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Local New Year's Writing Contest Urges: Keep It Short

State of the Arts


Published December 17, 2008 at 6:43 a.m.

Some of us take New Year’s resolutions earnestly: With newfound determination, we itemize the myriad ways in which we ought to improve ourselves. Others regard the New Year — or rather, their own stick-to-it-iveness — more cynically. Especially after numerous failed attempts to, say, lose 10 pounds, learn a new language or really clean out the basement.

Tim Brookes has an alternative to the usual lengthy resolution list — and it’s more fun, less time-consuming, and comes with a handy deadline. The professional writing professor at Champlain College borrowed the concept of the Six-Word New Year’s Resolution Contest from web-based Smith magazine, which pioneered the six-word autobiography and went on to apply the writing challenge to other memoir-ish subjects. (The original inspiration was Ernest Hemingway’s legendary masterpiece of storytelling brevity: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”)

Brookes initially created the contest for the Champlain community, and as of last Friday he’d received some 25 responses. (One of his favorites so far: “Ski more. Eat less. Keep job.”) But word leaked out beyond the Burlington campus, and Brookes agreed to accept other entries: “There’s no reason why more people can’t enter,” he says.

No doubt the fabulous prizes will entice: a Professional Writing Program mug or any volume from what Brookes calls his Shelf of Great Books at Low Prices. (“I’m a bottom feeder,” he confesses. “I go into the back room at Barnes & Noble, and, if I see anything I or my students might like to read, I scarf ’em up.”) The judges are Brookes and Natalia Yaacob, an editor for the campus newspaper. An indication of their collective sensibility can be found in the “fine print” of Brookes’ email challenge: “The judges’ decision, no matter how daft, is final.”

Brookes notes that responses can “violate” the six-word limit if they have good cause. His own reso is a case in point: “Use fewer words.”