationship.

In October, one memoir was published. Along with hundreds around the country. The writers are students, teachers, parents. The book itself is an ode: “A Terrible, Horrible, No Good Year: Hundreds of Stories on the Pandemic.” 

She’s the only Tarrant County contributor. Still, she’s not alone, she said. The “Sixers” have become her community.

Daniels wrote her first in 2008. She’d only just retired, she said. “Didn’t have too much to do.” Read about sixes in the paper. So, Daniels went online and submitted. 

She’s written nearly 5,000 since then. 

Early on, she wrote about her mom. Her mom raised seven kids alone. Somehow, “mom always managed,” Daniels said. Was the “mother of all mothers.” Knew “how to stretch a dollar.” Loved to dance, “kept us laughing.”

As Daniels aged, the roles reversed. Her mom was diagnosed with dementia. She came to live with Daniels. They watched Michael Jackson videos together. His music would calm her down. 

Learn more about Six-Word Memoirs:

Where to buy the pandemic book:

  1. Buy the pandemic book from Amazon.
  2. Or, buy from Six-Word Memoirs.

How to write a Six-Word Memoir:

  1. Create an account at Six-Word Memoirs.
  2. Write! (Or, simply, skip step 1.)

How to make a class book:

  1. Teachers can explore their options here

Their memories became six-word stories. Sometimes daily, Daniels opened the website. She’d type a story, click submit. The writing part took only minutes. Then, she’d read other people’s stories. 

She learns from them, she said.

Daniels became friends with other Sixers. She’s even met one in person. The others, she corresponds with online. They’ve provided companionship in lonely seasons. 

Daniels’ mom died two years ago. Then, last year, her son died. Since then, she hasn’t written much. The Sixers wished her “happy birthday.” She said she’d be back soon. 

Larry Smith created Six-Word Memoirs. He calls Daniels a “power user.” Sometimes, his quotes have six words. He doesn’t do it on purpose. 

Smith, 53, is a former journalist. He loved writing about “regular people.” And, he foresaw user-generated content. He hoped to give people a tool. Something to help think things through. “They will rise to the occasion.”

In 2006, he formed an idea.

The origin story goes like this: He’d met the founders of Twitter. (Back when they spelled it ‘Twttr’.) They’d connected at a tech conference. Smith told them about writing short. Six words can spark a conversation. Six words can help someone process. 

He’d been inspired by Ernest Hemingway. Legendarily, Hemingway wrote this short story: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” But Smith wanted true stories — nonfiction. 

The Twitter founders loved his idea. So, he tweeted out a challenge: “Describe your life in six words.” It was a one-month contest. He bought the winner an iPod. Her memoir captured a mood beautifully: “Barrister, barista, what’s the diff, mom?”

Since then, a community has formed. Smith speaks all over the country. The pandemic book is his 10th. He’ll celebrate 15 years this Thanksgiving. The journey brims with powerful stories. 

Here’s one from his son’s dramatic birth: “Hitchhiked to delivery room. Blizzard boy.” 

A third-grader made him laugh: “Eight years old, combed hair twice.”

One California teenager stood her ground: “My name is not ‘mamacita,’ OK?”

An immigrant student shared her trauma: “Escaped war; war never escaped me.”

He’s created curriculums around six words. The framework can essentially “do anything.” It makes a big idea palatable. 

When the pandemic began, everything changed. Smith wanted to celebrate the disruption. He knew people needed to process. When he requested submissions, people answered.

In Texas, Daniels started to write. She thought of her kids, grown. She remembered the value of dialogue. Sometimes, people don’t know their children. Where they are, what they’re doing. Unless they’re talking, they don’t know. 

She thought of families stuck indoors. At last, her submission was this: “We’re home. Let’s have a conversation.”

The pandemic book published Oct. 15. Daniels’ story is one of many. 

Her advice for writing these memoirs? Just, “let it be the truth. When it’s truthful, it works better.”

Daniels will write again, she said. She’s committed; she’s not going anywhere. 

“Be back soon for another six.”

Six of Daniels’ Six-Word Memoirs:

  1. Mom gave daughters her beauty moles.       
  2. My age spots are my tattoos.
  3. Every child remembers that one teacher.      
  4. I see dad through my brother.                 
  5. Good friend. Good food. Good night. 
  6. Let’s make great neighborhoods great again.

Alexis Allison is a health reporter. Texas Health Resources funds her position. Contact her by email or Twitter. Fort Worth Report is editorially independent. Board members, funders don’t affect decisions. Read our editorial independence policy here

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Alexis Allison covers health for the Fort Worth Report. When she can, she'll slip in an illustration or two. Allison is a former high school English teacher and hopes her journalism is likewise educational....

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