The Power of Legacy Writing

Recently my father, who is in the early stage of dementia, told me he wanted to write some stories about his life but questioned who the audience would be and was unsure of how to get started. As a publishing professional, I know that personal life stories may not draw a crowd, but I was interested, and set out to help him with this dream.

In previous blogs, we have looked at writing your memoir with the aim of publishing it – looking at finding your story, developing your arc, and the greater quest of your life. But there is another way to approach this – legacy writing. Legacy writing focuses on documenting your experiences, values and thoughts for your family and future generations. It doesn’t require a page-turning plot or a convincing dialogue –  it is simply a collection of your thoughts and stories and, turns out, it has some powerful benefits. According to the Rogel Cancer Center, research shows that writing about your life story can improve mood, quality of life and reduce depression. Harvard Medical School released a report about the cognitive benefits of writing but also addressed the benefits to future generations – sharing the gift of your wisdom and lessons learned. Legacy writing can also help you to understand yourself and your life and give you greater perspective on some of your choices, losses and triumphs .

Now – how to get started. For my father, I felt that the best option was Storyworth.com, a service that will send a question to my father every week and he writes out his answer – no rush, no pressure – just a week to write a paragraph, or a page, or whatever he wants. After one year, the stories are bound into a keepsake book.

However, you don’t need a service to get started. Pick some questions – ranging from simple to complicated and begin writing. Try setting aside fifteen minutes a day to work on one question per week.

Some questions you might want to answer range from the easily answered:

  • What were the names of your brothers and sisters? What were they like?
  • Where were you born?
  • How did you meet your partner?
  • Describe your wedding day.
  • What kind of work did your parents do?

Some ones that require a little more thought:

  • What are the most significant events of your life?
  • If you could change one thing in your life, what would that be?
  • What are some of your frustrated dreams?
  • What five words would you wish people would use when they describe you?
  • What are your fondest memories?

For some additional questions, look at some websites such as familysearch.org or psychologytoday. As with all writing prompts, don’t edit – just write and answer the questions. You can go back and edit later. 

Maybe not every life story can be turned into a best-selling memoir but that doesn’t mean it shouldn’t be written. Perhaps just answering some of these questions might just lead to that memoir. If you need additional encouragement, consider our coaching services to help with your legacy writing goals.

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