Discover more from Unknown Unknowns
🤯Unknown Unknowns #101 - Transformation
I just completed another cohort of Write of Passage as an Editor. I love giving feedback to students, helping them get their ideas out.
I noticed that the vast majority of essays are inherently transformation essays. They are about how a lesson changed your life. A transformation essay can be the most meaningful essays to write because the reader relates to the story and empathizes with the writer.
The problem is that many writers don’t realize they’re writing a transformation essay. They share a pivotal moment in their life or someone who made a difference. Or they talk about a terrible period in the past or how much they enjoy life now.
Most essays only tell part of the story. Leaving out the context, the highs and the lows, deprives the reader from seeing the journey.
When a writer doesn’t realize their essay is a transformation essay, they’re missing out on a huge opportunity. Using a story to convey a lesson is the most effective method to teach.
There are four key components to a transformation essay.
“Before” stage - What did your life look like before you learned the lesson? More importantly, how did you feel about it?
Catalyst - What caused you to want to change your life? How did you hit “Rock-bottom”?
Lessons - What did you learn and how did you learn it? How did you put the lessons into action?
“After” stage - What did your life look like after you learned the lesson? How do you feel about yourself now?
If your essay has each of these components, you tell the entire arc of the story and make the lesson engaging for the reader. Leave any component out, and the impact lessens or even vanishes.
If the writer only includes the “Before” stage, they're complaining. If they just tell the lessons, they're pontificating. If the essay is only the “After” stage, they're bragging. They have to realize it's a larger arc.
The “Before” stage out brings vulnerability, which allows the audience to engage with your story.
The catalyst brings empathy and understanding. The reader can see what spurred you to make a change. If they see what pushed you over the edge, they may relate and want to change as well.
Without any lessons, how will the reader know what to do?
And without any results, the reader won’t know what the payoff is. Why should they bother trying to make this transformation?
All of these components come together to form a full picture. Miss any, and you miss an opportunity to connect with your readers.
You want to give as many opportunities for the reader to resonate with your writing. If a reader empathizes with you, they are more likely to learn the lessons.
Take a step back, and ask yourself “What is the larger story of my essay?”
Writing of the Week:
Not my writing, but about my writing.curated my writing and makes me sound a lot better than reality! He gave a great summary of what I've written about recently, creativity. If you've found my recent writing intriguing but confusing, check his essay out: 🔗 In Praise of Rabbit Holes.
I also highly suggest you check the rest of his writing out at!
My two favorite pieces, which I believe I’ve shared before are Chao, what is your Next Small Thing? and IF stuck THEN zoom in OR out. In the first, Chao talks about his business strategy, how he looks for businesses where the promotion is baked into the service. In the second, he discusses how flow states are when you’re paying just the right amount of attention.
Some of my favorite essays from this past cohort of Write of Passage:
1️⃣writes about her lifelong journey in (re)finding her calling. Often, we hide what we want from ourselves. Erin was fortunate to rediscover her passion for writing, although it took years.
2️⃣muses about how technology makes it easier to translate, it loses the depth. “Lost in translation” means more than misunderstandings, there are subtleties and nuances that go unheard when you don’t understand a language. As a struggling language learner, I’m encouraged to keep on pushing.
3️⃣takes us on a journey from high school stoner to Naval Aviator to a man without a label, just pursuing truth. When someone asks me what the point of philosophy is, I will point them to this essay.
“Find out what is true. Devote your life to it. Live as if it’s worth dying for.”
Quote of the Week:
“Find out what is true. Devote your life to it. Live as if it’s worth dying for.” - Latham Turner
You can find more of my writing at chr.iswong.com.
Questions, suggestions, complaints? Email me at [email protected].
If you enjoyed this newsletter, please share it with a friend or two. And feel free to send anything you find interesting to me!
Leaving you in peace,