Writing, Arts & Entertainment

Writing About Loved Ones

David Sedaris

Lesson time 24:12 min

How do you put the people you care about in your essays without hurting them? David discusses this challenge and brings in his sister Lisa, who’s appeared in many of his essays, for an intimate conversation.

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Topics include: Celebrate Your Subjects • Celebrating Subjects: David's Sister Lisa


[MUSIC PLAYING] - I have a sister named Tiffany who committed suicide. And my sisters and I, we weren't necessarily thinking of her as mentally ill. We thought it was difficult, really difficult, and unpredictable, and volatile. But after she died, I-- I have a guide to my diary. So I have all the diaries numbered. And I don't have everything on the guide that's in the diary, because most of what's in my diary is boring. And I don't even really, to tell you the truth-- I'm just writing it down because I'm compelled to writing it down. But every now and then, something happens. And I think, oh, that's pretty good. And I put it in my diary guide. So after Tiffany died, we were all-- I was together with my brother and sisters. And I put Tiffany into the search engine. And what came up was a portrait. You know, April 6, 1979, Tiffany shows up at dad's birthday party with a black eye. We know Tiffany spent Halloween on an army base. Tiffany in a car accident driving somebody else's car with no license. Tiffany thrown out of her apartment in Harlem. When you read it all together, it was a portrait. I don't know that you could find a better portrait of a mentally ill person. And so it's interesting to go back through that diary guide. And then I did the same with my sister Lisa who, you know, I adore. And I think she's terribly funny. And it was a really-- it's funny just with just little short snippet three or four words, not even sentences, the accurate portrait that was formed over 40 years' time. Another great thing about a diary is it really is going to help you win arguments, because you can say, really, that's not what you said on July 17. On July 17, you said you didn't want to buy another house and now you're saying you do. A diary is good for-- I mean it's good for me. I always write down everything I give everyone for Christmas and how much it costs and then what they gave me. So come Christmastime, I can look. And I can say, well, this is how much money I spent on her and then she gave me three paper flowers. So maybe we need to re-evaluate for this Christmas. I've had so many people come up over the years and say, wow, your poor family. And I wouldn't want to be your friend. You know, you'll just write anything about people. And that's not true at all. It's such a balancing act when you're writing about a real person. Everybody has their secrets. And I do not want to expose anyone's secrets. A lot of times an essay-- when people are inclined to say, well, that's not true, that didn't happen, if you were able to explain in your essay that this person was an alcoholic, or a drug addict, or a schizophrenic, people would think, oh, that makes sense, maybe you don't want to expose them so you leave that out. So you've got somebody who's sort of behaving erratically. And the reader will think, gosh, what's up with that? You know, why didn't he mention-- this is obviously a troubled person. Why didn't he mention...

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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