Category Archives: Toronto writing seminars

Only Child on memoir writing using the six senses

Only Child with Mom and Dad at her godmother’s farm in the early 1960s.

I’m not talking about common sense here, although it could be a seventh sense. And yes there are six senses – sight, taste smell, hearing,  touch, and the sixth is intuition. And I’m teaching two workshops called Kick Start Your Memoir Using the Senses – this Friday, November 17 and next Tuesday, November 21.

As the title suggests we will cover those six areas. But the workshops are geared to the participants, not me, so I find out what they are writing and help them get organized to do so –  with tips on research and putting all that you find together, finding your memoir muse and getting started.

Here’s a peak at one of those things we will cover. First things first.

Why do you want to write a memoir?

Are you writing for family? To get something off your chest? For publication? Discussion using the below for kickoff.

What is the most interesting area of your life that is also different than the usual?  For example, your teen years, did you overcome an addiction, dysfunctional family? Ask yourself: what is your most vivid memory, the memory that evokes the strongest emotion from your childhood, your teens or your young adult years?  Your school years and school friends. Bottom line is focus on your theme or area of your life.

Decide. Hone in on the one that is the strongest and the one you can develop into a memoir. Ask yourself if you learned something from your story – that can be a key to deciding.

In next Tuesday’s blog post we’ll take a peak at one of the senses. But if you are in the Greater Toronto Area, you might want to consider attending a workshop. Both are at Toronto Public Library branches and are free. But you have to register first. Here is the information on my website.



Only Child Writes

Teenage Only Child with her Mom

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Filed under Memoir writing, Toronto Public Libraries, Toronto writing seminars, Writing, Writing workshops

Only Child uses fiction to deal with life’s pain

Only Child reading one of her short stories

If you are writing a memoir/considering writing a memoir, but something in your life is too painful or might cause grief for you and your family, try writing it as a short story. Perhaps you or some other family member has an incurable disease. Perhaps you are dealing with a parent with dementia. Writing about a painful situation, even transformed into fiction, can be a healing catharsis, but it can also turn into the most powerful story. Almost anything is fodder for fiction. Just make sure it is fiction.

I do this. One short story evolved from a family member’s (not immediate) unexpected suicide. No way did I want to add to our family grief, but maybe I had some survivor guilt. I was also a suicide survivor (from 30 years ago) and for five years volunteered at a telephone distress centre.

The short story that evolved changed everything except the suicide fact and one character’s volunteering at a distress centre. The characters were younger, brother and sister, and the story was told from the sister’s point of view. It started with her big brother’s suicide and then went back to their life, including growing up with a mother who was an alcoholic and verbally abused her children. This definitely was not the situation in my family. In my story, the sister was filled with guilt and she felt that she should have been able to stop her brother, especially as she was volunteering at a telephone distress center. I made up the name of the distress centre and what “happens” at the fictional distress centre did not happen with my actual volunteering. For those interested, the story “My Brother’s Keeper” was published in the Canadian Authors Association Toronto branch anthology, Gathered Streams (Hidden Brook Press, 2010). Check out

So, if you want to create fiction from fact, here are a few pointers about what to do/what not to do.

  1. Use only the incident/event as your idea to kick-start your story. The story must be fiction.
  2. Use fictional characters and events, not the actual people or their names. It’s best to have characters with different age brackets and different backgrounds than in real life.
  3. Change the setting, perhaps even the time line.
  4. Use your emotions to propel you forward, but also keep in mind that this must be fiction. You are using your emotions from the real happening to help you dig deeply when writing your story.
  5. As this is fiction, you can have a different outcome than the one connected to the real-life trigger event. Just make sure that the outcome works with the story.
  6. Make sure the story is fiction. I can’t emphasise this enough. Real life (mine) incident – one of my cousins blasted me for writing true stories about the family history. However, she said she wouldn’t mind fictionalized accounts. I’m not going to take that at face value. Readers have the knack for finding themselves or someone they know in fiction, even when it isn’t true. But we do absorb what happens in our life. And that is often the trigger for story ideas.

For another take on writing fiction from fact, check out Writing Truth or Fiction The author here actually used a real character in her novel. And so do other authors. Here’s another take on this

For those of you in the Toronto, Ontario, Canada area, I’ll be teaching a Crafting the Short Story Workshop at the Runnymede Branch of the Toronto Public Library, Tuesday, March 6, 6.30 p.m. It’s free. You just need to sign up at the library. Check this one out at and click on “Runnymede.”


Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes

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Filed under Family, Fictional characters, Healing through writing, Memoir writing, Only child, Pain, Sharon Crawford, Short story writing, Suicide, Toronto writing seminars, Writing fiction from fact

Only Child’s teaching heritage from mom and that nun

Only Child sharing her writing knowledge with other writers

My love of teaching writing, the teaching part anyway, goes back to when I was 13. As I have blogged before on February 12, 2010,  I taught my mom to play the piano then. But I also had another go at teaching, thanks to my grade 8 history teacher  the same nun, the school principal who bullied me. But this teaching experience went outside the area of bullying. If memory serves me right, each student had to teach a history class. I chose  to teach about the Fathers of Canadian Confederation, complete with maps, diagrams and anecdotes.

But I couldn’t go up cold to the front of the class and teach. Not me, who had stumbled miserably through a debate. That’s where Mom came in. As I write in my memoir…

After I put the whole lesson together, Mom and I do several dry runs.

I prop up my maps on the dining room table. Mom stands at the other end in the living room and I start my spiel. We also do the dry run in the kitchen, where I go through the whole lesson, using my illustrated props and pointing with her long dressmaking ruler. She doesn’t tell me to talk slower or speak up; she listens, nods and smiles. When I am finished, she doesn’t need to say anything. I know I’ve done a good job and pleased her.

In class, Mother St. Helen calls on me to teach my lesson. I cart my maps to the front, support them against the blackboard and start, from the first provinces into Confederation and tell tales about the “fathers” behind them, I weave an interesting story that keeps the class and Mother St. Helen mesmerized. I don’t falter as I lecture, ask questions, comment on the replies, and answer questions posed by some of the students. It is as if I am transported into another world, where I tell true stories and everyone hangs onto my every word. I don’t recall the class clapping when I finish, but I can feel it in the air that they learned history without yawning.

(Excerpted from You Can Go Home – Deconstructing the Demons, Copyright 2011 Sharon Crawford).

You might say that history keeps repeating itself – not in what I teach, but the fact that I do teach writing (and also editing, although I much prefer teaching writing). When I stand (or sit) in front of a small or large group of writers and share my knowledge I get warm fuzzy feelings. I also feel gratitude, because by sharing back and forth (my students also share their ideas and their stories) I always learn something.

Maybe that is the core. You don’t just get up in front of others and start lecturing with the attitude it’s my way or the highway. Sure, you are telling your story, your point of view, spreading your knowledge, but it is just your tiny part that you are sharing. You are there to learn, as well.

I’ll be doing more of this tonight – although this time I’m talking to a group of writers about how they can also teach writing. There will be Q & A but after the other two panelists also share their ideas. The topic actually is Writers Earning A Living: Alternate Revenue Sources and it’s run by PWAC (Periodical Writers Association of Canada) Toronto chapter, and yes, I’m a member here. It’s in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, 7 p.m. tonight. Details at if you are interested.

One of the other speakers makes and sells cupcakes. It should be interesting and feed the stomach as well as the mind.


Only Child Writes

Sharon Crawford

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Filed under Only child, Only child memoir, PWAC seminars, Sharon Crawford, Teaching, Teaching History, Teaching writing, Toronto writing seminars