Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Sum It Up in Six-Words

Today I learned about the six-word memoir.

It's said that Ernest Hemingway made the concept famous when he won a contest at a bar in which participants had to write a story in six words. Hemingway wrote, "For sale: Baby shoes, never worn."

I was instantly intrigued. And apparently, I'm not the only one because Smith Magazine took it even further. Smith Mag. asked contestants--mostly well-known writers, comedians, and the like, but some lay people as well--to write a story in six words, their own story--a memoir--and then they chose the best of the collection and compiled them into a book, Not Quite What I Was Planning: Six-Word Memoirs by Writers Famous and Obscure, published by HarperPerrenial.

Why? Well, the CBS Early show ran a special on the book back in February 2008, when the book pubbed (I know, I'm very behind on this one), asking just that question:

"I really believe everyone has a story," says Larry Smith [Smith Mag. co-founder], "and a lot of people are afraid to start telling their story, (saying things such as), 'Oh, I don't write for The New Yorker' or 'I'm not going to have a best-selling memoir.' But, with six words, anyone can start, and when we asked people to tell their story in six words, they came bursting through our doors.

"More than 15,000 entries poured in from around the country, some filled with heart, others with happiness. Publisher Harper Perennial calls them ”fascinating, hilarious, shocking, and moving."


Says Larry Smith, "There's really a lot going on in this little book. It's a fun little book, but it's intense, you know -- like all the emotions we feel year-to-year, day-to-day -- the whole human drama's in here -- in six words."

Read the rest of the article (and watch a clip) HERE

Among some of the book's contributers are Stephen Colbert ("Well, I thought it was funny."), Mario Batali ("Brought it to a boil, often."), and Joan Rivers ("Liars: hysterectomy didn't improve sex life.").

But that's not all...Smith Mag. turned the phenomenon into a series with Six-Word Memoirs on Love and Heartbreak (1/09), I Can't Keep My Own Secrets (9/09), and the newest addition to the six-word memoir family, It All Changed in an Instant (1/2010):
[It All Changed in an Instant] contains hundreds of micro-mini memoirs from people unknown and known. Smith got several people you've heard of -- including Junot Diaz, Malcolm Gladwell, Sarah Silverman, Art Spiegelman, Molly Ringwald, Margaret Cho, and Tony Hawk -- to give it a go. (LA Times book blog)

Read more HERE

I think this idea is basically genius. It's amusing, it's tragic, it's powerful. And it's something anyone can do.

Let's give it a whirl, shall we?

Mine would be "Laughing, loving, learning, repeating till understood."

Share with us! What is YOUR six-word memoir?


  1. Hope Inspire Dream: It Becomes Reality

  2. Born frozen. Thawing out, hopefully soon.

  3. Here's mine:

    Searching for love is life's journey.

    Not as good as it could've been but I'm impatient and wanted to post something.

  4. Ha--so basically, Hemingway invented Twitter.

    I think my six word motto would be:
    Take every opportunity grandkids won't believe.

    And my memoir, till now:
    It really happened, but nobody believes.

  5. LOL! You're totally right! Hemingway DID invent Twitter!

    Great six words btw :)

  6. Rachel made me snort. :)

    I kind of like the idea of just having six words that describe you and where you are... I think I will stick a little spot for my six words on my blog, and then change them out when I feel like my story isn't the same anymore.

    But for now:

    Now new. But, still--not old.

  7. Love the six-word memoir, Jaime! Thanks for joining us!

  8. I was so excited when i saw this, I'll probably run out and buy some of those books- they look fascinating! I actually just learned this as a writing technique for coming up with themes for mock trial! Using it for memoirs is a little more uplifting than for describing homicides in six words, though.

    anyway, my memoir:

    never giving up on happy endings.

  9. LOL! Too funny, Eileen! And great memoir :)