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Posts Tagged ‘David Sedaris’

“I divide the world into two groups of people. There are those who pay someone to listen to their problems. And there are those who get paid for telling people their problems. I am very fortunate to be in group number two. . . . I can’t wait to hear everything that’s gone wrong in your life.”
David Sedaris
Masterclass, Conclusion: Two Groups of People

Humorist David Sedaris said that he knows there are better storytellers than him, better writers than him, and people who have better speaking voices than him him—but as of this post he’s written ten books that have sold 12 million copies and has made a career out of reading his stories in person and on the radio. (That reminds me of the motivational saying, “Never let what you can’t do prevent you from doing what you can do.”)

Here’s one of his secrets.

“I wrote every day for 15 years before my first book came out.”
David Sedaris

If you want an easier task to follow, read Ann Patchett’s essay The Getaway Car (found in her book This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage) which Sedaris calls “the best essay I’ve ever read about writing” because it reminds him “of the joy of writing.”

“Why is it that we understand playing the cello will require work, but we attribute writing to the magic of inspiration?”
Ann Patchett

P.S. Ann Patchett is a has an MFA from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop. All roads lead to Iowa.

Scott W. Smith

 

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“You know, when you first start writing you’re going to suck. And so it’s good to keep it to yourself, until maybe you don’t suck as much.”
David Sedaris

The sweet spot for the essays that David Sedaris writes is five pages. The shortest are the two pages he does for CBS Sunday Morning and on the other end of the spectrum he says he “has a 12 page attention span.” Experience tells him that anything longer is hard to read on stage. He spends much time on the rewriting process, and encourages others to do that as well.

“Nine times out of 10, my only comment is you need to rewrite this, ah, 60 times. And most people don’t even want to hear that 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 12-18 times before I give it to my editor.”
David Sedaris
Masterclass

While you can see doing 12-18 drafts of a short essay, how big of a climb does 60 rewrites seem. And have you ever done 60 drafts of a script you’ve written—or even 12-18. This is what screenwriter John Logan did on rewriting his first screenplay with Oliver Stone:

“We did 26 drafts of Any Given Sunday, one right after another, so I learned everything about the form from him. He was patient. I’d go to his house, he’d say, ‘Pick up that Oscar, hold it, it’ll feel good, you’ll enjoy it.’ And then we’d work. Any Given Sunday, like all these monstrous big movies,  was hard to get made.”
John Logan

And that was after he spent nine months on his own writing more than 20 drafts. Screenwriter Michael Arndt reportedly wrote 100 drafts of Little Miss Sunshine—his sixth script and the first one he sold.

Sometimes it takes a little time. Here’s a closing quote from another rewriter:

“It’s true I rewrite a lot . . . my talent is I just try and try, and try and try again, and little by little it comes to something that I think is okay.”
Francis Ford Coppola

Scott W. Smith

 

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“Notice when you’re talking to people, notice what people laugh at. If you tell a story and somebody laughs, then they sort of ask you some follow-up questions, that’s a pretty good indication that that might be a good thing to write about. Carry a notebook— make note of those times. I do.”
Humorist David Sedaris
Masterclass, “Observing the World”

While I lived in Iowa I got to know former Saturday Night Live writer/cast member Gary Kroegerwho lives there now, and he said that comedian Rodney Dangerfield once told him that three funny things happen to everyone every day, he just writes them down.

Do the Dangerfield math there. If you write down 3 funny things every day for a year (365 days) you’ll have 1,095 funny bits. Even if only 10% have staying power you’ll have over 100 bits to develop further.

And if you want to see how a comedian crafts together five-minutes of original comedy material then check out the documentary Comedian (2002) with Jerry Seinfeld.

Scott W. Smith 

 

 

 

 

 

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“I know for myself, it’s important to write every single day. I meet a lot of young writers and I say do you write everyday, and they say, no, 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 never would have worked for me. So much happens 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. That means not going to the party. It means people are really going to think you’re a drag. . . . I’ve meet so many people who say I really want to write, but I work all day. So did I. You work all day and then you come home and write. If it means that much to you, you’re going to find the time to do it.”
Writer/speaker David Sedaris
Masterclass (Lesson 3), Turning Observations Into Stories

David Sedaris graduated from college in 1987 and worked various odd jobs (including cleaning houses) and wrote a lot until eventually Ira Glass called him one day asking him to read Santaland Diaries (an essay Sedaris wrote about being one of Santa’s helpers at Macy’s). Sedaris was 35-years-old when it aired on December 23 , 1992 on NPR’s Morning Edition.  That lead to an ongoing gig with This American Life, and eventually his books being published and paid speaking engagements.

Interesting things don’t happen “out there,” they happen right where you are in your day job. (All the better if it’s an odd, odd job—like being an elf.) Your job is to make observations with your special writer glasses and write them down in your diary. At least, that worked for Sedaris.

Related links:
David Sedaris, Ira Glass and 25 Years of “Santaland Diaries”

Scott W. Smith 

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“I also think you can learn to be a good writer. Like I was a bad writer, actively bad, and I willed myself to get better. I really tried to learn what are the building blocks of a good story. And I think often people who aren’t naturally good writers, you’re just intimidated because you feel like you have to be touched by an angel to be a good writer, but you just have to have taste on what’s interesting.”
Ira Glass

Ira Glass got a little heat recently after seeing the play King Lear and tweeting, “I think I’m realizing: Shakespeare sucks.” As others pointed out, including The New Yorker, Glass later backed down saying, “That was kind of an off-the-cuff thing to say that in the cold light of day, I’m not sure I can defend at all.”

