Interviewers frequently ask me, “Where should people start if they want to write down their memories?” Although I sense a little disappointment with my “It depends…” there’s no pat answer on where to start. It is—and should be in my opinion—a personal decision.
That said, it’s easier to start some places than others. Here’s a list of good ways to start
Start with what comes easy.
This is actually the underlying logic of my book, Memories of Me: A Complete Guide to Telling and Sharing the Stories of Your Life. It progresses from the easy to more difficult.
But, I can’t tell you exactly what will work. Starting with childhood memories and the stories told at every family reunion are easy for most. However, that’s assuming a rosy childhood in a non-dysfunctional family. Starting with what’s easy might be different for you.
Why you’re starting will also color your “where to start” decision. If you’ve decided to start telling your stories to purge some demons from your psyche or address family secrets, you might decide to start with the difficult. That’s fine, too.
Start at a favorite place.
Many times a favorite place is imbued with memory triggers. (See The Power of Going Back.) Your favorite place might be a childhood home, the woods you loved exploring, a school, or even a car.
Memories associated with places are particularly fun to share. Your memories trigger the memories of others. In fact, my friend J.P. Ribner recently blogged about the torments he suffered at a Catholic school in Flint, Michigan. His comment and Facebook streams are filled with thoughts, counter-memories, and conversations.
Start with what you’re in danger of losing.
Sadly, there are circumstances that argue for this, such as a family member with Alzheimer’s or facing the end of life. You might have access to everyone at a family reunion and want to capture their stories while they are all together. In this case, preserving doesn’t necessarily mean writing. You can use digital voice recorders and start interviewing. (See How to Start an Oral History Tradition.)
Start with what matters.
Particularly if you’re working against the clock, your “where to start” might be better expressed as “what really matters.” Rather than documenting your experiences, preserve things like who you love, how you feel, and the lessons you learned. This can be more difficult, which leads me to the next point.
Let someone help you figure out where to start.
No one else can tell you or dictate where to start. However, a guide can help, particularly if you feel overwhelmed. Of course, I recommend my book, but use what works for you. This isn’t just shameless promotion. Don’t get bogged down or overwhelmed and lose your stories!
Pay it forward and leave a comment. Where did you (would you) start? Want to receive monthly tips and resources? Sign up for my newsletter (left panel towards the top).