Expanded description: Most of us are ordinary people who have lived extraordinary lives, whether or not we realize it. We have a legacy of wisdom and joy to share, in addition to distributing our money and personal belongings when we die. Legacy letters are meant to be passed on to family or friends, but it takes a good deal of personal exploration to write them.

In The Craft of Legacy Writing, we will approach our work in a writer’s circle. One goal of a writer’s circle is to improve writing craft by listening to the work of others. When we train ourselves to listen, rather than critique, we are better able to hear what our peers are saying. There is also great value in speaking our own words out loud. A writer’s circle builds a sense of community, and allows writers to become more comfortable sharing what they have written in a safe space. Any questions about writing style and technique will be addressed as they arise. All levels of writing experience are welcome. Come to class ready to write, with pen or pencil in hand!

In this class, we will explore the craft of legacy writing through a series of prompts:

Week one: what’s in a name? Our names connect us to our family and to our heritage. If we were named in honor of a relative, a historical figure, or a literary character, our name carries a connection with it. Is there a sense of responsibility inherent in receiving a name, or in choosing a name for another?

Week two: linking the generations. Passing on our family history is essential to the craft of legacy writing. This is part of becoming a responsible scribe, especially if we are an elder in our family. We take time to reflect on the value of our long lives, and the gifts passed on to us by generations who came before. Many of our lives have not been easy but, when viewed across the arc of decades, the way we see our struggles may have softened.

Week three: the value of work. This week’s reflection asks us to look at the value of work we have done. We measure value not in dollars, but in satisfaction. Whether in a classroom, a factory, a bank, on the land, at home, or as a community volunteer, the work we have chosen (or had to accept) is worthy of reflection. Often the trajectory of changing jobs is as interesting as the work itself.

Week four: the value of play. There is much talk these days about work-life balance, but what does that mean for us post-retirement? With the gift of more unstructured time, we may choose to increase the amount of time we spend at play. What might that look like? What new challenges or lessons might we like to try?

Week five: family relationships. Many of us have more than one family. We may have a birth family, an adoptive family, in-laws, ex-in-laws, friends who feel like family, and the family we created, to name a few. In the interest of time, for today’s writing we will reflect on the family we grew up in and the family we created.

Week six: our belongings. Our homes and our belongings may seem to define us, because they are so entwined with memories. Nonetheless, these too shall pass—and far better to accompany our belongings on their way with a good letter. In her book, “Your Legacy Matters,” Minnesota legacy writer and author Rachael Freed suggests inviting family or friends to identify an object in our homes that has special meaning for them. Choose one of the objects you will eventually make a gift of, and write a legacy letter to the person who will receive it.

Week seven: thoughts on aging. Like most things, age has no one objective truth; it’s more about perspective. Having a sense of humor and a sense of community can help immeasurably as we age. Some older people say they feel invisible—not surprising considering the fast-paced, youth- focused culture we live in. Writing our thoughts about aging down on paper can be validating. It is one way to be heard, now and in the future.

Week eight: gratitude. There is much to be grateful for at this point in life. If we’ve made it this far, we have likely learned a thing or two. In our last legacy letter, we will look through the lens of gratitude to write a blessing for one or more of our descendants. This blessing may or may not be spiritual in nature, in keeping with our view of things.