But the man’s welcomed to his opinion. The United States is still a free country. It seems the more we talk about tolerance, the more intolerant we’re becoming. (Another way of saying it is, “we’re tolerant of everyone—as long as they think like us.”) Of course, it’s fair game for people to critique his critique, but at times the internet seems to be a giant funnel to make the smallest tweet an Middle eastern-size crisis.

While Shakespeare is more well-known than Glass (as more than one person online pointed out in their critique of Glass’s tweet) Glass’s work stand on its own. For more than 30 years he’s been writing for NPR and is most known as the producer and host for the radio program This American Life, which last year broadcast its 500th show. In 2009 he won the Edward R. Murrow award for outstanding contribution in public radio.

Shakespeare may have created some of best drama in history, but he never worked in radio, had a the top-rated  iTunes podcast or spoke at Google headquarters like Glass has accomplished . Granted those options weren’t around 400 years ago, but I’d like to think the stage is big enough for both storytellers.

“There is a thing in writing that I feel I had to learn on my own that I’m surprised isn’t taught in school, and that is people don’t teach story structure properly in school. I think that when we’re all taught how to write, like we’re taught topic sentences—we’re taught the way that you would write an essay with topic sentences at the top of the paragraph, and then you fill out the paragraphs, and that basically was learning to write in school. But in fact, there’s a structure of telling a story that’s more effective than that, that I feel I had to learn by reading and by trial and error and whatever, which is much more anecdote based. So for example, the stories on our show the structure of them is really built around plot and ideas.  And it’s a very traditional kind of story structure where you just want to think through the sequences of actions where one thing leads to the next, leads to the next, leads to the next. So really you want to break down wherever is going to happen into this happened, and then this happened, and then this happened.  And the advantage of having forward motion is that it inherently creates suspense because you wonder what’s going to happen next. And so you hold people’s attention because simply moving forward action, it’s like you create suspense and you can do it with the most banal story possible, or the most everyday story…It’s so much more mesmerizing than topic sentences, because you’re utilizing something that’s so primal in us because you can create suspense.”
Ira Glass Q&A at Google

P.S. Perhaps the best thing about Glass’s tweet is some people were asking, “Who’s Ira Glass?” Which if Glass was a marketing genius was a great move. As of a month ago This American Life left Public Radio International and is now independently distributed. Cara Buckley wrote in the NY Times,  “Mr. Glass will now be responsible for the show’s marketing and distribution, as well as for finding corporate sponsors. It’s the equivalent of Radiohead’s releasing its own album ‘In Rainbows,’ or Louis C. K.’s selling his own stand-up special — except all the time, for every show. It’s the kind of move that can signal radical changes in the public radio firmament, with National Public Radio and other distributors wondering who, if anyone, may follow suit, and whether Mr. Glass will return if he fails.”

P.P.S. Glass also gave a giant boost to the career of writer David Sedaris by having him read The Santaland Diaries story on NPR back in the ’90s when Sedaris was still working odd jobs to make ends meet. Sedaris told the story of working as an elf at Macy’s one Christmas and said after that broadcast, “The telephone started ringing and it wouldn’t stop.”

Update: Apparently Glass attended the play King Lear in NYC with writer/director Judd Apatow and commedian/actress Amy Schumer so he could have easily said one of the humorist hacked his Twitter account regarding his Shakespeare tweets.

Related post:

Ira Glass on Storytelling
What’s Next?
“All stories are emotionally based.”
Robert McKee vs. Richard Walter
Bedford Falls vs. Pottersville
Writing and House Cleaning (David Sedaris quote about one of his jobs)
Can Screenwriting Be Taught (2.0)
The Secret to Being a Successful Screenwriter (Seriously) This guy loves Shakespeare.

Scott W. Smith

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“Whatever your life’s work do it well.”
Martin Luther King Jr.

“The works of monks and priests, however holy and arduous they may be, do not differ one whit in the sight of God from the works of the rustic laborer in the field or the women going about her household task, but that all works are measured before God by faith alone.”
Martin Luther

Before David Sedaris became David Sedaris the best-selling author, humorist & storyteller extraordinaire David Sedaris, he was just a college drop out working various jobs including house cleaning. After he was discovered by Ira Glass doing a public reading of his diary he began to gather a following on NPR but still cleaned houses in the day to earn a living. In a radio interview in 1993 Terry Gross interviewed Sedaris asking him if it bothered him that he had to clean houses as his day job instead of devoting his full time to writing.

“I like to think that all work is pretty much equal. It doesn’t really matter what you do—it doesn’t bother me, the work. I like it. There’s a before and an after. I mean I like cleaning someone’s home if they’re really filthy, that’s my favorite. But some of the people I clean for it’s clean when I get there and there’s not really that much for me to do. So you don’t really feel like there is a before and an after. So I’d much rather go to a slobs house… because afterwards they look at it like you’ve done something they could never possibly do. Like you have retuned the engine to the car, like you have removed their kidney. Like you did something that required such skill, and it was a skill that you could ever master.”
David Sedaris
Fresh Air Writers Speak with Terry Gross

His first book was published in 1994 and over the years several books have followed and I think it’s been a while since he cleaned houses for a living. Perhaps one of the reasons that Sedaris embraced his various jobs was because it was not just a paycheck it was material. Material that went into his daily diary and that could one day find itself in one of his books. In 2004 he was nominated for Grammy Award for Best Spoken word for Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. Cinemablend announced in May of 2010 that feature film writer/director Kyle Patrick Alvarez (Easier with Practice) had optioned one of the stories from Sedaris’ book Naked.

Scott W. Smith

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