Six-Word Memoirs

IT ALL STARTED WITH SIX WORDS.

That’s actually one of my six-word memoirs and it’s true. In fact, “It all started with six words” is emblazoned on a tee given to me by my daughter. How did this six-word passion come about? This six-word addiction I have? Well, let me tell you all about it.

six word tshirt

In 2009, I discovered the fabulous SMITH Magazine http://smithmag.net via the “101 Best Websites” article in Writer’s Digest. Just six words, I thought? What could anyone possibly get across using just six words? Needless to say, the site piqued my interest, and once I read the background which includes the infamous Ernest Hemingway, I was hooked.

Legend has it that Ernest Hemingway was challenged (in a bar bet, no less) to write his memoir using just six words. His famous six-word memoir:

“For Sale: Baby shoes, never worn.”

Powerful—and probably a sad backstory unless the baby was just born with big feet! But I’m guessing it’s a sad story. I’d love to know if their baby was stillborn, if they couldn’t conceive or what the circumstances were. At any rate, I was intrigued. I had to try this.

I read reviews referring to six-word memoirs as American haiku and discovered that National Public Radio is a huge fan. NPR features the editor, Larry Smith, on the airwaves quite often with listeners calling in their own memoirs. In fact, many major mediums from New York to Los Angeles, hale this short form of writing. A reporter wrote a review using just six words and a preacher gave a sermon using six-word sentences. Teachers use six-word memoirs to interest students and there’s even a six-word memoir book for teens called I CAN’T KEEP MY OWN SECRETS. Another funny sixer from the teen book is “I’m in algebra. Kill me now.”

I wasix word 1 (2)s hooked. Editor Larry Smith (whose wife, Piper Kerman, penned the popular ORANGE IS THE NEW BLACK, by the way) is a great guy and a fabulous editor. I met him in New York City in 2010 after finding out my memoir was published in IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT by Harper Perennial. Over 200,000 writers worldwide submitted six-word memoirs, and they chose two of mine alongside many celebrities, famous authors and aspiring writers. I was honored.

I remember telling my mother (who ordered the book and received her copy before I did) not to tell me what page my memoir was on. When I finally received my copy, I nearly fainted when I discovered my memoir was on page one! Want to read it? Here goes:

“Zip. Zero. Zilch. Nothing published. Yet.”

That was true at the time but since that first six-word memoir, I’ve been published in four anthologies, three six-word memoir collections, have three children’s picture books published and am awaiting the release of my debut novel! I’ve been going full tilt ever since. See what can happen in four short years?!

As I mentioned, they published two of my memoirs in this book. The second one is on page 186 and reads:

“He left. Sparked my personal D-Day.”

This book is an incredibly fun read and is chock full of six-word memoirs from famous authors (Amy Tan, Dave Barry, and the late Frank McCourt, among others) as well as several celebrities including Marlee Matlin, Neil Patrick Harris, the Fonz, Dr. Oz, Marlo Thomas, Chelsea Handler, Andy Borowitz, and a gazillion more.

Here are some of my favorite six-word memoirs from IT ALL CHANGED IN AN INSTANT:

“I’ve done it all except hear.” ~ Marlee Matlin

“The miserable childhood leads to royalties.” ~ Frank McCourt

“Cliché: Met cop at doughnut shop.” ~ Molly Hawley

“Former boss: Writing’s your worst skill.” ~ Amy Tan

“Happily married until the paternity test.” ~ Terry Burlison

“She died. Found her diary. Wow.” ~ Amanda La Valley

“I found my mother’s suicide note.” ~ Anne Heausler (who included her mother’s note which was eerily also just six words.)

As you can see, some are funny, others sad, and many are poignant. Try it! Go to http://sixwordmemoirs.com but be sure and come back here! The books are also available on the SMITH site and on Amazon. No, I don’t receive a royalty but I still think they’re amazing little bits of writing and they make unique gifts.

The second Six Words 2six-word collection that I’m published in is called SIX WORDS ABOUT WORK. The editors at SMITH chose four categories for the book: “My Job,” “Inspirations,” “Bosses,”and “Lessons.” This is a great book for new high school or college graduates. And I was slightly surprised—and pleased—that so many employees really liked their bosses.

My six-word memoir in this collection is found under “Inspirations.” Here it is:

“Bills.
Deadlines.
Challenges.
Retirement.
Happy Hour.”

Those are good inspirations, don’t you think? Some of my favorite six-word memoirs from this book include:

“Like hell I’m being runner up.” ~Zack Freedman

“The five patients I’ll always remember.” ~ Debra Kirkley

“Grandchildren need spoiling; I keep toiling.” ~ Kathy Johnson

“Can’t quit. I own the place.” ~ Cecile Moore

six word 3 (2)

And, to my delight, I was featured in their 2013 desk calendar. I’m a calendar girl! The editor asked me to choose a date so I gave him my birthday and our anniversary and my six-word memoir appeared on the weekend of June 8-9. This is what I wrote:

“Midlife isn’t so bad; reinvented myself.” ~ Beth Carter

six word calendar

And I truly did. I reinvented myself as a full-time writer instead of getting a shiny red convertible at mid-life. So, there you have it. My passion for six-word memoirs. I’ve gotten several writers hooked on this fun, short medium and even hosted a contest for Ozarks Writers League about writing and six-word memoirs.

Six words can change your life. (Ooh, I think I’ll submit that one.)

UPDATE:

Six-Word Advice Book (2)I’m honored to be published in yet another six-word memoir book! THE BEST ADVICE IN SIX WORDS, is a poignant collection of universal wisdom, life lessons, and caution thrown to the wind. With 1,000 contributions from celebrities like Molly Ringwald, Whoopi Goldberg, Lemony Snicket, and Gary Shteyngart, as well as everyday people who’ve learned a thing or two about a thing or two during their time on the planet, readers will pulled into the sometimes hilarious, often serious, occasionally reflective experience of the book.

“Never, ever refuse a breath mint.” –Lemony Snicket
“You learn more from your failures.” –Piper Kerman
“Does it need to be said?” –Julianne Moore
“Be a doer, not a dreamer” –Shonda Rimes
“Sometimes on low, sometimes on high.” – Mario Batali
“Can’t say something nice? Try fiction.” – David Baldacci

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