Tag Archives: Research in Memoir writing

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 http://www.samcraw.com/Articles/SpeakersBureau.html

Cheers.

Sharon A. Crawford

Only Child Writes

Advertisements

Leave a comment

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

Only Child on too much research in memoir

Only Child's Dad when he worked for the railway

In last week’s session  in my Crafting the Personal Memoir taught in my home, I covered incorporating research information to the actual memoir without overdoing it. I used an example from my memoir and the old version is a doozie.

Old version beginning of Chapter  Riding the Rails with Dad:

If you’re going to travel on the train with my Dad, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line for Platform 7 or 9 for Guelph. Dad had to be first in line at Union Station and that dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and Aunt Rita’s farms.

What did I expect when Dad worked as a timekeeper for Canadian National Railways since 1918? Just before the 20th century, Canada had three transcontinental railways: the Canadian Pacific Railway – the one tied in with Confederation, the Grand Trunk Railway and the Canadian Northern Railway. From 1900, railway lines had increased from 27,000 to 77,760 km (16,777.02 to 48,317.82 miles) but the extra construction and World War I had the latter two railway companies rolling on shaky financial tracks. So, in 1917, the federal government followed a Royal Commission recommendation and joined the Canadian Northern Railway with the Canadian Government Railways. The year my Dad Joined CNR, this amalgamated railway took on the moniker of Canadian National Railways. One year later another railway, the Grand Trunk Pacific jumped tracks to become part of this federal family.[i]

As timekeeper, Dad must’ve had his work cut out for him. Sure, the merger had reduced railway operating expenses, but the equipment to keep the railway running needed a big overhaul. The purchase of 8,450 new cars, 163 locomotives and 200 passenger cars,[ii] required much re-scheduling of train runs, both freight and passenger. Dad didn’t actually stand outside on the platforms and time trains coming in and going out – not like a bus inspector. He worked in the CNR Office on Front St. West, adjacent to Union Station in Toronto. He kept track and analyzed train run times from reports. Railway schedules were based on the Uniform Code of Operating Rules, until 1990 when the Canadian Rail Operations Rules came into effect. Despite “Rules,” train accidents occurred, and in 1907, the year my Mom was born, nearly 600 people, most of them railway employees, died in train accidents. Again, Dad entered the CNR workforce at an ideal time for him, as the total number of railway accidents declined after the Frst World War. [iii] But his clerk’s salary was lower than that of the more skilled engineers or conductors who actually rode the rails as part of their jobs.

(Copyright 2005 Sharon Crawford, excerpted from You Can Go Home: Deconstructing the Demons earlier version)

Yawn. As you can see it even included footnotes (which I’ve deleted here.) Too much information and while I tried to connect it with my Dad it just doesn’t work. After the feedback from the summer workshop with Ken McGoogan at the University of Toronto in 2005, I made several changes. Below is the version in the manuscript I’m now pitching to agents.

Chapter 7 – Riding the Rails with Dad

If you’re going to travel on the train with Albert Langevin, be prepared to get up early and arrive at the station long before the steam engine is fired up, long before the conductor and trainman arrive, and long before anyone else stands in line at Platform 9 for Guelph, Ontario. My Dad has to be first in line at Toronto’s Union Station. His “typical CNR” style dictated our family schedule during the late 1950s and early 1960s when we travelled by train to my Grandpa’s and my godmother’s farms.

On the way to Union Station, Dad sits in the front seat of the taxi, the better to play navigator. Mom and I, with my doll Darlene, sit in the back. 

“The best way to get to Union Station,” Dad says, looking down at his watch, “is to take Broadview down to Eastern Avenue, then take Eastern Avenue to Front Street.” He scowls over at the driver. “We don’t want to miss our train.”

Not likely. Unless we get stuck in traffic on this pre-Don Valley Parkway day in the late 1950s, we will arrive an hour and a half early at Union Station.

The driver makes a right turn and Dad jumps into attack mode.

“I said to take Broadview to Eastern. We’re on Gerrard St. now. Turn left at Parliament and go down Parliament to Front Street.” Dad removes his watch and is practically shaking it at the driver.

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

As you can see I deleted all the railway history here – some of the other history is still in the chapter later on but in narrative as I saw it back then, not as my research now stated it. The watch was incorporated as narrative in this version and more on the watch and Dad as timekeeper is incorporated into narrative in Chapter 1. The rest is as they say, history.

The idea is not only to connect the history to you but to do it in a way that is more in story-telling mode than lecture-mode. Also make sure that the history you are including is really relevant and necessary to your story. For example, does the reader really care how many railway accidents occurred when my Dad started working for the (then) CNR?

I welcome any comments on this and how others deal with research in their memoir or have difficulty dealing with the research. I call too much research “researchitis.”

Cheers.

Sharon Crawford

Only Child Writes



Leave a comment

Filed under Albert Langevin, Canadian National Railway, Memoir writing, Memoir writing course, Only child, Only child memoir, Railways, Research memoir writing, Sharon Crawford, Union Station Toronto, Vacations