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.
Build tension and suspense. Structure the narrative so that you have a series of stories leading up to the climax of the conflict. If your central conflict is trying to reach the goal of competing in the Olympics for skiing, lead up to it with stories of small successes and plenty of failures. You want your readers to ask, will she make it? Can he do it? What's going to happen next?

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 richard@guidedlifestories.com.
Train yourself to use concrete details rather than abstract concepts. Take another leisurely look at what you've written. Highlight abstract phrases such as "I was afraid," or "we had a pleasant time." Replace these abstract words or phrases with something concrete, such as "my hands shook and my mouth felt stuffed with cotton" or "We drank Chardonnay on the Chatterley's sailboat, and as the sun set Rachel and I walked hand in hand along the boardwalk." Was it "a hot day," or was "the asphalt so hot that your flip flops stuck to the tar"? You might go back to the professional autobiographies you're reading and type out a few passages from the books for practice. If you're watching for it, doing so will focus your attention on the concrete. Most ordinary readers won't think about whether or not you've used abstract or concrete terms. They will know whether the writing is boring or interesting. Writing an autobiography with concrete specificity will only improve it.
Once you have taken a look at your own life from an outsider’s point of view, you will be able to select the most interesting elements from your notes to establish a theme. What was the most interesting thing you came up with in your research? Was it the history of your family and your region? Here is an example of how you can turn that into a theme:

“I was born in 19XX year, I entered school N…” Would you read that if you had a choice? Most likely not, especially if you already have read a dozen biographies which star with the same phrase. Yes, an autobiography is a formal piece of writing. But here, it rather means that you are not allowed to use slang and colloquial language, instead of following a specific pattern of writing.


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Hey livelifehappy, is there a way I can join the crew? I’m a 12 year old girl dreamer, and I’m turning 13 pretty soon. I made my own website for those who want to live life the way they want, but are drawn back by fear, aka-stargazers. Maybe visit it sometime? I feel like this website really helped me a lot, and whoever wrote these quotes, and the owner of the site, has a lot in common with me. Please send me an email, I really want to be able to work with those who understand and can relate. I feel like people like us are one in a million, and it would be a honor to help/contribute, since I think we feel/think in a similar way. I feel like other people will be able to understand, but I felt like I can relate. I know I’m young, but I’ve been through a tough life of bullying and the death of my brother, and three best friends. Faith was what saved me. So now, I feel like I would do anything, ANYTHING, to find somewhere I belong and somebody to write with. Please consider me! ~ Victoria Lee
Français: écrire une autobiographie, Español: escribir una autobiografía, Deutsch: Autobiografie schreiben, Nederlands: Een autobiografie schrijven, Русский: написать автобиографию(книга), 中文: 写一篇传记, Português: Escrever Sua Autobiografia, Čeština: Jak napsat autobiografii, Bahasa Indonesia: Menulis Autobiografi, العربية: كتابة سيرة حياتك الذاتية, हिन्दी: आत्मकथा (Autobiography) लिखें, ไทย: เขียนอัตชีวประวัติ, Tiếng Việt: Viết tự truyện, Italiano: Scrivere un'Autobiografia, 한국어: 자서전 쓰는 법
Remember every significant event, unusual experience, or important person in your life. That might take a considerable amount of time, as we think that your life has been interesting enough, and you have many worthy moments. If you want to write about your childhood, you’d better apply to the “experts” – your parents. Perhaps you did something outstanding and awesome when you were a child.
You may wonder how to start an autobiography introduction. The answer is simple: the same way you start other essays’ introductions. The main purpose of the introductory paragraph is to grab the reader’s attention and present the idea and theme of your writing. Don’t make the first paragraph too long: between one and three sentences are enough to compose a regular introduction. Try to provide readers with a general portrait of yourself, so they will know more about the main “hero.” Mention your age, significant personal qualities, and principles of worldview. You can also add some details about your appearance in order to make your story more vivid.
Create an outline or a graphic organizer of the major topics and ideas you want to cover. For example, you might make a time-order chart -- a chart with event blocks to organize events chronologically. Or, you might draw a cluster web -- a diagram with connected circles -- to divide your autobiography into sections, such as one for relevant background information, one for life-changing events, one for special memories and one for goals and dreams. Focus on reasons why specific events, situations and circumstances were important to you and how they made you feel.
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