The story of a lifetime--writing your personal legacy

Memoir Writing Class at Cleveland Heights Senior Center

Everyone has a valuable story to tell. The experiences, accomplishments, and lessons we have learned throughout our lives are unique. Recording your life story is a way for your loved ones to learn more about who you are and what is important to you. It is also therapeutic to reflect on your life’s progress, and to analyze what you have accomplished and what you would still like to accomplish.

Whether you decide to write as a gift to others, or simply as an exercise in personal reflection, there are many ways to record your personal legacy. Autobiographies, family histories, ethical wills, and memoirs are four common formats your story can take. Deciding on a format is a matter of personal preference, and depends on how much material you want to include, how much time you have to write, and your desired deadline for finishing.

Autobiographies are overviews of your entire life written in chronological order, beginning with your earliest memory and concluding with the present. Family histories are similar to autobiographies, and include autobiographies of other family members as well as yours. Ethical wills are descriptions of your beliefs, ethics, values and insights. They describe why you are who you are, and are illustrated with stories from your life. Memoirs are a blend of autobiographies and ethical wills. They combine factual accounts with thoughts and feelings. Unlike autobiographies, when writing ethical wills or memoirs you can decide which parts of your life you want to include and which parts you want to omit.

Many people are hesitant to write their personal legacies because they are not experienced writers. In truth, anyone can write a legacy. Unlike professional publications that take certain formats and engage the reader in certain ways, legacies can take any format you wish and be written in whatever style suits you. The best format is one that follows your natural speaking style, because then it is truly an expression of yourself.

Before you begin to write your legacy, you need to gather your ideas. Make a list of the people, events, or thoughts you want to include. This can take place over several weeks to several months. Keep a notebook or a journal with you so that you can record an idea whenever occurs. When you have finished gathering your ideas, group them into logical chapter titles. Then organize your chapter titles into a logical sequence, or outline.

Once you begin to write, you don’t need to write your chapters in order. Start with whichever chapter naturally calls to you. You may choose to write by hand, type on the computer, or write by hand and have someone else type it for you. Another option is computer software that automatically types when you speak into a microphone. Whatever format you choose, you may also wish to include photos, letters, newspaper articles, or family trees to help illustrate your story.

When you are finished writing it is a good idea to have a professional writer, editor, or a friend who is good at writing look over your work. It is often hard to detach from what you are writing and see it from an unbiased point of view. Your editor can verify whether your organization makes sense and whether you have gotten your ideas across clearly. He or she can also help with grammar and spelling, if you need it.

There are several options for publishing your legacy once it is finished. You can make simple stapled photocopies, take it to an office supply store and have it bound, or make professional-looking hardcover books online. Whatever format your legacy takes, it will be a unique gift to share with friends and family, and will surely be treasured for years to come.

Judith Eugene

Judith Eugene is a native of Cleveland Heights who provides writing services for senior adults and those with mobility challenges through She may be reached at 216-408-5578 or

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Volume 4, Issue 9, Posted 11:15 AM, 08.09.2011