Our Poets and Writers Toolkit series brings fresh ideas and tools to your writing. We’ve talked about the way certain paper sparks our creativity, and we’ve shared the mind mapping process to help you shepherd your creative ideas into reality. Today, Charity Singleton Craig introduces six-word memoir.
“Writing six word memoirs is addictive,” Kelli wrote on our writing group’s Facebook wall, as a six-word memoir. I introduced the concept during a recent group meeting, and with a willing and captive audience, I asked them each to write at least one.
“I couldn’t stop writing them,” I told the group, explaining the assignment. As I read the 11 six-word quips I had written in succession, I couldn’t help but pause around number 9 with a comment. “I know, I know. It’s probably not really fair to write so many.”
“I was just about to say that,” Kelli said.
The six-word memoir began as a group-think project in November 2006 when Smith Magazine asked readers to submit their pithy prose. Claiming inspiration from the legendary six-word challenge taken up by Ernest Hemingway in which he supposedly wrote this six word story, “For sale: baby shoes, never worn,” Smith Magazine went on to publish several books loaded with the happy, sad, and mystifying six-word shorts.
But what’s the point? I wondered, after my 11th memoir. Is this a writing genre in its own right? Is it a worthwhile prompt? Is there poetry hidden in those six-word sentences? Or are six-word memoirs just another stunt? I took the concept to my writing group to find out.
First, we had to define our terms: Is this a life statement? Or how we are feeling right now? Or what? “Memoir” was hanging them up.
We agreed to “memoir” versus “biography” because we don’t have to capture a lifetime, just a segment of a life, however short. This was my own interpretation after initially struggling to capture my entire existence in just six words.
With that brief explanation, each member of the group wrote for a just a minute or two. Then, we shared.
Kelli read hers first. She started with, “Hyperbolic, Metamorphosis, antidisestablishmentarianism, there, that’s six.” I started feeling a little guilty, like I had forced something on the others that they really didn’t want to do. But by the sixth little memoir gracing Kelli’s bakery napkin, I felt relief: “This napkin poetry makes my day.”
“It’s funny what surfaces. I feel like deep stuff was surfacing,” Jen observed about her own six-word memoirs. She also wrote six in the short time we allotted for the writing. We all nodded in agreement with her third one, “I love sleep most of all.”
When it was all over, I wondered: had we written that day, or just played? Did it really matter? Maybe the six-word memoir is a provocative bit of word play all its own. Or maybe it’s the beginning of something bigger. Either way, this little tool has definitely given me a place to turn when words, or more, need to emerge.
Here are my recent six-word memoirs about six-word memoirs:
Glad this is not a biography.
I wonder why only six words?
Hemingway knew how to write stories.
Do multiple six word memoirs count?
Can a memoir be a question?
How many memoirs in six years?
Perhaps you would like to try your hand at a six-word memoir (or six)? Share with us in the comments.