Memoirs,  Organization and Research,  Point of View and Character Development,  Prompts,  Theme, Purpose and Outcome

The Significance of Memories

Willow as a puppy, my heart-dog.

Every life has common themes that repeat themselves over and over.  One of my own most common themes is a love of animals, so when my writers’ group chose Favourite Toys as their prompt this week, it got me thinking…



What was my favourite toy as a child?  


Of course, there were many…the roller skates that repeatedly steered me towards every crack in the sidewalk, leading to skinned knees and copious tears; the pogo stick that bounced me straight into a pile of fresh dog poop; and the bicycle my parents bought for me — an  unexpected gift and a total, wonderful surprise. 


But the toy that sprang immediately to mind was a scruffy, worn, stuffed toy dog named Woo-woo.  I’m guessing that my parents had called him something like Woofy, but I had trouble with the “f” sound as a very young child and couldn’t pronounce it.  (Today, I have no problem with “f” words, particularly when provoked).


At any rate, Woo-woo was fuzzy and black, and he’d been

Woo-woo’s eventual replacement, years later.

so much loved that I’d worn all the plush fur down to the support fabric, but only on one side.  He’d probably been my first toy as an infant, and I remember that when I was growing up, he always slept with me.


Eventually, I left for college and my beloved Woo-woo came with me, a connection to my family and to myself as a child, the child I’d have to leave behind as I evolved towards young adulthood.  He followed me through several moves, but somewhere along the way, Woo-woo got lost.



So why am I telling you about a silly stuffed toy? I tell you this because Woo-woo wasn’t just a toy, he was a symbol.  He meant so much more to me than just a scruffy stuffed animal.  Woo-woo symbolized a wonderful childhood.  This tiny threadbare stuffie embodied a powerful, emotional feeling — everything I believed about safety and security, and his loss hurts as much now as it did over fifty years ago.  


Woo-woo was the source of my lifelong love of animals.  He was just an ugly, beat-up stuffed toy of no significance to anyone else, but to me, he meant everything.  He meant home, love and family, and his loss happened at a time when I was breaking up with my first serious relationship.  Woo-woo came to symbolize trust betrayed and the loss of my childhood innocence.  I’m sure he’s a big part of the reason why I’ve always had dogs and loved each one deeply.  Because dogs give me back that feeling of being totally accepted for who I am.  They let me be authentic, genuine, vulnerable and truly me, warts and all.


Find Your Own Significance

So now, I’d like you to remember and write about one of your own childhood toys. You can mine your memories for the golden nuggets that illustrate the main themes of your your life.  Look for symbols that recur over and over.  Just doing that one thing will give your memoirs so much more impact than a string of unrelated recollections.  Here are some questions to get you started:


    • Did you have a favourite toy as a small child – one you couldn’t let go of, even when you were older?
    • If not, did you have a favourite place or object that you loved?
    • What made it your favourite? How did it make you feel? Why did you love it so much?
    • Did it come to mean something different as you grew older?
    • What did it symbolize for you?
    • Do you still have it?  Is it treasured or lost?  Buried in the back of a closet or stuffed in an attic?  (Or changed beyond recognition if it’s a place?)
    • How does that make you feel?
    • Has it influenced your life in any way?  
    • How has your life changed because of how you felt about it?

You kept these memories for a reason.  They stayed with you because they are, in some way, important to you.  Try to find their deeper meaning, and use that deeper significance to knit together the many different stories that make up your life.  Find a theme that seems to be a common thread and write your memoirs around it. If you already have some idea of the point you want to make, you’ll find it easier to pick and choose the memories which illustrate it.  


Remember, a memoir is not an autobiography.  It’s a series of personal histories that together make a point.  If you start with your theme in mind, it becomes so much easier to leave out anything that doesn’t fit. 


And there’s no rule that says you can’t write a whole series of memoirs, each emphasizing a different point. 


Happy Writing!

Bev Signature

Trained as an artist in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, I was one of the first creatives to be employed in the computer graphics industry in Toronto during the early 1980’s. For several years, I exhibited my animal portraiture in Canada and the U.S. but when my parents needed care, I began writing as a way to stay close to them. I’ve been writing ever since. I run a highly successful local writer’s circle, teaching the craft and techniques of good writing. Many of my students have gone on to publish works of their own. I create courses aimed at seniors who wish to write memoirs, with a focus on the psychology of creatives and the alleviation of procrastination and writer's block.

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