Six months ago we bought tickets to a David Sedaris reading and then promptly forgot about them. Which, actually, kind of nice! When the evening came around, it was a surprise. Even BIGGER surprise? Since I’d purchased the tickets pre-sale, we were in the SECOND ROW! We’ve never been in the second row for anything before! That’s, like, where the fancy people sit! SO CLOSE TO FAME!
Did you know that when you’re in the second row you can actually see the speaker? Somewhat of a novel concept. We were close enough to see every fidget, every nose blow, every grin. This closeness brought an unexpected joy: my favorite part of the night was watching David Sedaris’ facial expressions as he read. When a joke landed well, you could see him trying to hide a self-satisfied smirk as the audience gasped with laughter. When he read a sentence he particularly liked, you could see it on his face. It was so charming — so refreshing. This author, who has been writing professionally for some twenty odd years, still gets so much joy from his craft.
One thing Sedaris is somewhat infamous for is reading unpublished work — and then consequently making notes on that work, based on the audience’s reaction. Several times throughout the night, Sedaris took the goldenrod mechanical pencil out of his pink dress-shirt pocket and jotted something down on the papers in front of him. He’d make notes when a joke didn’t land quite right, when it landed exceptionally well, or most often when he stumbled ever-so-slightly over a phrase. “This needs work,” you could almost hear him think.
This made me think of a subject I often ponder — the point at which creative folk let the outside world in on their work. It seems pretty clear that when Sedaris reads an unpublished piece to an audience, it’s still pretty well buttoned-up — no gaping holes, no horribly awkward sentences. But at what point does he first show family, friends? Austin Kleon has an upcoming book on the subject, Show Your Work, a book which encourages artists and other creative types to share their works-in-progress. We writers are so often taught to work with the door closed — and I think there’s merit in that. But there’s also merit in opening the conversation, seeing how the audience reacts. It helps you hone your work — it helps you write a better story.
In response to an audience question, Sedaris ended the evening with advice to high school students enrolled in creative writing courses:
Now’s your chance to be a really bad writer.
Truer words, never spoken. We all have to get through the bad writing before we can get to the good.