Nearly a year ago, I was at the National Storytelling Festival in Jonesborough, Tennessee (which is awesome, by the way, and you should totally go), and was able to see a talk by Piper Kerman (yes, of Orange Is the New Black) and her husband, Larry Smith. Piper talked about prison reform and her experiences, and Larry talked about his work on Six-Word Memoirs. I’ll be the first to admit that I went to see Piper because I am a fan of the show, but Larry’s portion surprised and excited me.
I believe the idea began with the flash fiction story often attributed to Ernest Hemingway.
For sale: baby shoes, never worn.
The twist is that you are the subject. You have six words—no more, no less—to tell your story.
Have you ever tried summing up your life in six words? It’s hard. I started out confident, thinking Six words? I got this: Hoosier with a mountain heart . . . jazzhands. I ran out of ideas after five words, and I’m pretty sure jazzhands is two words. Plus it highlights my current residence over everything else I love. Try again. Mountain girl of words and letters. Ok, it’s getting better, but it would sound more like a real sentence with made of in the middle. Too bad that puts me over the word count.
The extreme word limit forces you to reassess how you define yourself. I had to stop and think: Am I a woman? A writer? A business owner? A wife? From Appalachia? In Indiana? There are so many facets!
As I often do when stuck, I looked to see what others were writing. The Six-Word Memoirs site is a wealth of amazing examples. For instance:
In these, the writers didn’t necessarily take their life as a whole—rather they pinpointed emotions in a breathtaking way. While I was trying to figure out what I am, I was forgetting to see who I am.
I still have a lot of word play to do until I figure out my final memoir, but here’s a start: When cut, I bleed ink flourishes.
What is your six-word memoir?