What part of your story do you want to be told after you are gone? What do you want your loved ones to remember about you? Is there anything that you wish someone had told you? Whatever your answers to these questions, you can be assured that someone will want to know.
You have a legacy to leave behind.
Most of us think of people with a legacy as screen stars who had exemplary television and/or film careers, musicians whose compositions touched the souls of billions of people, business executives who rose to the top of their prospective industries, and inventors and entrepreneurs who forever changed the face of our everyday lives. Yes, those people have created legacies on a national and, perhaps, global scale.
You don’t have to be famous to record your life story. Legacies aren’t necessarily meant to touch the masses. Most people create a legacy on a more modest scale—with the people they touch throughout their lives.
So many treasures lie within the ordinary experiences of your everyday life. The impact of your legacy can be deeply felt by those close to you: those to whom you imparted words of wisdom and those who learned first-hand by your daily examples. Your legacy can be known by a handful of people or by just one person.
Passing on your possessions is not the only way to be remembered. Passing on your memoir, your real-life story, can be the most treasured gift to your loved ones.
When everything is said and done, what will people remember about you? And how long will those memories stay alive?
Before you get started, understand that this guide is not meant to provide a cookie-cutter approach. Your legacy is truly different than anyone else’s—and it deserves to be told in its own unique way.
This guide is meant to be a jumping-off point for you to loosen the reigns on your inner critic and free yourself to tell the stories that lie within.
Whether you use Lastly.comTM to permanently organize your life memories or simply use pen and paper, you will find value in the easy path to writing in the pages ahead.
Whether you start today or tomorrow, next month or next year, it’s time to get yourself ready to record your life’s legacy.
This is your forever gift to everyone you have touched.
Who Are You?
“You make your mark by being true to who you are and letting that be your staple.”
music artist, actress, producer
Maybe you’ve never really sat down and thought about who you are. It’s a big question, and one that’s hard to answer in just a sentence or two. So perhaps it’s not meant to be answered in brief. After all, how can you sum up a lifetime of experiences, success, failures, highs, lows, disappointments, and accomplishments in a mere paragraph?
Throughout your life, you have probably asked yourself these questions more than once. And the answer to these questions may very well have changed, depending on how your life path has changed from time to time.
- Who am I?
- Why am I here?
- Where have I come from?
- Where am I headed?
- What is my purpose?
The things that make up a person and what they leave behind are far more complex. Or are they? Truly, who you are consists of a wide array of events, thoughts, and experiences—too much to sum up on even a few typed pages.
Your Life Journey
Who you are includes many elements that differ greatly from one person to the next; your Life Review might cover:
- Life Experiences
- Life Events
- Turning Points
- Life Lessons
- Romantic Relationships
- Military Service
The journey you take throughout this progression of recording the meaningful events, thoughts, and lessons throughout your life will be a true journey of self-discovery. You may not even be the same person you are now when you reach the end of writing your autobiography. And that’s OK.
Crafting your life story can enable you to appreciate where you have been and where you are today. Looking back on your life can be a healing process, leaving you feeling more fulfilled than ever.
You may ask yourself more questions along the way.
- What makes me unique?
- What inspires me?
- What have I learned?
- How have I changed?
- What are my strengths?
- What are my weaknesses?
- Have I been a good friend, spouse, partner, family member?
- What do others think of me?
- Have I created anything?
- Have I challenged myself?
- What have my priorities been?
Who you are is ever evolving. And your identity from one phase of your life to the next is also in continuous transition.
We invite you to take this opportunity to leave a cherished gift behind.
Now it’s time to get organized!
“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”
—Shannon L. Alder
The first step in getting started is to get organized. Fortunately, there’s no right or wrong way of preparing to write or record your life story. And there are many ways that you can do it.
Perhaps you love to write. If you’re not a writer, it’s not a big deal. You may communicate better verbally. Maybe you’re more comfortable in front of a camera or with a voice recorder. Maybe you like to write with a pen or type on a keyboard. You can also have a close friend or family member transcribe your stories if needed. Where your comfort level lies can determine how you approach your story telling.
