Extending the Learning–Oct. 29

“A Call from the Future” 

Writing for Legacy Reading Recommendations 

The Writing Activities in our “Life Sentences” course aim to provide considerable stimulus for your writing. Even so, if you wish to consult additional resources, there are many good guide books available. Listed below are some of the ones I find helpful.

1) Katie Funk Wiebe. Good Times With Old Times: How To Write Your Memoirs. Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 1976

This volume was first published in 1976 at a time when K.F. Wiebe still served as a Professor of English at Tabor College in Kansas. Wiebe was a frequent columnist in a number of Mennonite publications and her “Good Times with Old Times” book grew out of a continuing education course for a class of senior citizens. She described it as “a book about writing for people who don’t write much.” For potential memoir writers, it is a good starting point with considerable background information.

2) Katie Funk Wiebe. How To Write Your Personal or Family History (If You Don’t Do It, Who Will?). New York, NY: Good Books, 2017

Wiebe continued to write throughout her life and twenty-seven years after she retired from her teaching career, she created another guidebook on life-writing, this one with a broader focus. This volume considers the writing of family history as well as personal history. I consider this more recent work a good complement to Wiebe’s Good Times with Old Times and to her memoirs Alone: A Widow’s Search for Joy, and Border Crossing: A Spiritual Journey.

3) Richard Campbell and Cheryl Svensson. Writing Your Legacy: The Step-by-Step Guide to Crafting Your Life Story. Cincinnati, Ohio: WritersDigest Books, 2015

This guide is a collaboration between a Canadian adult education teacher (Campbell) and an American gerontologist (Dr. Svensson). The book is systematic in its provision of rationale and suggested writing activities. Its particular emphasis on themes reflects Dr. Campbell’s close association with another well-known gerontologist Dr. James Birren (see below).

4) Tristine Rainer. Your Life As Story: Discovering the ‘New Autobiography’ and Writing Memoir as Literature. New York, NY: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Putman, 1998. 

Rainer provides a well-written literary guide to memoir writing. Rainer worked not only as a university professor of English but also as an award-winning writer and producer of television drama. Your Life As Story was one of the early guide books in the field and at the time of its publication, the author was director of the Centre for Autobiographic Studies in Pasadena California.

5) Lois Daniel. How To Write Your Own Life Story: The Classic Guide for the Nonprofessional Writer. Chicago, IL: Chicago Review Press, 1997 (4th ed.)

Ms. Daniel, a writer and a college writing teacher, encountered an older student in her course who was hoping to learn how to write her life story. At the time, Daniel did not have any idea how to help the woman, but that experience planted the seed that led to her guide book. It explores such predictable life-event categories as birth, parents and grandparents, religion, relatives, courtship, turning points, and so on. Daniel also offers helpful writing advice: research, methods of working, revising and publishing.

6) James Birren and Kathryn Cochran. Telling the Stories of Life Through Guided Autobiography Groups. Baltimore, MD: John Hopkins University Press, 2001

James Birren was one of the pioneers in the field of gerontology and he wrote extensively about the realities of aging. He and his collaborators developed a group approach to writing personal histories, one that drew on themes they had observed in lives of people they studied. If you wish to pursue your writing in a social context, the “Telling the Stories of Life” text offers detailed advice. It also can be used independently and profitably by individuals.

Spiritual Memoirs: If you are interested specifically in writing a “spiritual memoir,” the following books suggest how to approach the task and topics to consider:

7) Richard L. Morgan. Remembering Your Story: A Guide to Spiritual Autobiography. Nashville, TN: Upper Room Books, 1996

8) Dan Wakefield. The Story of Your Life: Writing A Spiritual Autobiography (A Step-by-Step Approach to Exploring Your Past and Understanding Your Present). Boston, MA: Beacon Press, 1990.

9) Daniel Taylor. Creating a Spiritual Legacy: How to Share Your Stories, Values, and Wisdom. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2011.

10) Elizabeth Andrew. Writing the Sacred Journey: The Art and Practice of Spiritual Memoir. Boston, MA: Skinner House Books, 2005.