There are several categories of stories that new writers seem to gravitate towards. These stories need the least work to recall and so are good starting points.
Some of these stories are the family stories you have often told and shared. These are the stories you can write about first–because they are the easiest to write. As you write, the process may seem spontaneous, the prose slips from your pen or appears magically on the computer screen! You may even wonder how you can write so easily, you who may not think of yourself as a writer and have put off writing all this while!
This may be what has happened: over the years, you have rehearsed these stories in your mind. As you thought of them, you have pared these narratives down to their essential components and reshaped them for dramatic effect. Over time, as you told these stories, it was obvious that you got better reactions from your listeners if you mentioned a certain detail first and then built up to another detail with specific transitions, etc. Is it any wonder that you are writing these stories now with relative ease? Most of the prep work was done ages ago, and the stories are now highly polished!
These pieces may even prove to be the best writing you produce for a while. Enjoy the appreciation you receive from those with whom you share these “new” stories.
But beware. Pieces you write later may disappoint you by being much less polished than these first attempts. Remember that you will have spent only a few hours, rather than years, preparing to write the subsequent stories. Eventually, as you develop the craft of writing through repeated practice, you will write better stories earlier on in the writing process.
A less happy group of stories are the ones that may lie just beneath the surface waiting to jump out at us. Your first attempts at writing may also reveal memories you need to clarify or integrate into your life. Often, the memories we have not resolved lie on the surface of our consciousness waiting for us to deal with them. When you sit down to write, these memories may jump out at you and insist you write about them rather than about something else.
Do you know people who tend to cry easily when they see something sad on TV? I don’t think it’s so much because they are more sensitive than others (although that may be true). It’s more likely because they harbor unresolved memories of their own past sorrows. Sad stories are opportunities for them to mourn something in themselves they may not be fully aware of.
Lifewriting can be a healthy way to allow memories you have avoided to come to the surface. Committing them to paper may be a way to free yourself of their burdensome weight in your life.
Good luck writing your memoir.