Get Your Supplies
Here are some supplies and other items you may want to gather before you get started:
- Notebook or binder
- File separators
- Digital Audio Recorder
- Video Recorder
- Several backup methods
No matter how you decide to keep a record of your stories, be sure to have several backup methods. If you are writing by hand, be sure to make copies as you go along and store them in several different places. If you are using the computer or digital audio or video recorder, be sure to use two or three different backup methods as you go (e.g., computer, laptop, flash drive, cloud, etc.) so that your work is never lost.
When it comes to telling the story of your life, you may not know where to start. The good news is that you don’t have to start at the beginning or at any point thereafter. And you certainly don’t have to tell your stories in chronological order. In fact, that’s not how you would tell your stories if you were speaking to someone else. You would first tell whatever comes to mind. So we encourage you to start somewhere… anywhere. Tell what comes to mind, then go to the next story you want to tell after.
In addition to gathering your supplies, you may want to gather some items that may inspire you as you go. Mementos and other keepsakes may help spark your memory and help your stories to flow.
Find Some Mementos
Try gathering some personal items before you get started.
- Event tickets
- Transportation tickets
- Notes and letters
- Travel brochures (from places you’ve visited)
- Prizes / awards
- School memorabilia
- And much more!
Plan to create your story consistently, and in at least 30-minute blocks of time. Anything shorter and you won’t make much progress. It may take a few minutes to warm up each time you begin. Even experienced writers use a warm-up exercise or two to get started.
If you record your life journey in time blocks of 30 minutes or more, you will walk away each time feeling like you have accomplished something. And you’ll be more apt to return to the process. Once you start, you should keep the momentum going. Plan to write at least every other day or every day for your predetermined length of time.
Before you get started writing, you may want to look for inspiration by reading one or more autobiographies. Select someone you are genuinely interested in, and take the time to read their book. Get inspired, and then get writing yourself!
Listen to the life stories of others. While we all share common experiences throughout our lives, how we interpret those events and how they ultimately shape us, help in developing our stories. This amazing podcast from a few years ago provides plenty of listening opportunity to help you get ready to develop your own story.
Another great source of inspiration is photographs. We all have them, but some may have been forgotten. Some may be tucked away in the attack or in a shoebox buried in the closet. Pull those photographs out and take a jog down memory lane. Photographs are one of the best ways possible to jog your memory and recall some of those epic stories over your lifetime that were photo worthy.
Telling Your Stories
“If you would not be forgotten as soon as you are dead, either write something worth reading or do something worth writing.”
We’ve all head the saying, 'One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.' In the case of recording your life story, this may be true. It can also be true that one person’s treasure is yet another person’s treasure as well. We’re all a product of our past, and that’s what has brought us to where we are today.
Where do you start your storytelling? What will people want to know? It doesn’t matter where you start. It just matters that you start. And the starting point can be anything you want: it could be your first childhood memory, the greatest thing to every happen to you or something that happened just last week.
You may want to assign a page in your notebook for every year of your life. Depending on your age, some years will need two or more pages.
You may want to start with stories surrounding you most cherished photos. Keep a writer notebook handy so you can easily jot down ideas and stories from your past.
Let Go of Perfection
Get your story out… in your words and in your voice.
Not everyone is a writer or is adept at story telling. You don’t have to be a professional to tell your own life story. You’ve lived it, so no one knows it better than you. It’s not going to be perfect as you write it, and it may not even be perfect when you’re done.
Don’t be self-critical. Don’t worry about spelling or punctuation or grammar.
Remember to keep your end reader in mind: your children, your grandchildren, your friends, and your family members who will come into this world long after you are gone. None of them will be worried about perfection, so it’s best to let go of it yourself.
Don’t edit as you write. And don’t toss anything out if you don’t think it’s perfect. Just concentrate on getting your stories out. You can always go back later and revise. But when you’re creating your life story, it’s best to just let the stories flow and stay in your creative mode.
You may want to start a story now and go back to it later. If that’s your process, then allow yourself that pace.
Some stories may require cutting. Many professional writers find themselves writing several pages before they get to the true beginning of their story. Sometimes those beginning words need to come out before you get to the heart of the matter. So this is not the time to worry about cutting or editing. We’ll get into that later. For right now, just write or talk. Get your story out first.
What’s obvious to you may not be so obvious or familiar to someone else. Maybe they’ve heard the story before, but from someone else’s point of view. You may have a different perspective. Or you may tell the story differently now than you did 10 years ago.
