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How to Leave a Lasting Legacy

A memoir is a compilation of one’s human existence. It’s a chronicle or depiction of a lifetime, written in a personal way.

Perhaps you have contemplated one about your life. If so, you might consider setting a New Year’s resolution to have one completed in 2018. I mention this because many people say to me “Someday I am going to write a book.” I remind them that days turn into months, months into years and years into decades. And decades add up. My reminders are not always all that well received.

WHY WRITE A MEMOIR?

Many people ponder the idea of writing a memoir – but never seem to carry it out. They say to themselves, “Is it worth it?” Other thoughts include “Will my family approve of it?” or “Where do I begin?”

Some people liken it to child birth – very painful going through it – yet joyful when the baby is born.

WHAT IF NO ONE READS IT?

There is good evidence that, even if no one reads your memoir – it will have been worth your while. For one thing, it is therapeutic, especially if there have been challenges in your life. And we’ve all had challenges. It can shed light on a situation that may have been left unresolved. It can help you make sense of your time on this earth – and give it more purpose.

If you have had a traumatic event happen in your life, working through it (processing it cognitively) can be cathartic. As they say, “hindsight is always 20-20.” In other words, it can put the experience in a positive light and make the event more objective, thereby fostering personal growth.

HOW DO I GO ABOUT IT?

There are several ways to go about writing your life story. One is to “Just do it!” Easier said than done. It is overwhelming, especially when you are consolidating decades into several hundred pages. And, when you consider that those pages can be consumed in several hours – it is a daunting task. You might want to invest in resources like those that Writer’s Digest puts out, like this webinar on memoir writing .

A more practical way to go about having a book with your name on the cover is to hire a ghostwriter. A ghostwriter is familiar with the writing and publishing process and can guide you in the endeavor. Ghostwriters essentially help people find the words to communicate their ideas. You want to see your book in print? This might be your best option.

There are several approaches you can take when working with a ghostwriter. One is to compile as much information as possible, digitize it, and send it (or turn it over) to the ghostwriter. Another is to sit down with the ghostwriter and tell stories. People like stories, and a good ghostwriter can make them come to life. The ghostwriter can record your stories using a recording device and then transcribe the words into print.

A third option is to hire a writing coach to help you write it.

Related: A Book is 'A Movie in Your Head'

HOW MUCH DOES IT COST TO GET HELP?

The previously mentioned (Writers Digest) webinar is $89. Writing coaches generally charge anywhere from $65 to $250 per hour.

Hiring a ghostwriter isn’t inexpensive. Ghostwriters generally charge anywhere from $40,000 on up for a 200-250 page book. If you have a publisher (which is rare for a memoir), the charge might be 30% of the advance, plus 30% of your royalties. If you want short and simple, the fee would probably be lower. A lot depends on how much research he or she has to do or how much time it will take them to put the book together.

Writing a book – especially one that spans decades – is very time consuming. For many people, the biggest challenge is that they are perfectionists. And they want it to be their Magnum Opus.

WHAT SHOULD THE THEME BE?

Two key themes that make a memoir palatable to readers are resilience and gratitude. People don’t want to read a bitter memoir or the memoir of a curmudgeon – unless it is written tongue-in-cheek, or in some other humorous way.

It may be best not to put pressure on yourself by assuming the book will be widely read. Even if it’s just “for your eyes only,” it can be a rewarding experience. But telling yourself it has to sell a certain number of copies could set you up for disappointment. You might not sell (or even give away) that many copies, and, as a result, feel that your life was inferior or uninteresting. It could also change the way the book is written. You might want to heed Guy Kawasaki’s advice and “Do not write to impress others.” If you do, you will have difficulty remaining true to yourself. “Write what pleases you and pray that there are others like you.”

A memoir can be seen as one’s legacy. It can be passed down from generation to generation. It can help grandchildren understand their family history, and possibly even break ageist stereotypes. To learn that “granddad” used to SCUBA dive in shark-infested waters might help them appreciate someone they didn’t properly respect.

And, it could also help them comprehend some of the traits that they might have inherited.