Six Words on War: mini-memoirs reveal how to communicate with impact in a media-saturated age
Is it possible to create an arresting intimacy in a matter of words? Larry Smith’s Six-Word Memoir Project, an Internet hit turned New York Times best seller, continues to surprise readers — and it reveals both the potential for crowd-sourced idea generation and opportunities to communicate for impact in the digital age.
“On 9/11 in New York, everyone was in the subway sobbing over their newspapers,” explained Smith. “Not over foreign policy, but over small portraits of grief and individual stories.” He translated this idea to the web when his Smith magazine launched the project, asking readers to send in six-word memoirs to be featured on the site. “Initially we thought we’d do it as a month-long contest,” Smith said. “But then thousands were pouring in. We kept on featuring them.”
The Six-Word Memoir Project has been successful because it allows people to broach conversations that may be daunting or intimidating to take on in a longer forum. This is particularly true for Six Words on Coming Home from War, the recently launched collaboration between the Six-Word Memoir Project and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
“You read a memoir like, ‘Look how big you have gotten’ and, whether you are a vet or not a vet, for, or against the war, you read this and you know what has happened,” Smith said. “It hits you in such a straightforward way.”
In our information-overload age, limitations and parameters can help people communicate stories they would struggle to otherwise, Smith said. The word constraint helps authors to sharpen their experiences and ideas down to an essence.
With over two million vets from the Iraq and Afghanistan war and a shortage of venues for them to publicly try to make sense of war, the project provides an opportunity for them to convey the wartime experience to an increasingly wary and distracted American audience. “The idea of war is so big that it’s hard to start talking, to get it out, and people don’t have that much time to hear your response,” Smith said. “So where do you start? You may as well start with six words. Whether it’s war or whatever topic, it’s the beginning of a conversation.”