Thursday, February 17, 2011

Six Word Memoirs

Never really finished anything – except cake.
Graduated college without coffee or internet.
Searching for girlfriend. Got hamster instead.
And I still make coffee for two.

Everyone has a story. Can you tell yours in six words like those above? It’s a fun challenge, one I plan to take really soon.  Alas. Procrastination: the story of my life.

Six-Word Memoirs is a project founded by the U.S.-based online storytelling magazine, Smith Magazine. Similar to the overall aim of Smith Magazine, Six-Word Memoirs is participatory in nature. They welcome contributions from its readers. Have one? Enter it online at

I intend to do so, but I’ll have to come up with a different one than I created above. I wasn’t being completely honest when I said that about procrastination. I’m usually quite good at getting a job done. For the past few years, I’ve been writing a memoir, and the first draft of my manuscript has come in at 99,000 words (typical for a regular-length book). Being that I can’t easily sum it up in six words (though it’s probably an excellent exercise for me), I’ll try out the following instead:  Will I Ever Find a Publisher?

Smith was founded in 2006 by Larry Smith and Tim Barko. Taking a cue from novelist Ernest Hemingway, who, according to literary legend, was once challenged to write a short story in only six words, Smith Magazine set out to do the same. The six-word story that started it all: “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.”

In November 2006, Smith' editors gave the six-word story a twist. They asked readers to tell their life story in just six-words.

In 2007, the Six-Word Memoir book series was born with Not Quite What I Was Planning. A second, expanded version is titled It All Changed In An Instant. 

In addition to covering everyday people with everyday stories, Smith has also attracted a number of famous Six-Word Memoirists:

    * Stephen Colbert: "Well, I thought it was funny"
    * Joyce Carol Oates: "Revenge is living well without you"
    * Joan Rivers: "Liars, hysterectomy didn't improve sex life!"
    * Aimee Mann: "Couldn't cope so I wrote songs"
    * Terry McMillan: "I have to constantly reinvent myself"    
    * Dave Eggers: "Fifteen years since last professional haircut"
    * Chuck Klosterman:  "Nobody cared, then they did. Why?"

Smith’s vote for Best Wordplay?  “Living in existential vacuum; it sucks.”

I’m going to end with a rather profound and moving story about a six-word memoir that was relayed to the people at Smith on a radio show. But before I do, I’d like to encourage you all to write your own six-word memoirs. I can already see that it’s easy to create more than one, though I like the idea of coming up with THE ONE – one that takes a good long overview of your life and in essence, sums it all up in six words:

Is it possible? I don’t know.

Now the story. Anne from Hell’s Kitchen in New York shared her six-word memoir, “I found my mother’s suicide note.” She talked about how important it was for her to come to terms with her mother’s death, and the role of the note in that process. The note, she explained, was just six words: “No flowers, no funeral, no nothing.”

1 comment:

  1. Flying By Seat of My Pants

    (or can I cheat, as in the coffee for two example, and put "the" before "seat"?)

    And I can't imagine how Anne from Hell's Kitchen managed to breathe after reading that note.