Arts & Entertainment, Writing

Revision Philosophy

David Sedaris

Lesson time 15:06 min

David shares his approach to rewriting, with an eye toward digging deeper into your stories and making the most of your funny moments.

Students give MasterClass an average rating of 4.7 out of 5 stars

Topics include: Give Your Editor Draft #20 • Turn References Into Descriptions • Dig for the Truth • Don't Overcrowd the Story • Protect Your Laughs


DAVID SEDARIS: I love a good five-page essay. I love it when that works out. I recently started as a commentator on a show called "CBS Sunday Morning." And I'm allowed to write about whatever I want. It can't be overtly political. But it can't be longer than two pages. And it's a really good assignment to write something, and it's two pages long, that has an ending, and that doesn't feel like a screed. But I have a 12-page attention span. I would not write something that's 20 pages long. Because I couldn't read it on stage. And if I can't read it on stage, I don't see the point in writing it. There have been a few things that I've written that are longer than that. But I think they suffer. Because I didn't read them on stage. And so I didn't hone them the way that I went home one of the 12-page essays. You know, when you pick up a book, the author's skill is making you turn the page from 273 to 274. Because you want to know what happened next, right? People turn my pages because there's 12 of them. And they think, uh, might as well. 9 times out of 10, my only comment is you need to rewrite this 60 times. And most people, they don't even want to hear you need to rewrite it one time. But that's what writing is, it's rewriting. And sometimes, something's not worth rewriting. You think, oh, I'm just so bored with this, it's not worth diving back into. And that's fine. Because not everything is worth diving back into. But I would say, personally, I probably write something over probably 12 to 18 times before I give it to my editor. Because if I were to give my editor a first draft, knowing that I was going to write 20 drafts, if I were to give my editor the first draft before I even sort of am sure of the essay, she's really going to be sick of it by the third draft. And by the 20th draft, she's really going to be sick about it. So what I personally like to do is learn as much as I can on my own, and then turn to my editor. And then say, can you help me here? This is as far as I have been able to take myself. If I were to say that my sister was in the basement watching "I Dream of Jeannie," a lot of young people now would say, well, I don't know anything about that. I don't know what that-- but if I said my sister was in the basement watching a show about a woman who lived in a bottle, that's ridiculous. And you think, well, that can't be. What kind of a world would we live in that would have a show like that? And it's like, oh, it was called "I Dream of Jeannie." That's a world we live in. So sometimes a laugh can come just from stepping back and describing something in a cold way rather than taking the easy way out. And I'm always hesitant to use popular cultural names and references. Because when your book gets translated into Korean, they're not going to know what "I Dream of Jeannie." Or in Persian, if you said that somebody looked like Jackie Gleason, someone in Iran might not have any idea what Jackie Gleason loo...

About the Instructor

With essays in The New Yorker, bestselling books like Calypso, tours, and readings on NPR, David Sedaris is one of the most recognizable essayists alive. Now he teaches you the art of personal storytelling. Learn how David crafts attention-grabbing openings, satisfying endings, and meaning from the mundane—and how he uses humor to connect with others and process the difficult and sometimes dark aspects of everyday life.

Featured MasterClass Instructor

David Sedaris

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

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