For those of us writing a memoir or who want to do so, sometimes we get stymied. Where do we start? What do we focus on? What happened in our life that really affected us?
Of course, we may have a specific area of our life we want to focus on. But our memories can play tricks on us. Our memories can “hide” a wealth of information about our past, the people in it and our emotions during those times – even if we think we know how we felt.
So, use pictures to trigger your memory and its whole enchilada. I don’t mean just old family and friend photos. But buildings – your school, the house you grew up in, streets, transit (cars and public), old new-story photos, old ad, even cemeteries.
And even the above which may not be your family photo, may not be a streetscape you are familiar with. You are thinking of the time and what is actually in the picture and transferring it (in your mind) to your story.
As some of you know, I teach various memoir writing workshops and courses at Toronto Public Library branches. And as the above hints at, the next one, on April 16, is called Using Your Pictures to Create Your Memoir. Most of my memoir writing workshops and courses have something about pictures, particularly those old family and friend photos. An interesting thing I keep discovering is that even if the picture is of my family or friends or me or the house I grew up in – it will always trigger some memory (not connected to me) in some of the participants.
“Oh, the picture of your dad reminded me of my dad.”
“The picture of your house reminded me of the house I grew up in.”
“That picture of your friends reminded me of something that happened with my sister/some of my friends.”
The pictures take on a generic form. And that can happen with transit and streetscapes. For example, a picture of a streetcar can bring up memories of you riding in a streetcar in the past, lead to something (good or bad) that happened to you while riding a streetcar. Who were you with? What was your relationship to them? And taking it beyond the streetcar ride, what else happened to you and them, especially if a sibling, parent, or close friend? How did you feel towards them? Does it bring up emotions – sad, happy, angry, etc.? And this can lead to more stories with them and maybe with the streetcars. Maybe your dad drove a streetcar or a bus. What were his stories about that?
You can see where a simple picture can lead you in your memoir writing.
Here are the details of my workshop. If you are in the Greater Toronto Area and are interested in taking it, there is still time to register. And it is free. Yes, I get paid by the library for teaching these workshops.
Using Pictures to Create Your Memoir
Tue Apr 16, 2019
2:00 p.m. – 3:30 p.m.
S. Walter Stewart Library
In this memoir-writing workshop, author and editor Sharon A. Crawford shows how old photos, news stories, ads, streetscapes, and pictures etched in your mind can help create your memoir. Includes how to do picture research and research kick-started by pictures. Through discussion and writing exercises with feedback, you will get a start on your memoir. To register or for more information, please call 416-396-3975.
Meantime, look, really look, at the photo at the top of the post. And see where it leads you in your life.
And the picture below my signature.
Mom and Only Child in Backyard
The senses of smell and taste often go together – at least where food is concerned. There are, of course, some smells you definitely don’t want to associate with any taste – like a skunk’s smell. But maybe that will bring in some taste in your memory. It does for me.
A friend of mine always had at least one dog. And one of these dogs was forever colliding with a skunk. You can imagine the stinky and messy results. My friend used to try to remove the smell by bathing her dog in tomato juice.
Tomato juice is a taste I like and it brings back some memories – my mother growing tomatoes. My mother making some God-awful relish from green tomatoes. My mother calling me to the side door of our house where she stood on the other side with a large tin can in her hand and showing me what was inside the can. Not tomatoes she had picked, but horrible green tomato worms. I remember her laugh here.
So you can see how taste and smell can work together to trigger something from your past. That something might just be a story you want to include in your memoir.
For those writing a memoir, using the six senses to kick start your memoir is one way to get your mind, feelings and emotions (latter two very important) back in your past.
When you walk into a Tim Hortons and smell the coffee, what does that remind you of? And when you taste the coffee? Does that enhance your memory?
This Tuesday, November 21 I’m teaching another workshop on Kick starting your memoir using the six senses. This time I’m at the Forest Hill Library Branch in Toronto. There is still room in the workshop for participants for anyone living in the Toronto Ontario Canada area who is reading this before the workshop time (2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m.) and day. You can either phone the library at or just show up. More details here.
I’m posting this a day early because the workshop is Tuesday, when I usually post to Only Child Writes.
Only Child Writes
Sharon’s backyard garden. No green hornworms on my tomato plants.
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
Cover of my new mystery novel
When I was a child in the 1950s and early 1960s, I got hooked on mysteries – novels and TV programs. I read Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and Trixie Belden. My late mother got me hooked on Perry Mason. We spent Saturday evenings sitting in front of the TV in the living room watching the old Perry Mason black and white TV series. My dad, a dire-hard Toronto Maple Leafs hockey fan had to take a small radio down to the basement to watch hockey. He complained loudly, but no doubt the few bottles of beer he brought down with him, helped.
Pushing into my teens, I started reading Agatha Christie.
So, it is no wonder that all these years later I write mystery series – so far books – the Beyond series – Beyond the Tripping Point (Blue Denim Press, 2012), Beyond Blood (Blue Denim Press, 2014). And now the latest, just out – drum roll… Beyond Faith (Blue Denim Press, 2017). The cover of Beyond Faith is at the top here.
And I’m going to link to my author blog, my latest post last Thursday there for you to see what all the fuss, joy, etc. is about. If you like you can read other posts there and perhaps follow it. Here’s the main link.
And since then, my mystery novel reading has increased to so many different authors such as Maureen Jennings (she of the Murdock Mysteries TV series), Peter Robinson (Alan Banks mystery series set in Yorkshire, England), Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardiner, Marcia Mueller, Sue Grafton, etc. etc. etc. for a wealth of Canadian readers go to Crime Writers of Canada.
