THROUGH THE WORK I DO to support journaling and memoir writers, I often meet people who want to write about their lives, but who are not really interested in publishing or promoting what they write. They don’t want to write a memoir — a theme-based work about one aspect or period of time in their lives — or personal essays. They simply want to record interesting vignettes, anecdotes, and bits of family history or lore.
Typically, these writers tell me they don’t think of themselves as writers, per se; they only want to preserve their life experiences and history for future generations. They wonder if there’s a place for this kind of writing and how to start.
If this description fits you, then I’d like to reassure you on a few points:
- If you write regularly as a means of self-expression, you are a writer, whether published or not. A poet who does not publish his work is still a poet.
- You do not need to publish in order to produce work of value to a particular audience, such as friends, family, and other loved ones, or for historical purposes.
- There is a place for the kind of writing you are asking me about — it’s called Legacy Writing.
Legacy writing is about documenting your life experiences, along with your values, thoughts, and feelings about those experiences to share with others. In addition to providing a venue for self-expression, reflection, and healing, your stories will be cherished by those you gift with your work.
The following prompts will help you get started or, if you’ve already begun writing for legacy purposes, may give you some additional ideas about topics to write about.
Legacy Writing Prompts
Write a letter to a specific person or persons in your life.
In the letter, tell them what you love about them, affirming their gifts, talents, and best personal qualities. Let them know what they mean to you, and offer words of wisdom about life, including specific life stages or events they may go through.
I know one young woman who writes a letter to each of her children, every year on their birthdays. She then tucks these letters away to be given to them when they are grown and have children of their own. What a precious gift those letters will be!
Describe the best experience of your life.
Recall what happened, who was there with you, what you thought and said and felt, what they thought and said. Describe the event with as much detail as possible, including details about where you were — what things looked like, smelled like, felt like
Make a list of your most vivid memories.
Begin in early childhood. After you’ve made the list, choose one of the memories and begin writing the story of that memory: where you were, who was there with you, what happened, and what impact it had on you and your life. Include as much sensory detail as you can remember, including smells and sounds and physical sensations along with sight.
As you continue to write these vignettes, collect them in a binder in chronological order. This will become your legacy gift for your loved ones
Make a list of family stories.
These can include stories you heard while growing up, stories from your parents and extended family and bits of family lore.
One fun way of recording family stories is to write them using dialogue and in the voice of the person telling them.
Write each of these stories with as much detail as possible and either add them to your legacy binder or collect them in a separate binder.–
Draw a detailed map of your childhood home and neighborhood.
The map can be messy and doesn’t need to be accurate or artistic — the very act of drawing the map will release memories and additional stories to write about. Include the map with the stories.
Write a letter of advice.
Share the wisdom you’ve gained over the years by providing advice on love, work, success, parenting, spirituality, how to handle difficult situations or relationships, or any other topic of your choice
Write for fifteen minutes on any of the following topics:
- A fork in the road — A time in your life when you made a major decision or something happened that changed your life.
- Family — What was it like growing up in your family? Who was your greatest influence?
- Your life’s work or career — What do you consider your primary life’s work? What led you to this work and why do you value it?
- Goals and Accomplishments — What have been your main goals and accomplishments so far in your life and how have you gotten where you are?
Writing legacy letters and stories is a gift anyone can give to loved ones or future generations. You don’t have to be a “great writer” or “author.” You only need to have a desire to share your life stories and life wisdom. And to recognize the great value this type of sharing can have for others.