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Turning Observations Into Stories

David Sedaris

Lesson time 16:54 min

Using examples from his own writing, David shows you how to take ideas from your diary and start expanding them into an essay.

David 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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[MUSIC PLAYING] - I used to write in the evening. And then I quit drinking. And when I quit drinking and I sat down in the evening, I thought, I don't know if I can do this, because there should be booze on my table. So I thought, well, I'll change the time of day that I write, because I'm not used to having booze on my table at 10 o'clock in the morning. So I started writing in the morning. And then eventually I was able to write in the morning and at night as well. So I usually get up, and I go straight to my desk. And I start by writing in my diary. And then I turn to whichever essay I've been working on. I work from 10:00 till 1:30. And then I go out and I pick garbage up off the roads until 8 o'clock at night. And then I sit down at my desk for another hour and work some more. And I have dinner. Sometimes I go back to work after dinner, but usually not. I know for myself, it's very important to write every single day. I meet a lot of young writers who say-- and I say, do you write every day? And they say, no, but just-- you know, I write when it strikes me. I don't know. I suppose that might work for some people. I'm not really the one to say, but it would never have worked for me, you know? If you're-- so much happens by sitting at your desk when you don't have an idea. So many things can happen, but they're not going to happen unless you're at your desk. So you need to sit there, and not have the internet, and see what happens. You just have to do the work. And that means not going to the party. And it means people are really going to think you're a drag. I mean a lot of people-- I can't tell you how many people have lectured me over the years and said, well, you can come out to dinner just this once. Or why can't you come to the party? You're being horribly selfish by not doing this. And everybody else is going to be there. I've met so many people who say, well, I really want to write, but I work all day. So did I. You work all day, and then you come home and you write. If it means that much to you, you're going to find the time to do it. That's not-- that's never an excuse, to say that you don't have the time. And there are a lot of people out there who are happy to give 10%. But I don't know any of them who-- I don't know their names, because they don't have books. [MUSIC PLAYING] So I thought I would read a few little diary entries here. Some of them I went on to turn into stories and essays. And others, I just have them in a file so that-- I feel like they all get a good response, and they're all strong openers. The thing is they're incidents. They're vignettes. They're not essays, right? So November 13, 2015. Spokane, Washington. I was in a murderous temper yesterday. Part of it was lack of sleep, part was general tour fatigue, and part was left over from the night before, when the producers in Olympia stuck me in a sweltering black box from my book signing. Adam was supposed to col...

Pursue the curious

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.


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

This man is a jewel. He is the kind of person who would make a good neighbor. Excellent presentation.

David is the master of humor. I appreciate his thoughts on noticing the small, everyday things.

huge fan for years, so inspirational to hear Mr Sedaris talk so candidly about his writing experience. i absolutely loved

Inspired to find humour in the hard stuff and just write without it having to be good. He is such a generous sharer.


Sonya R.

I have really enjoyed him reading out loud from his book. It reminded me of my mother who use to read to me from parts of her journals...she was wickedly funny!

A fellow student

I'm a bit confused about David's definition of an essay. I've been reading some of his work and I don't really see much of a difference between how he writes and a short story. Being a university student my essays are much different (and obviously nowhere near as good!). Can anyone help me distinguish the difference between his work and a short story? Thanks!

Hind B.

Lets' record ourselves #LifeAtTheTimeofCorona Dear Masterclass fellow students, I am embarking on an experiment that I am hoping will lead to a documentary. I am collecting VOICE NOTES from all around me, in order to keep track of what we are experiencing at this unusual moment in time / history. I ask all of you who wish to contribute to send me a voice note (no text, no videos) which answers or tries to answer some or all of these four little questions: - What does your daily routine consist of under full/semi confinement? - What / who crosses your mind most often? Are you encountering new thoughts or challenges? - How do you feel? - And how does COVID19 affect / change /strengthen your vision of yourself / your government and the rest of the World? No need to reveal who you are, this VOICE NOTE can even be sent to me from an anonymous account if you wish. Also, feel free to express yourself in the language you are most comfortable with. It does not have to be serious - It does not even have to be real... I would be extremely grateful to you for sharing this email with whoever you think could have something to say, specifying that they send me the voice note on my email address: This voice note may be used in my next documentary Life at the time of Corona. Many thanks in advance!


Curious to know if David handwrites his diary entries or if he types them on a laptop?

Pradeep P.

Interesting take on how to allow things go its logical end. So many entries into a diary? I have managed to write diary for the last 3-4 years. I hope to learn more about keeping diary the way David does. And probably I should revisit my diary and see if I can pick something off it.

Jallie W.

Let people think what they will about you. It is so revealing about who they are and absolutely titillating to learn what they've conjured up about you. Be prepared for paradigms to SHIFT seismically. Be prepared for an extravagance of their judgment to land squarely upon your ego. Gird your loins before you enter this fracas. I've been there, done it, got the T-shirt. Some 10 yrs after I survived a terrible car accident I was left with few visible wounds. A broken neck which healed giving me a stiff posture, a nearly amputated left arm but 3/4 length sleeves conceal the modest deformity, and a traumatic brain injury that curtailed my work as a college professor and medical professional. TBI's alter ones personality and blunt the filters. I had grown use to the new me and presumed I was equipped with enough party manners to navigate most of the social strata. While attending a bridal shower for my soon to be daughter in law I kept a pleasant countenance knowing my damaged short term memory bank wouldn't successfully store all the new names of the soon to be in-laws. My sister & I were chatting, extolling the loveliness of the hostesses home and beautiful luncheon buffet. Behind me was another group of the brides family and the brides mother must have pointed me out as the grooms mom. One of the aunties asked, "That's Pete's mom? Isn't she the retarded one? She doesn't LOOK retarded." I knew I was going to like being labeled and judged as such. I was cloaked and seen as beneath their group. Oh, but it was to be their peril as life continued to unfold before us.


My dairy is too small and lacks the subtleties of what I observe each day - i am committed to getting myself a larger book to write in.

Thomas L.

This lesson is really making me think about a different way of going through a day. I've always tried to build walls between myself and people and things around me, except for the natural world. I have been like this because of growing up in a big city. But I now see the possibilities of opening up more to what is around me, for inspiration and ideas that might lead somewhere.

Carolyn S.

it's a joy to listen to David, who with deft ease, weaves his storytelling craft into his lessons ... he is curious about life, and there is magic in his way ... how can you explain his bizarre questions having truth in them?

Anne A.

Brilliant in every way. Specific and diligent. I love the theory, and the back up, why write everyday "they're not gonna happen if you're not sitting there." The clarity on re-writing is huge. I love the minimalism, and the admission about Raymond Carver. So amazing, I absolutely wanted to be Raymond and thought he gave it. I LOVE the part about Hugh coming home and saying he can't paint. That NAILED perfectionism. Why are you so good David whyyyyyyy..... never change.