Going Beyond Truth-Telling in Personal Essay

In an essay at Glimmer Train, writer Katherine Vaz discusses an assignment that is given to every student at her university: to write about “the most important thing ever to happen to me.” Immigrants may have breathtaking and heartbreaking stories, she notes, but what about the average student, a “So Cal surfer guy”? Vaz asks:

What’s the nature (or even the point) of truth-telling here? [One student] wrote that the most important thing ever to happen to him was…the night he and his pals got drunk and knocked down the mailboxes in the neighborhood. The easiest thing would have been to dismiss him out-of-hand. But I asked him if this was indeed what he wanted to write about—he did—so I asked him to tell me more about that night.

What Vaz discovers is that the act of writing each story can be a vital exploration about the nature of truths you might not even know you carried. Read the entire essay.

Also this month in the Glimmer Train bulletin:

Posted in Creativity + Inspiration.

Jane Friedman (@JaneFriedman) has 20 years of experience in the publishing industry, with expertise in digital media strategy for authors and publishers. She is the publisher of The Hot Sheet, the essential newsletter on the publishing industry for authors, and was named Publishing Commentator of the Year by Digital Book World in 2019.

In addition to being a columnist for Publishers Weekly, Jane is a professor with The Great Courses, which released her 24-lecture series, How to Publish Your Book. Her book for creative writers, The Business of Being a Writer (University of Chicago Press), received a starred review from Library Journal.

Jane speaks regularly at conferences and industry events such as BookExpo America, Digital Book World, and the AWP Conference, and has served on panels with the National Endowment for the Arts and the Creative Work Fund. Find out more.

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Marcy McKay

Vaz’s essay made me cry, Jane. I’ve never had a “Killing Fields” event like the young man from Cambodia, nor am I a surfer dude from California (though my middle-class upbringing from Texas sounds similar to #2). The whole essay conveyed the central truth in the the final line … why stories matter.

That took my breath away. Thanks for sharing.

Jennifer Muller
Jennifer Muller

What a powerful essay. As a widow with school aged children, my writing will be about what my husband and I went through in dealing with his cancer diagnosis and living in the aftermath. I hope to inspire readers to live intentionally. As a faith based writer, my purpose is to encourage other widows that there is life to be LIVED, not just survived, there is hope to be found, and (because) there is a God who is faithful. With that said, I’ve noticed myself dealing in the minutiae of details. Which day did this happen? How many weeks passed… Read more »