It’s OK to Be Selective
Your life story doesn’t have to be a tell-all book. Perhaps you had a difficult childhood. Maybe you endured some painful incidents in your past. There may be some parts of your past that you don’t want to record in any form. That’s completely OK.
What you include—and how much you include—is completely up to you. You decide what you want to tell and what you want to hold private. If there’s a memory you’d rather not revisit, then allow yourself the freedom to move onto something else.
There’s no need to embellish here. Being honest and sticking with the truth is really the best policy. Those who come after you will want to know how to apply the real events and meaning in your life to what they may be going through in your life. You don’t do yourself—or them—any favors by creating falsehoods or by making things seem better or worse than they were.
Your life experiences have created your character in all of its glory. So be comfortable with you and simply be yourself. Don’t try to dress up the language.
Stories Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Everything doesn’t have to be a complete story with a beginning, a middle, and an end. Maybe you just want to communicate a thought about a particular moment in time. Or perhaps you have just a fleeting memory to share. Be open to the fact that some stories may take pages to tell, yet other stories just a few sentences.
Yes, our memories sometimes fail even the best of us—especially after many years have passed. Take the time to check your facts after you write. You may want to check with other family members to fill in the blanks or consult a local historian.
How to Write
“No legacy is so rich as honesty.”
Many people go through the same events in their lives, but each person experiences it differently. For example, lots of people get married, have children, get divorced, and lose jobs. But no two people experience these events in the same fashion, nor do they occur in the same way. These are the life experience and points of view that are unique to you.
Your life story is more than an accounting of events. It’s also a memoir about your thoughts and your feelings surrounding the events, as well as how those specific events changed you.
First find a comfortable place to get started… a chair, a sunny spot, inside, outside. Make sure you have all of your supplies at your side so you can focus on getting your life story on paper, audio or video.
Then get comfortable with yourself. Instead of being self-conscious about your writing skills, speaking voice or being recorded on video (whichever you should choose), simply pretend that you are writing a letter (or speaking) to a friend. Make it conversational as if you were both sitting on the couch and chatting over tea or a beer or a glass of wine.
Tell How You Were Changed
Authors begin their stories on the day that is different for the main character… the day that set a whole set of unforeseen events into place. In that spirit, we invite you to tell your stories on the days that you became changed… the days that flipped your previous way of thinking. Sure some regular everyday stories are great to throw in, too. They provide balance for the big, life-changing events.
Set the Scene
Setting the scene is another opportunity to keep your reader in mind. The person reading your life story likely won’t have lived in your time. Your reader may even be a family member whom you will never meet—someone who never knew you outside of a photograph.
Use names, dates, and places whenever possible. These details will be important to others down the line. If needed, check with others to confirm these details.
It’s important to share the context around your story and not just repeat a series of events. Share a little about the events going on in the world at the time, in your family or in your familiar circle. Use the five senses to describe the scene: sights, sounds, smells, textures, and tastes.
Will the reader understand you and the characters in your stories by their description? Will they be able to relate to the emotion and circumstances? Detailed description will put the reader right in your shoes in that very place and time.
Draw Ties between the Past and the Present
History created the ties that bind. And the stories that are passed down from one generation to the next create continuity in the world around us. These are the ties that bind, and how future generations will know where their family has come from. And even though the life experiences you share won’t be their individual experiences, they will still weave themselves into the fabric of their lives. Everyone wants to know where they came from and what their ancestors endured in order to allow these stories to add to their own personal strength and story.
How has the world changed during your lifetime? What has become important? And what has fallen by the wayside? How has technology changed? Values? Communication?
What to Write About
The stories you can write about our limitless. From time periods in your life to historical events to family circumstances, there are probably hundreds of events that changed the course of your life. Segmenting your life story into themes an also be a great way to simplify what may seem complex.
Below is a simple list of life topics to get your started. Some events may have occurred in a different part of your life, or may have occurred more than once. Your life experiences and events are unique only to you.
Use Humor and Wisdom
You don’t always have to be serious. In fact, just be yourself. Let your personality shine through your writing. Can others learn from your mistakes and missteps?
Life Story Writing Ideas
- Earliest memories
- Things you were told
- Stories passed down by other family members
- Fitting in
- Rights of passage
- Highs and lows
- Finding your place
- Early Adulthood / Middle Adulthood
- Older Adulthood
- Important dates in history
- Religion / Spirituality
- Family Gatherings
- Holidays / Traditions
- Famous encounters
- Interests / Hobbies
- Recognitions / Awards
- Turning points
- Life lessons
- Something you never did again
- Life influences or influencers
- Work / Career
- Friends / Family
- Funny moments
- Embarrassing moments
- And much, much more!
