David Sedaris Teaches Storytelling & Humor His New Masterclass

For more than 25 years, the hol­i­day sea­son has brought to the radio not just Christ­mas car­ols but a diaris­tic mono­logue by a writer with, in every sense, a dis­tinc­tive voice. When it first aired on Morn­ing Edi­tion, “San­ta­land Diaries” made David Sedaris’ name, not that he holds the piece in esteem as high as some of his fans do. “Peo­ple will say, ‘Oh, I loved that San­ta­land thing,’ ” Sedaris said in a recent inter­view, but “that thing is so clunki­ly writ­ten. I mean, it’s just hor­ri­bly writ­ten, and peo­ple can’t even see it.” Most are “lis­ten­ing to the sto­ry, but they’re not pay­ing atten­tion to how it’s con­struct­ed, or they’re not pay­ing atten­tion to the words that you used. They’re not hear­ing the craft of it.” Sedaris fans who do hear the craft of it may well be in the tar­get audi­ence for a new Mas­ter­class taught by the man him­self.

Here on Open Cul­ture we’ve pre­vi­ous­ly fea­tured Mas­ter­class­es by writ­ers as intel­lec­tu­al­ly and styl­is­ti­cal­ly var­i­ous as Joyce Car­ol Oates, Mal­colm Glad­well, Mar­garet Atwood, and Dan Brown. But we’ve nev­er con­duct­ed inves­ti­ga­tions into any of their writ­ing process­es in the same way we have into Sedaris’ writ­ing process, his own view of which con­sti­tutes the core of his Mas­ter­class’ con­tent. “If you write about peo­ple, you have to be inter­est­ed in peo­ple,” he says in the trail­er above. For him that means ask­ing unex­pect­ed ques­tions, like “Do your chil­dren show­er?” or “Who’s the drunk­est cus­tomer you’ve had today?” It also means keep­ing a diary in which to record the answers, and with which, even more impor­tant­ly, to main­tain a dai­ly writ­ing habit.

Even now, with a full sched­ule of read­ings to give around the world, Sedaris writes every day with­out fail. But he also did it for fif­teen years before “The San­ta­land Diaries” brought him the atten­tion that got his first book pub­lished. “I meet a lot of young writ­ers and I say, ‘Do you write every day?’ ” he men­tions in one les­son. “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.” But it cer­tain­ly would­n’t work for him, nor would doing few­er than his cus­tom­ary twelve to eigh­teen rewrites of each piece. In oth­er lessons he cov­ers such aspects of the craft as “observ­ing the world,” “con­nect­ing with the read­er,” “end­ing with weight,” and “writ­ing about loved ones.”

For that last les­son Sedaris brings in a spe­cial guest: his sis­ter Lisa, there to talk about what it feels like to be writ­ten about by her famous­ly obser­vant broth­er. That will come as a spe­cial treat for any­one who rec­og­nizes her from all her appear­ances in Sedaris’ fam­i­ly sto­ries, but each les­son seems to play to Sedaris’ strengths as a writer as well as a per­former: he gives read­ings of diary entries and pub­lished pieces, but also gives his stu­dents advice on how to han­dle read­ings of their own in the future. Sedaris makes no promis­es that the course will bestow upon all who take it a world­view as dis­tinc­tive as his, to say noth­ing of a fan base as lucra­tive as his, but it will sure­ly make them bet­ter at “hear­ing the craft of it,” a skill as wor­thy of cul­ti­va­tion as it is rare. You can sign up for Sedaris’ course here.

You can take this class by sign­ing up for a Mas­ter­Class’ All Access Pass. The All Access Pass will give you instant access to this course and 85 oth­ers for a 12-month peri­od.

Note: If you sign up for a Mas­ter­Class course by click­ing on the affil­i­ate links in this post, Open Cul­ture will receive a small fee that helps sup­port our oper­a­tion.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

20 Free Essays & Sto­ries by David Sedaris: A Sam­pling of His Inim­itable Humor

David Sedaris Breaks Down His Writ­ing Process: Keep a Diary, Car­ry a Note­book, Read Out Loud, Aban­don Hope

Why David Sedaris Hates America’s Favorite Word, “Awe­some”

David Sedaris Cre­ates a List of His 10 Favorite Jazz Tracks: Stream Them Online

Steve Mar­tin Teach­es His First Online Course on Com­e­dy

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities and cul­ture. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, the video series The City in Cin­e­maand the crowd­fund­ed jour­nal­ism project Where Is the City of the Future? Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.
  • Vicki Adams says:

    This sounds so very inter­est­ing to me. More so than most things I’ve run across in a very long time. I adore David’s writ­ings and can relate to the things he says as well as how they’re writ­ten. I’m a 65 year old woman who’s led a full, rich won­der­ful life filled with my own often off best cast of char­ac­ters. I’m not exact­ly what you want here, how­ev­er, I’ve always want­ed to write. Mr Sedaris is tru­ly inspi­ra­tional to me

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.