Five Lessons in Writing from David Sedaris

Madhvi Ramani
8 min readSep 21, 2020

Lessons from David Sedaris’s Masterclass on storytelling and humor, and the essay it produced.

David Sedaris, photo by Jane Sharpe, courtesy of Masterclass

I love David Sedaris. He’s so catty, self-deprecating and honest that I could listen to him all day. In fact, I do listen to everything he produces on Audible, where he reads his own work.

Theft by Finding, the 40-years of diaries he published in 2017, provide one of the most useful insights into what it means to be a writer. You can see how Sedaris constantly engages in the world, observes it, and most importantly records his thoughts and experiences in text. It’s also comforting to follow his journey as a writer; The New Yorker writer who has sold over 12 million books in print, only graduated from art school after the age of thirty. And even when he was being reviewed by big publications, he was still taking on cleaning and odd jobs. The path is seldom straight or easy, and Sedaris shows how everything in life can be used in writing.

You’re so privileged to be a writer. Normal people, something bad happens to them, and there’s nothing they can do with it except feel bad, or complain, or press charges — David Sedaris

With that in mind, here are some great lessons from from David Sedaris’s Masterclass on storytelling and humor.

  1. Use yourself and your life

    Sedaris shows us that everyday life is full of all sorts of things that are worthy of writing about. All you have to do is take a step back, and examine it. He quotes people, exaggerates, and most of all scrutinises and insults himself. In this sense, he echoes Steve Martin’s advice that I mentioned in my last blog post on creating comedy, which is to be introspective of yourself. Examine your behaviours, attitudes, thoughts and reactions with honesty.

Everything’s funny eventually — David Sedaris

2. Ask better questions

You can get a lot of material just by talking to people, but when you talk to them, ask them interesting questions, like Do you know many people in wheelchairs? Do you know many doctors? When was the last time you smelled a monkey?

If it’s a question you’ve heard in a hotel or a store, forget about it — David Sedaris