Every major or minor life event is rooted in theme.
If you graduated from high school despite struggling with dyslexia, you may have a powerful story about perseverance. If you became hugely successful in your career, perhaps your story is rooted in diligence with a dash of luck. While researching this idea in the course of writing the book Writing Your Legacy (WD Books), Richard Campbell and co-author Cheryl Svensson focused on the concept of life themes, developed by the father of gerontology James E. Birren. In the January 2017 Writer’s Digest, Campbell explains why the 10 core legacy themes are an essential piece in puzzling together your memoir. Below, he breaks down each element and poses questions sure to prompt a personal response from writers.
Writing your life story can be one of the most complex forms of storytelling. It could involve emerging themes, narrative flow, and re-creating dialogue from memory. Or it can be surprisingly easy and fun. What if I was to show you a powerful and unique method of capturing a dynamic life by using legacy themes? It involves just ten of these. Best of all, these legacy themes are easy to write with only 2-3 pages for each. If you have ever written a high school term essay, you can write your life story.
The 10 core legacy themes are:
This guest post is by Richard Campbell. Campbell is co-author of Writing Your Legacy – The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story, published worldwide in July 2015 by Writer’s Digest Books. Richard teaches Legacy Writing to adult learners in Ontario, Canada, as well as to guests on board transatlantic crossings with a major cruise line. He is passionate about life story writing and has guested on several Top 50 U.S. radio stations. He would love to hear from you and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Forks in the Road
- My Family, My Self
- The Meaning of Wealth
- My Life’s Work
- Self-Image and Well-Being
- The Male-Female Equation
- The End of Life
- From Secular to Spirit
- My Life Goals
- My Legacy Letter
Following simple prompts, and based on the principles shown in Writing Your Legacy – The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story, you will be able to complete a personal life story for your family, your friends, and your community.
The ten core legacy themes are meant to be written in order. This will give your finished life story a sense of completion. After reading the following theme descriptions and writing prompts below, you will write your short 2-3 page life story for each.
Here is the first legacy theme:
Legacy Theme 1: Forks in the Road
We all have dozens of turning points in our childhood years, events that often take us in unexpected directions. Some are huge – the death of a parent – or they may be sublime – suddenly knowing what you will excel at for the rest of your life. Here are two points to help jog your memory. If something else comes to mind, perfect!
- Did something happen to you as a child that changed the course of your life? It could have been a family crisis, or it could have been a positive experience.
- Sometimes we make choices that take us down roads we later regret. Does any particular one experience stand out?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on your Forks in the Road theme.
Legacy Theme 2: My Family, My Self
We all have family, in whatever context that might mean. It could be our family of birth or one we created later on in life.
- What was it like to grow up in your household?
- Is there one family member that stands out for you? How did this person influence you?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on your Family and Self theme.
Legacy Theme 3: The Meaning of Wealth
Money dominates our culture and is a recurring theme throughout our lives.
- From childhood through adolescence and into adulthood, how did your view of financial security evolve?
- What does money mean to you? Is it a means of getting what you want? Power? Safety? Freedom?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on The Meaning of Wealth theme.
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Legacy Theme 4: My Life’s Work
This can be your professional or volunteer work, looking after a household, or any combination thereof. It is what we do or have done in life.
- Has there been a dominant trade or profession that has taken you through your work history? How did this come about and where has it led you?
- Did your early dreams have any influence on what work you would end up performing?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on your Life’s Work theme.
Legacy Theme 5: Self-Image and Well-Being
The mind-body connection is a challenge we all face at one time or another. Most of us have faced a health crisis.
- How has your emotional and physical health affected the life you live?
- Have you struggled with body image? What was that like?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on your Self Image and Well-Being theme.
Legacy Theme 6: The Male–Female Equation
Gender identity is a powerful biological life force. The male-female equation is a shifting balance that can cause confusion.
- During your adult years, have you noticed a blurring of gender roles in your own life, or are you solidly male or female? How does this balance work for you?
- Over the course of your life time, have your ideas of gender changed? How so?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on the Male-Female Equation theme.
Legacy Theme 7: The End of Life
Time always runs out. We often ponder the meaning of life and as it nears its end, we wonder what we have accomplished and if it was all worth it.
- What was your very first experience with death? How did it affect you?
- Did you discuss death and dying as a child or adolescent? Is it something that you have come to terms with as an adult?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on the End of Life theme.
Legacy Theme 8: From Secular to Spirit
It is natural to wonder what lies after death. Religion offers hope to some, while others embrace spirituality in a broader scope, or believe that death is final.
- Did your earliest religious or spiritual beliefs follow you into adulthood? What changed, and how?
- Did you ever fall away from your beliefs? What happened?
Now write your short 2-3 page story on the Secular to Spirit theme.
Legacy Theme 9: My Life Goals
As children we all had our hopes and dreams. Some of us were lucky to build these into reality.
- What have been your main life achievements so far?
- Did you have support from others for your life goals? Did you primarily have to rely on yourself?
Now write your short 2-3 page story your Life Goals theme.
Legacy Theme 10: My Legacy Letter
We all wish to be remembered. A Legacy Letter is your opportunity to pass down life lessons you have learned along the way.
- If you were to write a Legacy Letter, who would be the recipients? Your children, grandchildren, your community?
- What values have you lived by and how have they guided you to this moment in your life?
Now write a short 2-3 page story on your Legacy Letter theme.
That’s it. Writing these ten themes will result in a concise story that covers all essential aspects of a life well lived. For added context to your story, Writing Your Legacy offers 25 additional themes, including those on your life values, greatest personal achievements, your cultural heritage, life after retirement, and life miracles. It can be your New Year’s Resolution to create the perfect gift to your children or grandchildren. For free downloads, try www.guidedlifestories.com.
Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:
- Here are 4 things to consider when researching literary agents.
- What to write in the BIO section of your query letter.
- Here are 7 reasons writing a novel makes you awesome.
- New Agent Alerts: Click here to find agents who are currently seeking writers.
- Download a year’s worth of writing prompts right here.
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Brian A. Klems is the editor of this blog, online editor of Writer’s Digest and author of the popular gift book Oh Boy, You’re Having a Girl: A Dad’s Survival Guide to Raising Daughters.