Your memoir – in six words. What a concept! When I read “Not Quite What I Was Planning” a few years ago, I thought it was genius. The clever little nuggets spilling from that book were profound, odd, funny and powerful. I knew that those who wrote them, both famous and not-so-famous, were really onto something. Just imagine, an entire life compressed in succinct 6-word verbiage. I began to think of everything in the smallest set of words possible. Waiting on the phone through 10 degrees of voicemail, or sitting in traffic, I thought of everything in 6 word increments.
Condensing words to a powerful, precious few is hardly new. Centuries ago, Confucius, said, “One joy dispels a hundred cares” and people through the ages recognized that verbosity isn’t a requisite for memorable statements. As a copywriter, I’m used to compacting messages. I can stuff ten pounds of thought into a clever five-pound bag and transform a stiff company mission statement into a sharp tagline. But reading this book gave the process a whole new meaning. While more than a few of the ingenious memoirs made me laugh out loud, I realized that they were also terrific creative self-analysis. Super cool.
Words done right color life outside the lines. When shrunken to their small smallest number, words can have their biggest meaning. Sure, haiku enthusiasts, every day texters and tweeters know a thing or two about brevity. But, what if inauguration speeches were shrunk down to six words? (We could only hope, groan.) Or how about the disclaimer copy at the end of car ads? I could think about a lot of written diatribes that would be a whole lot better reduced to fit on the head of a pin. Imagine the encyclopedic directions for your new DVD player decreased to one short, actually understandable phrase. Now, that’s something I could really get behind! But I’m thinking more about the really important words in life, the ones that can dissolve conflicts, make someone feel understood or assure people we love that they are cherished. Those are the words, even when condensed to a simple but powerful six, that can be remembered forever.
After reading that book, I took 6 word appetizer seriously. When I was frustrated and attempted to boil my feelings down to a manageable few, they not only tamed the frustration but somehow made me laugh, too. When I was worried, or even just plain pissed off, condensing those feelings into six edgy words could pause my crazy button. And when my heart was over-the-top happy, putting my warm and fuzzy into shiny little words nuggets was as welcome.
Unfortunately, I nearly forgot about utilizing this little drive-by gem. When my husband died last year I became a pile of broken. While I never lost my words, (as you could see!) I didn’t want to condense our life together into a 6 word time capsule. Our happily ever after had already been cut short. I wanted every memory with him replayed over and over in full-on, hi-def wide screen technicolor and still do. Brevity was never my strong suit. But both of us were writers and we both knew the power of words. An amazing headline, tagline or billboard could make our writer brains swoon and competitive nightly crossword puzzles energized us. Can I possibly sum ‘us’ up in 6 words? Would my guy have taken on the challenge? I do know neither of us ever met a writing assignment we turned away.
Words can form an iconic memoir. Even six can convey enough powerful emotion, distress, despair or joy to tell your story. Words can be terrific therapy; even your verbal logo. They are yours for the writing. My own words are still in progress, but six perfect ones? They haven’t arrived yet. Maybe there’s no Eureka moment for my consummate ‘life sentence’. But words are how I roll and the cool thing is, everyone can do it. It’s one thing you CAN try this at home — and should. Pour your heart, your emotions on a page or into your computer. Six words or six thousand, they all become your narrative.
It takes only three words to say, “I love you”; two to say “I’m sorry” and either could save the world. Hyper-short or super long, words plucked from your heart tell your story. So keep writing. Use your words.
I’ve used up my quota today.