Legacy Themes – Writing Your Life Story in a Nutshell

There are many ways to write your life story. If you were to check out any number of books on the subject, you would find that the majority will show you how to write chronologically. When and where were you born? Where did you live and go to school? What were your favorite subjects? Write about your first job. Describe your wedding, your children, your hobbies, your retirement. It’s like reading a flow chart of your life. Start to finish, A to Z, all in order. Except that life doesn’t always work that way. It can sneak up on you unexpectedly.

Legacy writing is different. You write short two to three-page stories on life events revolving around core themes. These include the first significant turning point in your life, your family, your life’s work, your self-image, the male-female equation, your spiritual journey, and so on. There are ten core themes that encapsulate your life and an additional 25 themes that can enhance its telling. Leil Lowndes, internationally recognized author and speaker, calls them mini-memoirs.

In our book, Writing Your Legacy, Cheryl and I use these mini-memoir themes. Here’s one example. Let’s take the very first core legacy theme, Forks in the Road. This is what it looks like.

Forks in the Road

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” Yogi Berra

Yogi Berra meant that life is full of choices and that we need to make them. We need to keep moving forward. Our lives are filled with turning points. These are the times when we take big or small steps forward. They can be our ah-ha moments when new understanding leads to change in the way we do something. They could represent something simpler: the day we first fell in love was the first day we learned what joy could do to body and soul. The phone call that offered the job we’d worked so hard to get. There may have been a trip abroad that forever changed our outlook on our life. Possibly you read a book that opened your eyes to new ways of seeing. Each of us has our own unique turning points. Major ones such as a graduation, marriage, or death of a loved one, are common to most. Less obvious ones also have their impact, sometimes much greater than expected. All of them change the flow of our lives in some way.

Probing Questions: Take time to review the following questions. Each one serves as a clarifying point that dips into your mind’s recesses, searching for long forgotten memories. Some questions will resonate more than others. Allow one or two of them to serve as the basis for your thematic story. Or they may lead to other observations that can power your story. They serve as guidelines only.

1) As a child, turning points often happen to us, as a result of our parent’s choices or circumstances. Was there an early turning point in your life that may have changed the course of
your life? What were the circumstances?
2) Education often opens doors and new opportunities for us. Was going to school a big step for you? Was school a haven or a hell for you?
3) Significant people in our lives affect us in many ways. What people most influenced your fork in the road experiences? Were they your parents, relatives, friends, or teachers?
4) Our life is a mix of events that are out of our control and others that we instigate. Did the many changes you have experienced in life happen ‘to you’? Or did you choose the road to
take? Do you see a pattern in your life?
5) Change results when a turning point is reached. Do you regard most of your fork in the road experiences as positive? Did any of the negative ones become positive after the fact?
6) Often when change and transition come too quickly in our lives we try to hold onto the past. What change did you struggle against? How did it turn out?
7) We may not always choose the ‘right’ road when we are faced with options. Have you ever made the ‘wrong’ choice? What happened? Could you change it? Do you have any regrets?
8) Was there a change in your immediate family such as a death, divorce, bankruptcy that caused a major change in your life?
9) Natural disasters can wreak havoc in our lives. Were you ever impacted by a tornado? Hurricane? Flood? Earthquake or other natural disasters?
10) It is often said that life is change. Having lived as long as you have, have you developed an attitude towards change that helps you cope with the uncertainties of life? Do you welcome
change or try to hold onto the past?

Now you choose one of these ten points to write your 2-3 page story about. When you repeat this process using all ten of the legacy themes, you will have a complete 7,000 – 8,000 word story covering every significant part of your life.

If you wish to enhance your life story, it can be done in two ways. You can expand upon each of these ten core legacy themes, building each into a multi-page document. Instead of 2-3 pages each, they can be expanded at will. There are a total of 25 additional themes, each one having the ability to add depth to your life story. Brought together, they will turn your work into a significant manuscript.

Richard Campbell

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