Only Child on finding your memoir muse

Only Child with Mom in the backyard. Definitely in the memoir

I’ve started teaching another Crafting a Personal Memoir course and one thing I’m finding is we who write memoirs have so much to say. We have many areas in our lives we could write about. We may have overcome a drug addiction but the cause goes back to something in our childhood and maybe this childhood is a story in itself. If we put everything in one memoir we have overload and overkill. We risk overwhelming the reader and, if we go the traditional publishing route, turning off literary agents and publishers.

I tried to put everything in one memoir. The first agent who looked at it liked my story and my voice but said I needed to divide it into two books. I followed her advice and now have the possibility of three or four books. That’s a good thing as most agents and publisher don’t want to take on a one-book author. They are in it to make money.

So, how do you get around all this rich material and decide what to write about first?

Get organized. I know it’s not No. 1 on the creativity list, but if you keep in mind “it’s not sealed in granite and I can change it later if I want,” you can move forward.

In my course, I use two methods of nailing down the memoir focus and content. One is using the kaleidoscope or wheel method. Take a large piece of paper (or those who can use computer programs to draw, do it onscreen). In the middle of the page draw a circle and inside the circle write “Me.” Then draw several spokes from the centre. On each spoke write one area of your life – for example “Drug Addiction,” and fan out with more spokes from that word. On each “sub-spoke” write something to do with your drug addiction – for example “cocaine,” or “peer pressure.” You choose; it’s your story. When you think you have enough material, take a closer look at each spoke . Choose the subject that most resonates with you. You may discover that some of the sub-spokes for some of the different categories overlap in information. So, you can actually write about two life areas.

For example, Canadian poet Patrick Lane, who wrote the memoir There is a Season, writes about not only the wonders of his garden, but also how it healed his alcoholism. And something else crops up (besides plants) – he goes back to his childhood and the troubles with his father. That is my interpretation of this wonderful book.

Lane’s book also brings out something else about memoirs – they are never just the surface story; there is always some underlying theme. Find that as well as the story, and you have the focus of your memoir.

You can also use photographs and I have shown you how in a previous posting at

The next step is to do an outline. In next week’s posting I’ll go into writing outlines and getting started writing your memoir.

Meantime check out Capturing Memories – Tips on Writing a Memoir


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

1 Comment

Filed under Memoir content, Memoir writing, Mother and Child, Only child, Organizing Memoir, Patrick Lane, Sharon Crawford

One response to “Only Child on finding your memoir muse

  1. Thanks for your tips on writing memoir. I have also written about being the only child of elderly parents. I hope to teach memoir writing and your posts are very enlightening. Check out my essay on Catholicism at

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