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Writing

David Sedaris’s Tips for Improving Your Writing by Reading Aloud

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Nov 8, 2020 • 5 min read

Creative writing often means more than typing words onto a page. Many writers will take to the stage and read their work out loud in front of an audience. You get an immediate reaction and know right away if your story works. No one does this quite like David Sedaris. The humorist is a best-selling author who is as well known for his written stories as he is for going on tour to read them in front of a live audience. He’s had numerous New York Times best sellers. He writes and narrates radio shows for the Ira Glass-hosted This American Life on National Public Radio (NPR). He reads his essays on his BBC Radio 4 show Meet David Sedaris. He also writes short stories and personal essays for The New Yorker and Esquire.

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

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A Brief Introduction to David Sedaris

One of America's preeminent humor writers, David Sedaris is known for his incisive social critiques, sardonic wit, and self-deprecating style. He writes about his own life in essay collections and non-fiction books, from his childhood in upstate New York to his high school years in Raleigh, North Carolina. He often weaves in hilarious anecdotes that include his parents and his five siblings—Paul, Gretchen, Tiffany, Lisa, and Amy Sedaris—or his partner Hugh.

Sedaris’s writing career has spanned almost three decades. He’s been nominated for five Grammy Awards for Best Spoken Word Album and Best Comedy Album, and received the Thurber Prize for American Humor. He and his sister, Amy—a writer and performer—write plays under the name The Talent Family that run at the La Mama Theater in New York City. Their shows include The Book of Liz, Incident at Cobbler’s Knob, and Stump the Host.

10 Iconic Books by David Sedaris

David is one of the funniest observant writers, often writing about the human condition vis a vis his own life experience. Here are the works for which he is known:

  1. Barrel Fever (1994)
  2. Naked (1997)
  3. Holidays on Ice (1997)
  4. Me Talk Pretty One Day (2000)
  5. Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim (2004)
  6. When You Are Engulfed in Flames (2008)
  7. Squirrel Seeks Chipmunk: A Modest Bestiary (2010)
  8. Let's Explore Diabetes With Owls (2013)
  9. Theft By Finding: Diaries (1977-2002) (2017)
  10. Calypso (2018)
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How Does Reading Out Loud Improve Writing?

Reading your own writing can help develop your writing voice in multiple ways.

  1. Reading aloud helps an audience connect with an author. For adults, hearing a story read aloud helps comprehension on a deeper level because it forces you to focus rather than skimming over the words. Listing to a reading of a story can enable an audience to more meaningfully empathize with the writer and connect with the narrative on a deeper level.
  2. Reading aloud is a practical tool for writers. For writers, read-aloud time continues to be important. It’s a habit that helps improve writing skills, as it forces you to be more attentive to your words. If you’re planning to read in front of an audience, practice reading out loud to rehearse your delivery and develop your speaking voice.

David Sedaris’s 5 Tips for Reading Aloud

It was David Sedaris’ public readings that gained him widespread recognition for his work. David made his debut on National Public Radio in 1992 when he read his story “Santaland Diaries” on Morning Edition. Even before then, he was reading his stories in front of audiences during college. Here, he offers his top read aloud tips for writers:

  1. Read aloud to edit your work. Reading aloud is a layer of David’s editing process—kind of like live workshopping. In fact, he’ll make notes on his pages as he reads. “When the audience laughs, I make notes,” he says. “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.”
  2. Start with a small audience by joining a writer’s group. Writing is often described as a solitary pursuit—but it doesn’t have to be. If reading your work in front of strangers sounds too intimidating for the time being, consider joining a writing group or starting one yourself with a few writerly friends. Use the group as a space to read aloud, give (and receive) critical feedback, and expand your craft.
  3. Go hear other writers read their work. “Most of what I know I learned by going to people’s readings and by taking part in readings,” David says. Finding other writers and writing events in your community can make the writer’s life feel a lot less lonely. If you’re not sure where to start with public readings, try looking up your favorite writers and seeing if they’ll be doing a reading at a bookstore near you anytime soon. Local bookstores, particularly independent bookstores, have a calendar of events each month, from author readings and signings to open mics and panels. If you live near a college or university, check their events page to see if any writers will be swinging through.
  4. Read in front of an audience every chance you get. Say yes to every invitation to read. Always read something new—don’t hop from open mic to open mic with the same piece. Chances are some of the same audience members will be there, and you don’t want to bore them. Don’t let the audience see how many pages you have, and don’t announce how many poems or essays you’re about to read. Don’t go over your allotted time. Dress up for the occasion.
  5. Test various endings for your story on live audiences. There's no greater pleasure than reading the correct ending out loud in front of an audience for the first time and having it work.

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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.

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