The topics and possibilities are endless. Depending on the particular event in your life, the story may be brief or extended. Either way, take the time to tell it honestly and from the heart. This approach will mean the most to your readers and tell them more about who you are.
When you tell your stories, you’ll create value for those who come after you. You’ll provide them with the fabric of their family history, which then sets the tone for their own personal history.
And when you’re done writing or recording your stories, it will be time for the last step—pulling it all together!
Pulling It All Together
“I think the whole world is dying to hear someone say, ‘I love you.’ I think that if I can leave the legacy of love and passion in the world, then I think I’ve done my job...”
Now You Can Revise
So you’ve written all of your stories. You’ve allowed yourself the freedom to write freely without that internal editor looking over your shoulder. And you can’t think of anything else to say.
Congratulations! You’re ready for the final step in the process.
Now it’s time to look at your writing with a more critical eye. What is your goal in writing this life book? Are you meeting that goal? However, be sure not to be too critical. This is not the time to scratch out all of those great memories and lessons that you’ve imparted.
Here are some thoughts to keep in mind as you are revising:
- If you are recording audio or video, can any parts be edited out?
- If you have written or typed your story, perform a quick spelling check. Read through and check for any grammar issues or awkward punctuation.
- Is there a better way to present any of your stories?
- Have you taken the time to provide details like names, dates, places, time periods, current events, family events, and so forth?
- Have you taken the time to convey your thoughts, feelings, hopes, dreams, fears, happiness, disappointments, and so forth?
- Have you created a true story, or has your writing morphed into a fictional story?
Gather Other Points of View
Mark your stories with a sticky note if any are missing information. Perhaps it’s a date, name, place, dialogue or other detail. Write the name of a person who can help clarify the details of that story on each sticky note. Then make a point to get in touch with that person—either by phone or face to face. Most people will be glad to fill in the blanks for you. You may even want them to contribute their point of view to some of the stories you’ve told.
Rearrange Your Stories
Now that each story is as complete as you can get it, you can start rearranging your stories.
If you’ve been recording your stories on audio or video, you’ll need editing software to piece together your stories in order. If you’ve been typing your stories on the computer, then some simple cutting and pasting will get everything in order.
If you’ve been writing your stories by hand, then create a separate pile for each decade of your life. Sort your stories by decade. Then take each pile and sort those stories in order of occurrence. In no time, you’ll have your stories in the perfect order.
If you plan on uploading your handwritten stories online, then you’ll want to type them and save them in a designated computer file.
It’s Time to Publish!
Now you’re ready for the last step!
You can add music, images, and text to your video or audio life story. Digital audio files can run along with family photos for an entertaining story line. And if your stories are all written, you can now choose to have it printed, bound, and published for future generations to enjoy.
Of course, you can always upload your audio, video or written stories directly to Lastly.comTM. Your stories will generate a unique timeline just for you—complete with any photos, audio or video files. We’ll even help you create a family tree as a part of your permanent family records.
Perhaps There’s More…
Now that you’ve compiled all of your stories and uploaded them to Lastly.comTM or with another software tool, you’re done, right? Maybe not.
You’re still alive. That means you still have life to live, stories to tell, and wisdom to impart. Continue writing even past the completion point. Schedule a time to sit down once a week or once a month and add anything important or noteworthy to your tales.
You’ve Left an Incredible Gift!
We hope that since you’ve been through the complete process of writing your life story that you are somehow changed. We hope you’ve discovered a full life… a life well lived… a life full of love and promise and peace and good. We hope that you’ve been able to come to terms with anything negative in your past and see how that event(s) worked to shape you into the person you are today.
The relatives who remain after you are gone will receive a lasting gift from you. Your stories will live on—not just for a few years after you are gone, but for generations to come. Your descendants, especially those whom you will never meet, will take great treasure in knowing where they come from. They will know the trials and tribulations of the family members who came before them. And they will understand who you are and be able to take your wisdom and apply it to their own lives.
Thank you for instilling peace in those around you by taking the time to record your own personal history. You’ve left an incredible gift!