‘I Want to Write… Bbbut Where Should I Start?’
Ah, of course, where should you start?
Not knowing where to begin is another reason many of us don’t start writing, combined with ‘it’s too overwhelming’ and ‘I don’t have the time.’
So say you want to write your lifestory. A memoir. Something about who you have become and what you’ve lived through. If we survey the long textured history of our lives it probably seems overwhelming: all the days we’ve lived, trips we’ve taken, people we’ve loved and lost…
The answer to the question: where should I start? Is…. Anywhere. What you need to understand for the purposes of getting it down on paper is: it doesn’t matter where you start.
Where you start writing and where your story begins are two different things.
Writing happens in patches. It is haphazard. A bit here, a bit there. A memory from your childhood. An anecdote from yesterday. A life-changing moment when you were eight and your dog was run over in front of you. A conversation with your dentist last Thursday about root canal.
You do not need to – and please, please, for the sake of all of us – do not write every detail of your life since the day you were born.
Author, writing mentor, retreat leader. I’m an internationally bestselling author of nine books, inspirational speaker and writing mentor. I’ve had books published in just about every genre- fiction, non-fiction, self-help, memoir – by some of the top publishing houses in the world. My books have sold over 650 000 copies and have been translated in a range of languages. Two of my books have been #1 Amazon bestsellers, and at one point the German edition of Secret Mothers’ Business outsold Harry Potter- crazy, right?
You don’t need to start with your birth. Because you’ll write about that and realise you actually need to give some background on your mother who was highly anxious and possibly your father who was out of work, and then maybe actually your grandmother and grandfather…. It can go back thousands of generations before you’ve figured out where your story starts. Your physical life began the day you were born, but where did your spiritual, psychological and emotional life begin? These are imponderables, so don’t waste time on them.
Just pick a day, a moment – any at all will do. You can start your story with the day you turned 45 and your wife left you. Or the day your best friend was killed in a car accident. Or the moment you were diagnosed with prostate or breast cancer. Or like I did in my memoir When Hungry, Eat, with visiting a dietician and being told I was obese. You will then make decisions about how your story moves from there. What about what happened before that? Ah, that’s what backstory is for. That’s where flashbacks are useful.
So pick a place. Any place. A moment. Any moment. It is your provisional starting point. You can change your mind about where you want to structure your story from there.
Where you start is not important. What matters is that you start.
So start now.