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12 David Sedaris Quotes on Writing: Inspirational Writing Quotes

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Oct 2, 2020 • 4 min read

Whether it’s his sardonic wit, or that famously reedy voice dripping with gleeful disdain, immediately recognizable on his frequent appearances alongside Ira Glass on This American Life, David Sedaris is one of the more devastatingly observant writers of the human condition. This master of satire pulls no punches: a Sedaris essay can be hilarious or gut-wrenching or tragic, or all three at once.



David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and HumorDavid Sedaris Teaches Storytelling and Humor

NYT–bestselling author David Sedaris teaches you how to turn everyday moments into seriously funny stories that connect with audiences.

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About David Sedaris

David debuted on National Public Radio in 1992 when he read “Santaland Diaries” on Morning Edition. Barrel Fever, his first book, followed in 1994. Since then, he has continued to publish books, pens plays with his sister Amy Sedaris under the name The Talent Family, including The Book of Liz, Stump the Host, and Incident at Cobbler’s Knob. He has contributed more than 40 essays to The New Yorker, writes regularly for Esquire, and has completed five series on BBC Radio Extra 4.

In addition to receiving an honorary doctorate from Binghamton University in 2008, David was awarded the Terry Southern Prize for Humor in 2018 as well as the Medal for Spoken Language from the American Academy of Arts and Letters. In May 2019, he was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters. David’s books combined have sold more than 12 million copies and have been translated into 27 languages. His 2018 collection of essays, Calypso, is a New York Times bestseller and a Washington Post Best Book of the Year. The audiobook of Calypso was nominated for the Spoken Word Album at the Grammy awards in 2018.

Barrel Fever (his first collection); Naked (a collection of essays addressing David’s upbringing, his mother’s death, his college years, and the time he spent hitchhiking as a young adult); Holidays on Ice (Christmas-themed essays); Me Talk Pretty One Day (a bestselling collection and winner of the Thurber Prize for American Humor, divided into two parts: the first including essays about his childhood in Raleigh and his time living in New York, and the second composed of essays about his move to Normandy, France, with his boyfriend, Hugh); Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (a collection of personal essays centered around David’s family, whose title came from a dream that Hugh had in which he saw someone reading a book with the same title in French); Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (a book of modern-day fables with animals for characters); Let’s Explore Diabetes With Owls (narrative essays which debuted in the number one spot on the bestseller list. The title is an inscription David wrote in the book of a fan who wanted him to write “explore your inner feelings.” David kept the “explore” part); Theft by Finding: Diaries 1977–2002 (an edited compilation of David’s diary entries); and his new book, Calypso (on middle age and all its quirks) was named Amazon’s Best Book of the Year in 2018.

David Sedaris Quotes on Writing

How does one of America's preeminent humor writers approach the writing process? With tenacity, and professionalism.

“People write for different reasons. For me, it’s a compulsion.”

“You have to be on fire with the idea of 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.”

“You don’t want to end [a moment in a juicy conversation.] I was in London and I was in a taxidermy shop. And the owner of the shop showed me these owls that he had for sale. And then he showed me a pygmy skeleton. And then he showed me an amputated arm. And then he showed me a girl’s head. So he had some human things that were for sale. And by that time my life really felt like a story. But I knew that if I pulled out my notebook, everything would have ended.”

“You can’t write unless you read.”

“As a writer, you’re sort of exploiting everybody you come into contact with.”

“Writing gives you the illusion that you’re in control. But it’s just that: an illusion.”

“When I’m writing about people I know, I’m trying to celebrate them to the best of my ability.”

“You need to do the best that you can do, and then you need to take the best that you can do and you need to rewrite it, and rewrite it, and rewrite it.”

“When the audience laughs, I make notes. And when the audience coughs, it’s like they’re throwing skulls at you. They’re telling you that if this was on the page, they would be skimming now. At the end of the night I’ll lay my story out on the hotel bed and look at my notes, and I’ll notice the flow of the laughter. I want there to be a rhythm to it. I want it to be like a roller coaster that the audience is strapped into.”

“Most of what I know I learned by going to people’s readings and by taking part in readings.”

“The danger is writing something that just stops, instead of something that ends.”

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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.