Learning to Write from David Sedaris

Writing is a compulsion.

David Sedaris

Who is David Sedaris?

One of six kids, David Sedaris, grew up in Raleigh, North Carolina. David debuted on NPR in 1992 with Santaland DiariesBarrel Fever, his first book, followed in 1994. Since then, he has published nine more books and written an anthology of short stories. In addition, he has composed over forty essays for The New Yorker and completed five series on BBC Radio Extra 4. David was awarded the Terry Southern Prize for Humor in 2018 and the Medal for Spoken Language from the American Academy of Arts and Letters who inducted him in May 2019. Altogether, David’s books have sold more than 12 million copies and have been translated into 27 languages.

What I Learned

Write every single day.

Photo by Brad Neathery on Unsplash

Your experience doesn’t have to be unique. You just have to be compelled to write, and you have to write every day. David uses his journals as a starting point for a lot of his work.

It is something that I’ve considered, but have had a hard time doing thus far. I’m trying to create the habit in hopes of generating ideas for my own writing. I think it might help me keep track of my mental health as well.

Let go of perfection.

Don’t compare yourself to other writers as it steals your joy. Instead, find a way to be you. Perfection is not the goal. Wanting to be perfect won’t make you perfect, but it could stop you from trying.

This is good life advice, as well as writing advice. It is difficult for me to just be okay with what I am writing. I am a terminal perfectionist. I am trying to write and not tear it down. I don’t want to ruin the fun.

Quote funny people.

Photo by Braydon Anderson on Unsplash

Often the people around you are funny, and you can bring them into your work.

I live with and am friends with a few funny people. Their lived experiences will provide material for me to spin into a story. Plus, I often seek out more funny people on YouTube, TED Talks, or Twitter.

Exaggerate whenever possible.

A little exaggeration can go a long way in creating a story. Stretch a scene into a ridiculous version of itself. You can then imagine it another way to get a laugh.

This is the one that I’m looking forward to. When talking, I love to spin a yarn for the sake of a laugh or other emotion. But after years of academic work, I am finding it difficult to stretch the truth. I want so badly to make it citeable. I’ll be working on this one more.

Be honest and tough.

Be harder on yourself than you are on anyone else in a story. A reader knows when a writer is fake or dishonest. It takes practice to let go of the urge to paint yourself in a good light.

This one makes sense to me. I like to put myself in a story, as not to offend anyone else. I think it gives the story a certain flair if you can give your truths and still make it entertaining.

Rewrite.

Writing is rewriting. David writes an essay sometimes twelve times before giving it to an editor then rewrites it again.

Coming again from the world of academia, I have rewritten documents thirty or more times. This is true of my dissertation. I had to be told not to rewrite anymore. That perfectionist side was wreaking havoc.

Ask better questions.

Photo by Evan Dennis on Unsplash

Don’t ask people questions that do not lead anywhere. If you ask more interesting questions, you’ll get more interesting answers.

Asking someone, “How’s your day?” or “How are you?” often elicits the same responses we are used to receiving. This is boring and will usually be a short conversation. I’ve decided to ask someone, “Have you ever met a tapir?” or “Do you believe in gnomes?” to incite a more interesting discussion.

Don’t ruin the moment.

You might be tempted to whip out your notebook in the middle of a particularly juicy conversation, but resist the urge. You don’t want it to end.

I bought a moleskin notebook that flips open like those that detectives use when gathering information at a scene. It doesn’t have lines, because I like to draw and write notes. It was pretty cheap and is relatively unobtrusive. The notebook has been a good source for my writing so far.

Look to other writers.

David says, “You can’t write unless you read.”

This is very true. With the state of the world right now, I’ve been able to prove this one. I have read at least five books in the last couple of weeks, and each one has inspired me. If you read intending to grasp information for later use, it helps.

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