Writer’s Desk: Speaking Out Loud

When David Sedaris is trying to determine what works or not in his writing, he test-drives it in front of an audience:

Sedaris says that he has usually rewritten a story about eight times before he tries it in front of an audience, where he ends up reading it and making tweaks up to 40 times before it is published. What he learns during those readings accounts for about 20% of the changes he makes in his text.

“If something is on its feet, I can make it stronger by reading it out loud,” he says. “When I’m reading things on stage, I try to be a little bit different every night. It takes you a week just to learn how to read it. But if you read it only once? That’s why all those stories in Barrel Fever seem so crude to me now.” These days, he says, by the time he records an audio book, he has a well-rehearsed tape in his head…

If you don’t have an audience (at readings, Sedaris will draw a skull next to a bit that doesn’t play well), read your story out loud while recording. Listen to it later and evaluate as though you were hearing a different person. Edit accordingly and without fear of hurting the writer’s feelings. In the end, no matter how harsh your feedback, it will be more generous than many readers.

Weekend Reading: April 21, 2017

Weekend Reading: March 25, 2016

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Writer’s Corner: Your Life is Always Good Material

(Steve Lyon)
(photo by Steve Lyon)

When I was teaching — I taught for a while — my students would write as if they were raised by wolves. Or raised on the streets. They were middle-class kids and they were ashamed of their background. They felt like unless they grew up in poverty, they had nothing to write about. Which was interesting because I had always thought that poor people were the ones who were ashamed. But it’s not. It’s middle-class people who are ashamed of their lives. And it doesn’t really matter what your life was like, you can write about anything. It’s just the writing of it that is the challenge. I felt sorry for these kids, that they thought that their whole past was absolutely worthless because it was less than remarkable.

David Sedaris, January Magazine, June 2000

Remember, there’s a lot of stories out there, yours included. Ultimately, it’s the telling that matters.

Department of Weekend Reading: August 29, 2014

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Department of Holiday Cheer: Edition 2013

It’s been an eventful year, not necessarily in a bad way. But nevertheless the start of 2014 is welcome. Any day now.

In the meantime, a bit of holiday doggerel from Calvin Trillin:

I’d like to spend next Christmas in Qatar,
Or someplace else that Santa won’t find handy.
Qatar will do, although, Lord knows, it’s sandy.

Also, one shouldn’t get through the holiday season entirely without anything from David Sedaris‘s memories of working as a store elf:

The woman grabbed my arm and said: You there, elf. Tell Riley here that if he doesn’t start behaving immediately, then Santa’s going to change his mind and bring him coal for Christmas.

I said that Santa changed his policy and no longer traffics in coal. Instead, if you’re bad, he comes to your house and steals things. I told Riley that if he didn’t behave himself, Santa was going to take away his TV and all his electrical appliances and leave him in the dark.

The woman got a worried look on her face and said: All right. That’s enough. I said, he’s going to take your car and your furniture, and all of your towels and blankets and leave you with nothing. The mother said, No, that’s enough – really.

Go on, take a Snow Day; you all deserve it:

Reader’s Corner: David Rakoff (1964-2012)

It’s been a bad few weeks — the literary world has been robbed of yet another glorious voice. David Rakoff, whose print and radio essays were some of the darkest yet most violently life-affirming things you will ever encounter, died on Thursday from the cancer that first appeared when he was just 22 years old.

His books (Half Empty, and particularly Don’t Get Too Comfortable) are rich with life and haunted with death, like most of the best writing is. He served on the airwaves of National Public Radio and on the shelves of smarter bookstores everywhere as a kind of grumpy conscience, the mordant cousin to David Sedaris (who championed his early writing).

In this fantastic segment from a live-recorded episode of This American Life from just this past May, Rakoff talks about his youth, dance, what he termed “all this nonsense”, and getting on with life after an operation severed the nerves that controlled his left arm.

“I’m done with so many things,” he says with the glint of sadness which always gave his humor that unique sting.