Tough question. And you thought the toughest one was whether or not to attempt a memoir. Well, I’m proud of you for getting this far anyway. Figuring out precisely where to start can be a tricky proposition for some, and ridiculously easy for others.
The key is to understand who you wish to reach and what you wish to convey. If your concern is family history, and not just your own role in it, then an historical approach is probably in order. Whether or not you break out a family tree or page after page of genealogical charts and diagrams is fodder for another discussion. For now, let’s assume this memoir is about you.
Fortunately, you’re the absolute expert on YOU! Where do you want to take this journey? Perhaps your career has been unusual, or has provided the means to do the unusual, or meet people the rest of us never will. Maybe you traveled to exotic places or were involved in events that shaped history, the world, or something closer to home: your family, your pets, and maybe even yourself.
On the other hand, your life may have been blessed with a variety of influences–far more than could be squeezed into a simple thing like a career. In that case, maybe all you need to focus on are the highlights–a magical journey, parts of a job, an amazing romance. The sum of those disparate parts might make for wonderful reading.
Or, maybe your life has been marked most significantly by hardship, illness, or abuse. More than one memoir has served admirably as a catharsis or even a purgative. Exposing those dark spots in the past to the light of truth can have a dramatic healing effect. (Be prepared, however, for some push back if you name names and reveal secrets. Some folks just can’t handle the truth, especially if they don’t have the means to spin it in their own favor. I refer to people of this ilk as cretins. They aren’t worth the time it takes to worry about ’em.)
Probably the easiest way to move forward is to make a list of the most memorable things that have happened in your life. Write down each event on an index card with enough details to insure you’ll recall exactly what experience/occasion you had in mind. Then move on to the next. When you’re done, you can put them in whatever order suits your fancy. Then you can simply pick out one of those cards every time you sit down to work on your project and focus on just that event.
Look stuff up; contact others who were there; dig out old letters, albums, yearbooks, memorabilia–anything that will help you paint an accurate picture. Don’t worry about length, style, spelling, punctuation, or anything else. Focus entirely on getting the information down in a format you can save. There will be plenty of time later to edit the details and make it all pretty, and hopefully, exciting.