Tips from David Sedaris on How to Improve Your Writing

April 22, 2013

david_sedarisIn a Fast Company article from last week, best-selling author and award-winning humorist, David Sedaris, shared takeaways on the benefits of testing out your prose by reading them aloud. In fact, Sedaris swears by performing his work in front of a live audience before he even shares the written version with his editors.

Below are some of the top reasons Sedaris believes in the merits of performing your writing before publishing it to achieve the best results:

  1. It helps expose mistakes. It’s sometimes easy to glaze over more nuanced things that may not even be downright incorrect, but rather an audible repetition or an unintentional rhyme that can be easily avoided. Reading a piece aloud will quickly reveal these subtle faux pas and provide the opportunity for stylistic improvements.
  2. Live Crowdsourcing reveals others’ receptivity to the work. Particularly in comedic pieces, it is important to test jokes and the breadth of stories on a wide variety of people to gauge how well they resonate. Doing so can expose whether a joke falls flat or a piece drags on too long much more overtly than trying to prospect for peoples’ reactions.
  3. Earn your laughs. While Sedaris’s work tends to be overtly funny, this is valid advice for any genre of written work. When presenting a piece, you have the aid of intonation, hand gestures and intentional pauses to milk the writing for all it’s worth. It’s important to be wary that the written page does not afford such expressive aids and that an ellipses or a !?!?! at the end of a sentence does not translate in the same way.
  4. The first time is not always the charm. It is very rare that a rough draft closely mirrors a final draft. More often than not, you need to rework several aspects and review different iterations of a given piece before it is polished. Sedaris says that he typically rewrites something eight times before testing it in front of an audience and tweaks it as many as 40 times before it is published. Moreover, he claims that reading it aloud accounts for approximately 20% of the changes he makes to the text.
  5. Make “The End” explicit not implicit. Whether it be a blog post or a novel, sometimes finding an appropriate way to draw to a close is the hardest task of a writer. However, the ending is also what the reader and audience is left with, so don’t let it be an afterthought. The ending should effectively tie everything together and leave the reader with something to contemplate so Sedaris cautions, if you need to slow down your delivery of the last sentence or say “the end,” you haven’t effectively concluded your piece.

I hope you find these tips from the expert helpful in honing your writing skills.

(Please note that in order to perfect this blog post, it has been read aloud, re-drafted numerous times and crowd-sourced. THE END.)

Photo credit: misterdiplomat.wordpress.com

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