Writing My Life

Now and Then


… 6-word memoirs can say so much …

I’ve spent the last couple of weeks helping the Utah State Office of Education roll out the Common Core State Standards to some 5000 teachers throughout the state. Scores of facilitators have traveled the state to educate educators about the core and to share teaching strategies as well. While we’ve been sharing lots of lesson ideas, my FAVORITE is the 6-word memoir. They are fun to write and interesting to read.

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Legend has it that someone pressed Ernest Hemingway to write a novel using only 6 words – an appropriate request for the king of minimalism who didn’t disappoint. His creation tells a story of loss and heartbreak.

      Baby shoes for sale: never worn.

The first time I remember reading 6-word memoirs was when I qualified for AARP membership and received the organizations magazine for geezers. Some made me chuckle; some made me think; and some, like Hemingway’s, made me reach for the Kleenex or the toilet paper, depending on where I was perusing the column.

It takes some thought to sum up an experience in 6 words, but tweeting on Twitter is good practice because the writer has to weigh every word, and if one is a light-weight, out it goes. I noticed that most mini-memoirists keeps playing around with the words until the statement feels “just right.” Sometimes that happens in a matter of minutes and sometimes it takes a matter of  … minutes. (I don’t know of many writers from our classes who pulled an all-nighter trying to exact 6 perfect words.)

Some writers created HUMOROUS mini-memoirs like this one:

“Yikes! Former student is my proctologist.”

Others are TENDER:

“Dad: Always worried and very proud.”

Many are just REALISTIC:

“Taxi: Booked for next 7 years.”


“Seeking simplicity in world of complexity.”


“Two-year-old whacked Nanna with golf club.”


“Dreaming of cool water; sandy  toes.”


“Waiting for peace in my loss.”


“Left finger itching for THE question.”

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

In Parting: One sweet teacher told me that writing and sharing the memoir was even therapeutic as she reflected upon a recent hiking accident where she and her grandson tumbled some 50 feet down a trail. It was a frightening and painful experience that ended miraculously.

I feel blessed that during this past month I met some wonderful people and learned that even something as simple as this little exercise provided a way to build communities of new friends.

P.S. Wondering if I created a 6-word memoir? Yes, I did. But before I share, I invite YOU to comment with YOUR mini-memoir!

So here’s my attempt. I wrote a couple to make a simple comparison of two lives a couple of generations apart.

My grandmother’s memoir: “Raised 13 children during Great Depression.”

My memoir: “Raised 4 boys; suffered great depression.”  

Note to sons: You know I am kidding! Raising you 4 was the adventure of a life time! Love you!

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“One is the loneliest number you’ll ever do.”

“The writing profession is reeking with this loneliness. All our lives we spend in discoursing with ourselves. . . .”

~ quoted by Fred Hobson in Mencken: A Life, Random House, 1994

Today was the second day of WIFYR workshop. Other than missing my exit because I was thinking of a better lead for a new story thus making me late, the day has been an improvement over the first one. Okay, I knew this going in, but writing is NO LONGER a lonely affair. I kinda wish it was because I could live in a world where I don’t know there are SO MANY aspiring authors! Nor would I know how GOOD those writers are. Nevertheless, what I am gaining from all the experts and NON-experts, I could NOT teach myself.  

Let me tell you that this workshop is organized-PLUS; thus maximizing opportunities to learn.  The day is set up like this:

  • Mornings: Work with Cheri Pray Earl and Rick Walton, two published authors and writing instructors at Brigham Young University and 20 peers who crack me up! (That’s because Cheri and Rick introduced us to SASS that first day!)
  • Afternoons:
    • Plenary Presenters – Authors, editors, agents share tips and ideas. SO helpful! (By the way, PLENARY was a new word to me. I think it is a very cool word. It means, “fully attended or constituted by all entitled to be present.”)
    • Break-out sessions – Participants choose an author, editor, or agents or a panel of these folks who address various topics, concerns, and questions. Very informative.


While I knew this workshop provided support for writers, I am still amazed at the amount of sharing, consulting, suggesting, listening, encouraging, inspiring, informing that takes place. A.M.A.Z.I.N.G. I know authors buddied up in days gone by, but I think that was AFTER writers published. I picture Hemingway partying in Paris with Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald or Carl Sandburg talking shop with Theodore Dreiser and Sherwood Anderson. But who did they brainstorm ideas with BEFORE their break? Who did they chat with when their plot lines flat-lined or their characters refused to develop? Maybe there were friends who provided what Hemingway or Fitzgerald needed over drinks, but I’m not sure that turned out in the long run.

Water was the only beverage we received at this confab. That only happened on the first day, and it was a mistake. So no potential authors need worry about ruining their lives because of booze provided by Writers and Illustrators for Young Readers Workshop. I know some were concerned when the conference moved from Brigham Young University to Salt Lake County, but don’t stress;  it’s still a dry environment.

Putting my drinking concerns aside, I found that one of the most helpful AND  scary activities is “work-shopping” participants’ writing. We read our papers while peers followed along. Next, writers listened to praise AND suggestions. It was all professional – civil even, and yet, my stomach clinched tighter and tighter as I watched my golden rod paper work its way to the top. Nervous as I was, I appreciated the feedback and think the suggestions strengthened my paper.

I was also inspired by reading the works of my fellow writers. WoW! What fine writing! Compelling and creative ideas that were fun to read. I also gleaned ideas from my colleagues’ comments to all the writers in the group. Sometimes a suggestion given to Amy or Jared applied to my work as well. I can’t tell you how beneficial this has been for me, and I want to soak up EVERY hint, idea, tip, suggestion,and critique I can. I really want to do this thing!