Tag Archives: Teaching writing

Pictures can help you write your memoir


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.
90 mins


S. Walter Stewart Library

S. Walter Stewart

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.



Only Child














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Filed under 1950s, 1960s, Family and Friends, Libraries, Life, Only child memoir, Writing workshops

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 http://tinyurl.com/3ken7vl 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