Jump To Section
David Sedaris’ 4 Tips for Finding Writing Inspiration
Humorist David Sedaris is a New York Times–bestselling author whose essays deal with all kinds of topics, from family stories and life events to the human condition, all combined with incisive social critiques. He’s been published everywhere from the New Yorker to Esquire and read his short stories and personal essays live on National Public Radio (NPR), This American Life, and elsewhere.
Sedaris is well-practiced in the craft of writing and in the art of finding sources of inspiration in the world and using it in his essays—here are a few of his writing tips to help you improve your own writing, whether you’re writing your first book or your fifth.
- Pay Attention to Everything. If you want to craft essays about the world around you, you’ll need to pay attention to the world in the first place. In David’s words, “You need to be in the world and you need to be engaged with the world. It’s my job to collect jokes. It’s my job to collect startling images. And so when I’m out in the world, I’m at work. And I’m a professional.” If, as David says, you’re “tuned in” to your surroundings and ready for people-watching, your own life can sometimes feel like a story. If you participate and look beyond the surface, the details in the world unfolding around you can shape your subject. If you don’t engage with your surroundings, if you live online and use your phone as a shield when you are out and about, the story won’t find your lap.
- Meet People. When was the last time you asked someone for directions? Forcing yourself to rely on other people is a great way to create built-in encounters with strangers and see the world from new perspectives. David, for example, has never learned to drive a car. As such, public buses, Ubers, planes, and trains are all opportunities to meet real people, which can lead to diary entries and essays. These are situations that you don’t choose or orchestrate, but they can lead to a chance connection that you might end up writing about. Try something new for the first time, and see what kind of people you meet. These fortuitous interactions are part of what makes the writing life worth living for David—and they can keep writers’ block out of the picture.
- Take Notes. Your memory isn’t perfect—so getting in the habit of writing everything down will help you keep track of all of your story inspiration. Keeping a diary where you write down things that happen to you, things you find funny or interesting, dialogue you overhear and love, and character traits, will help you see the world differently and help inspire writing prompts. Keeping a dream journal will train you to remember more and more of your dreams, rather than forget them the next day. Keeping a gratitude journal and, each day, writing down what you are grateful for, will train you to look for things to be thankful for. Keeping a record of your surroundings will open you to moments that could become story ideas and the parts of your world that belong in your writing.
- Weave Your Inspiration Into an Essay. Many of your diary entries will be short and good for a laugh. Some will be longer and will feel more meaningful. The trick is to learn when and where you can make an incident in your diary—a short anecdote or a funny vignette—part of something deeper and larger and, therefore, turn it into a full essay. David’s reminder is that an essay or a story is more and does more than a short slice of real life. A good story includes a struggle that the listener relates to and becomes invested in, creates deeper involvement and engages multiple emotions, and includes closure for the reader. If you allow yourself to sit with and reflect on the things you write in your diary, you’ll start to see ways that isolated moments might add up to something larger and fuller and more suitable for the foundation of your creative writing.
Want to Learn More About Writing?
Whether you're just starting to put pen to paper or dream of being published, writing demands time, effort, and commitment to the craft. In award-winning essayist and humorist David Sedaris's MasterClass, learn how to sharpen your powers of observation, how to translate what you see, hear, and experience in the real world into memorable stories, and how to grow as a writer.
Want to become a better writer? The MasterClass Annual Membership provides exclusive video lessons on storytelling, character development, and the path to publication, all taught by literary masters, including David Sedaris, Malcolm Gladwell, Neil Gaiman, Margaret Atwood, Judy Blume, Dan Brown, and more.