Positive Aging: Why Not Write Your Life?

Marilyn Murray Willison on

When I'm not writing columns or working on my books, I devote a lot of time to helping seniors commit their life stories to paper. Currently, over a half a dozen of my local first-time authors have completed and published their memoirs.

When I turned 65, I experienced a tangled mass of conflicting emotions, most of which centered around the fact that I simply could not believe that I had reached official retirement age. In an effort to make sense of what had once seemed impossible, I began deconstructing the decades of my life. And, much to my surprise, I found the process both enlightening and liberating.

I've recently learned that I'm not alone. All across America, seniors are going out of their way to make sure they effectively tell and share the stories of their lives. There are established courses (like guided autobiography or life reflection story), informal writing groups geared toward participants' experiences and guidelines designed to help seniors write legacy letters. There are even interactive websites on which novice writers can share stories during weekly group sessions.

In South Florida, where I live, senior communities, libraries and social groups frequently offer the option of writing one's life story. Whether you do it on your own, in a group or with an instructor, the process begins with asking questions meant to act as starting points for ideas. Here are a few suggestions.

--Most families have legends or stories that have been repeated from parent to child, often for generations. Can you write about one of your family's favorite stories?

--Do the members of your family tend to gravitate toward a particular profession, such as farming, law or medicine? Did you follow this trend? If not, did you feel pressure from others?

--Do you know where your parents or grandparents were born? What was life like there during your ancestors' lives?

--When you were born, what was going on in the world politically, economically and culturally?


--How does your life today differ from what you thought it would be when you were a student?

To successfully write a memoir, you don't have to allocate a certain number of hours a day. Some people just jot down memories that are spurred by hearing a favorite song or revisiting a special place. Keeping those random notes together can help you eventually create a cohesive life story.

Some older people are using this memoir exercise to help them come to terms with unpleasant circumstances that left them emotionally scarred. Others simply want to leave behind for future generations the legacy of what they and their family members have accomplished, endured and experienced.

After I finished my own memoir, "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes," it became clear to me that I really have a lot to be grateful, and that I had taken it for granted until I saw it in print. The next time you feel bored or lonely, why not think about sharing your story? All it takes is a willingness to reflect on and share your life and the lessons you've learned.


Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at

Copyright 2020 Creators Syndicate Inc.



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