Category Archives: Organizing Memoir

Only Child back to memoir writing

Only Child and her parents  in another time and world

Only Child and her parents outside her godmother’s farmhouse.

Yesterday I returned to my memoir to give it a face-lift. With my pre-quel novel rewrite off to the publisher for yet another looksee, it is time to get back to the other book manuscript-in-the-works.

I’m taking a new angle to it and have already rewritten the Prelude beginning and the start of Chapter 1. It is more edgy and suspenseful to begin with, although I will keep the poignancy, etc. throughout the memoir. However, nothing is sacrosanct as far as rewriting it is concerned.

Sometimes you have to take your writing by its horns and turn it around. With memoirs that happens often for various reasons: you want to focus in another area, family flak, or you just want to rev up the writing and interest.

My other motivation is I’m preparing to teach a one-day Memoir Writing Workshop in Toronto, Saturday, February 22. Previously (I sound like a TV show here), I’ve taught hour and a half Memoir Writing Workshops at Toronto Public Library branches or  six half day session Memoir Writing Courses through my East End Writers’ Group.

This one will combine the two. The blurb goes like this:

Getting your Memoir off the Ground:

Presented by the East End Writers’ Group

Always wanted to write your family’s story or your story but need some motivation and guidance? Sharon A. Crawford, who conducts Memoir Writing workshops for the Toronto Public Library, will teach this one-day expanded workshop on Memoir Writing. After a brief review of kick-starting your memoir using the senses, this hands-on workshop takes the writer into the nitty-gritty of writing the memoir. You will learn how to organize your memoir’s content, do research and work it into your memoir, deal with family flak, and not only start writing your memoir, but write an actual chapter and have it critiqued.  Handouts provided. Bring photos and other memorabilia, pen and paper or the electronic equivalent.

What does that tell the memoir writer? Besides, it is not a piece-of-cake one- time shot. Nor is it all creativity.

You have to be organized

You can’t just sit down and write or you will be all over the place. You need to decide just what exactly you want to focus your memoir on and write that down, then do a chapter/subject outline, then…

You have to do research

Our memories aren’t 100 per cent. Although you are telling your story, you won’t remember everything going on for each segment of your life back then. And if back then covers your childhood, you certainly have a different perspective then from now. As a child you probably didn’t know much about the issues surrounding what went on in your life. For example, if you are writing about when your parents were divorced, what were the divorce laws then? You will even have do some digging for some of your family background. Family trees, relatives, particularly of the senior variety, and old family photos can be most helpful here. These conjure up all sorts of necessary research, which can be interesting in itself.

And of course, with your research, you also need to be organized. You don’t want to suffer from researchitis (over research with tons of paper and electronic files in your possession).

So, you can see that writing your memoir requires using both the left side of your brain (logical, analytical) and right side (creative).

We’ll cover a little bit of the creative side in the next post. Meantime, if you are in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area and are interested in my workshop, you can check out the full details on my website at


Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Family, Memoir writing, Mom and Dad, Only child memoir, Organizing Memoir, Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child tackles starting the memoir

Only Child at 13 and Dad on veranda of house where she grew up

When I first started writing my memoir I had a very different take on what I wanted to include. I wanted it to be more family history – mainly the dead relatives and my relationship with them – when they were alive. I’m not that weird. Some family flak, as well as some constructive criticism from another writer, steered me in another direction. My memoir is now my story of growing up a shy only child of elderly parents in the 1950s and 1960s when Dad is dying of cancer and the environment is old-school Catholic.

When you find your memoir muse, writing the actual memoir can seem daunting. Where do you start? Where do you go?

In my last post I talked about using the kaleidoscope method to narrow down what the heck you want to write about. When you decide if it is overcoming your drug addiction, your crazy childhood or your travels through the Yukon, that’s the branch of your kaleidoscope you use to create an outline.

But before you do that, you want to write down your memoir’s focus or mission statement. As I did above, try to get it down to one sentence, two sentences maximum. This will help you create your outline.

“Create” and “Outline” seem worlds apart. But if you just write “from the seat of your pants” your memoir will be all over the place. Just remember that whatever you put in this outline may not be what you end up with. Keep an open mind for change because as you write your memoir, things will change – perhaps your perspective, perhaps due to family flak, perhaps boredom on your part. Consider your outline a “work-in-progress.”


  • Do it as a chapter-by-chapter setup or as subject matter you wish to cover. This is just to get you started – to move you from mission statement to content.
  • Under each “subject” listed, write a few sentences or list (whichever works best for you) what you could cover there.
  • If you need to dig further for information, make a note in brackets (further info needed).

That’s it in a nutshell. And, once you write your beginning chapter, you don’t need to write the chapters in the order listed. Perhaps you are missing some research for Chapter Two or the content of Chapter Five is calling your muse.  Follow it. That’s being creative. Remember, you still have your outline to steer you in…later.

Happy memoir writing.


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes.

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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, cancer, Catholicism in the 1950s, Elderly parents, Memoir writing, Only child memoir, Organizing Memoir, Sharon Crawford

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

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