December 5, 2020

Getting to What Matters Quickly and Succinctly

What’s your focus and what’s your point? These are the most important questions you can ask as you start to unwind the threads of your life in your memoir. Brevity forces us to think about the best words or brief phrases that express a complex story. When writers are asked, “What’s your memoir about?” Brooke and I observe that oftentimes the responses can be a meandering attempt to find the heart of the story, often missing the essence of the message they want to convey. Publishers and publicists will ask you to create an “elevator speech”: a one- or two-sentence blurb (not to exceed twenty seconds when speaking) that you can share with someone, ideally a possible agent or publisher, as you go down an elevator. That is the essence of brevity—and you have to know your focus to be able to do that.

The Backstory of a Memoir: Journaling

Many memoir writers start to write by journaling, a form of writing that does not demand brevity. Journaling invites you to take your time to figure out your thoughts, and even to write with no point at all. Memoir writers are trying to understand what happened when and what it all meant, while creating a story that others can relate to. I had been journaling for years before coming to memoir and was surprised when I discovered the sudden need to have a focus and a point. Stories are built with scenes, and each one needs to be included in the story for a reason: to show rather than tell the essentials that draw in the reader.

Going Short: Flash and Focused

The concept behind Larry Smith’s Six-Word Memoirs can help you find your focus. It’s like writing poetry—you find the best verb/noun combination, perhaps there’s room for an adjective—and the story arc is revealed in six words.

Another short form is Flash Fiction and Flash Memoir—stories between 25-500 words. In his article on Lit-Hub, “13 Ways of Looking at Flash Fiction,” Grant Faulkner writes delightfully about short forms and shares authors’ wisdom on the topic. In his piece, he listed some flashy metaphors to help readers wrap their minds around the form:  

  • Flash fiction is like the light of a sparkler, spritzing dashes of light into the air for only a minute.
  • Flash fiction is like the faint rustling of a ghost, present, yet absent; alive, yet dead. It has something to tell you, but you have to listen in a different way.

How to Find Your Focus in Full Length Memoir—Turning Points

You might be asking: How do I transition from journaling into story? To begin with, create a turning point list.Turning points are the essential moments in your life when something changed. Start by listing ten of the most significant turning points in your life. You will be adding more as you develop your list, but try to keep it under twenty. The task is to focus in, to find the essentials.

Each turning point has a focus. List your moments this way: when, where, the point, your age. Keep it short! This is your first entry into what will become your scenes. Practice writing scenes with a clear point, and connected to the theme of your story until you’re able to say what your story is in one or two sentences, or in the twenty seconds it might take to ride down an elevator.


Want to learn more about getting to what matters quickly and succinctly? If so, we invite you to our 6-consecutive-week ELEVATE YOUR MEMOIR BOOT CAMP starting on September 22, 2020.

In Week 3, our guest teacher Larry Smith, founder of the Six-Word Memoir® project, will teach about brevity how can be a cure for writer’s block, a catalyst to write longer stories, and a tool that helps you get to the essence of anything in life, love, work, faith, family, and more.

If you’re interested in this topic, you’ll enjoy Larry’s TEDx Talk, which you can watch here: “I would have. You never asked.”

Check out our BOOT CAMP (September 22-October 27). We hope you’ll join us for this topic and more—and discover new ways to ELEVATE YOUR MEMOIR.   

About Linda Joy Myers

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