|The Perfect Book on Writing for the Non-writer
A Brief Review of
Creating a Spiritual Legacy:
Reviewed by Greg Schreur.
Few people would argue with Daniel Taylor’s fundamental premise: we all have a story to tell. Yet many who agree with that premise would also be reluctant to put that story into words on paper. To Dr. Taylor, this contradiction is regrettable and unnecessary. As well it should be to anyone who wishes they could write their own story and to anyone who might cherish a written story from their parents or grandparents.
To say we all have a story to tell is by now probably a platitude. Dr. Taylor, author of books such as Letters to My Children and cofounder of The Legacy Center, might call it a truism. Our lives are made up of stories, he points out. Each day is a narrative with all the elements of story: plot, character, setting, and sometimes irony, foreshadowing, and even symbolism. It is impossible not to have a story.
We glean Truth from these stories; we also ascribe Truth to them.
It is this Truth, this wisdom, that Dr. Taylor is most concerned about. He argues strongly that we have a moral duty to share these stories to the benefit of both ourselves and those who would read them. Through stories, connections are formed, and through these connections, something gets passed on. Call it Truth, insight, wisdom, perspective. It is valuable beyond any words that could express it.
There is inherent danger with any spiritual, moral, or religious writing—even in the hands of the skillful writer—that it has the tendency to become disingenuous or severed from reality in an effort to win over nonbelievers. Happily, Creating a Spiritual Legacy is not subtitled, “How to Slap a Silver Lining on Any Situation and Turn It into a Sermon So You Can Convert Your Neighbor.”
The key word, in fact, is “story,” and the book consistently stresses the importance of story and of telling stories well. While the end result may be a legacy that gets passed on, and while that legacy may be spiritual (though not necessarily explicitly religious), it is best done through the medium of story. Values and wisdom, as well, are more meaningful and more memorable when coupled with the concrete details of story.
The bulk of the book is designed to provide practical advice to the inexperienced and reluctant writer. Excuses are debunked and exercises are provided to help with inspiration and coming up with a topic (including a list of categories to break down a lifetime’s worth of memories), how to go about writing the story well (such as including dialogue and writing scenes), and even the sometimes overwhelming process of revision.
However, what might be most helpful is that the book includes a variety of examples from “normal” people who also simply wanted to preserve a story and share its wisdom. Dr. Taylor even includes a piece of his own, a very poignant essay about his mother. These examples should help clarify what the end product might look like. They also make the project seem accessible.
While the book does offer alternatives to writing, it is rather clear that Dr. Taylor believes writing—having a written record—is the most effective, preferable method. It is for those resistant to writing that the book is titled Creating rather than Writing a Spiritual Legacy. For them, as well as for those who are interested in writing their story, this book could prove to be a valuable resource.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com
Thank you for the review. It was well written. I am taking a class on this very topic from Daniel Taylor, and you helped me to put aside my hesitancy at writing my stories for fear of producing a faulty work.