Crime Writers of Canada have a quarterly e-publication called Cool Canadian Crime which lists recent books published by members. And it’s free.
Sharon A. Crawford
Only Child Writes
Filed under 1950s, Beyond Blood, Beyond Faith, Beyond the Tripping Point, Books, Mom and Dad, mystery novels, Only child, Sharon A. Crawford, Uncategorized, Writing
Only Child in Grade 12
In our last memoir writing session this week, we covered the topic of using fiction techniques when writing your memoir. Today, we discuss setting. There are similarities with using setting in memoir and in writing fiction, with a few differences.
Always, you need to remember, memoir is not fiction, so you can’t make stuff up. True, settings in fiction often are real settings – at least countries, cities and the like. But sometimes the city or town is fictional, as are the residences and businesses and of course the streets.
Setting in memoir can give the writer an advantage, though. For example, you can write about the place you grew up in – as it was then (and a lot of that is how you remember it. Look at those old photos) and you can go back and see how it is today. Is the house you grew up in still standing? Or is it now a huge ugly condo or a paved parking lot?
But the narrative of setting in both fiction and memoir is stronger and more interesting if you skip writing it like a travel piece and put your character (you, in the memoir) right there. Show yourself going into that high school for the first time – how did you feel? Who did you meet? And blend in what you saw? For example, when my friend Nancy and I switched high schools for grade 12, (in the mid-1960s), we had a heck of a time finding the most important classroom – the study hall. I don’t know how many times we walked around the whole top floor of the high school (it was walking in a square – that’s what it felt like and the actual shape of it). Finally another classmate with a study period helped us find the room.
So, you can see how that could generate the setting of just this school floor as Nancy and I wandered around lost. And the emotions, some dialogue and the actual study room when we finally found it and entered it.
Here’s one of the exercises I had my class do for setting. If you have time, you could try it.
- Exercise: Take a scene from your past and write about it with you in it. This could be the backyard of the house you grew up in, your bedroom, the kitchen, the street where you live. Note: if your memoir is about a particular time in your life use a scene from that as opposed to a scene in your past that won’t have anything to do with your memoir. The purpose is to create the atmosphere as you remember it in one location important to your life and learn how to show it to the reader from your unique POV. For example, if you were terrified of thunderstorms and hid under the covers when one came, and your brother liked to run outside in thunderstorms, the two of you would definitely have differing points of view. (copyright 2017 Sharon Crawford)
Only Child Writes
Sometimes we bite off more than we can chew in all that we do. It is a life variation of the old eating too much axiom that my late mother used to say – your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
This time, my eyes and my mind too, are presuming I can do much more than is realistic. So, I’ve been slowly pruning and putting in pending some of what I do. Lately, I have been doing this with my business.
I am a writer, editor and writing instructor and as such there are specific things they encompass and specifics I wouldn’t touch with anything. Having said that, I am still trying for gigs, particularly in the instructor and presentation area. But I am cancelling going to a few business meetings and not taking on some new work. So, the tally right now is:
Cancelled one business meeting for sure this week but presented via email some suggestions within the topics on the agenda.
Went to one writing organization Christmas party (this is fun too) last evening, but not the other one on the same evening. Having gone to both a few years back when both also occurred the same evening – never again.
Am being approached for editing work from potential new clients and I am grateful for that. But I will be meeting with only one of them in the New Year as what she wants is what I do. She is also connected to me on Linked In and Goodreads. The other one emailed me out of the blue and I am not sure where he got my name from. I don’t think my website because it lists very clearly what I will do in writing, editing and teaching and what he is asking for is not there. And I double-checked my website just to be sure. I do not ghost write or rewrite somebody else’s story, somebody else’s manuscript. I do copy editing, manuscript evaluation and one-on-one writing tutoring in person or by Skype. So I will email him back with a polite refusal and send him to the Editors Canada website to find an editor who will do what he wants and needs.
I do have current clients and it is important to do their work.
So, if you are living your life in overwhelm – business or personal or both – remember my mother’s axiom – your eyes are bigger than your stomach.
Otherwise you might bite off more than you can chew.
And that’s enough of cliches from me.
Only Child Writes
Busy city street – sign of current times
Yesterday a friend and I were talking about the world today, the world we live in. We both agreed that is is a horrid world – too digital, too hurried, extreme weather, the terrorism, etc. I said it all got going into this state when we entered the new millennium and she agreed, with the addition that back in the 70s there was the Vietnam War. I added that back then there wasn’t so much of everything.
I don’t think it is because we are both seniors (albeit at the lower end of the seniors age bracket).
Truth is we are inundated with too much crappy stuff these days.
It is hard to find a little peace, a little joy. But we need to. The only other option seems to be to “get the hell out of Dodge.”
Last night while hurrying along a Toronto street to do some grocery shopping, I realized – hey, the weather in Toronto is warmer than usual for this time of year. No actual winter weather. True we’ve been getting a lot of fog and clouds and rain is coming later this week. I think something my ex said in an email earlier yesterday also was somewhere in my mind. He and his wife live out west and while they are getting a lot of rain he likes it because it is warmer then.
So, I did a momentary mind pause, slowed down my walking, and stopped cursing the Food Basics store for having one cooked ham on sale left (and it was awful looking – too much fat and a small string curled up in it – you know the “ick” factor).
I actually started to enjoy the evening, thinking it wasn’t bad weather-wise, still warmish.
How do you find a little peace and joy in your life?
Only Child Writes