The Power (and Brilliance) of Observation

Last night, we went to see David Sedaris. Every now and then, he’s almost too much, even for me. Mostly, though, he’s completely and utterly hilarious. Either way, he is perhaps the most brilliant master of observation I’ve ever read. Whether talking about the vagaries of mental illness or extolling the virtues of his Japanese culottes, Sedaris has a way of capturing both the minutia and universality of life experiences. And, damn, but that man can turn a phrase.

I can’t help but think of my own writing when I read (or listen to) something really good, David Sedaris good. I like to think I’m skilled with detail, that I string together a nice sentence. But sometimes I feel anything but skilled. Sometimes writing is slogging, flinging words onto a page to get through a scene that needs to happen. The hope of course is that, when it’s the latter, the revision gods will smile on you and the whole thing will get better, tighter, and more compelling.

Really, though, the hope isn’t good enough. Whether it takes five drafts–or fifteen, or fifty–good writers aren’t satisfied until the words work. And I don’t mean work as in fit together coherently. I mean WORK. Every paragraph needs to move the story forward, make the characters more real, make the reader laugh, make the reader think. (Fortunately every paragraph doesn’t need to do all of those things simultaneously.)

As I finish up the first draft of Crescent City Confidential, I’ve found myself doing a lot of flinging words onto the page. I’ve been whining a lot, too, about said flinging. I’ve made peace with the fact that this is part of the process. But I remind myself never to lose sight of the fact that it isn’t good enough. Sure, it’s a start. Good writing, though, is a lot more. I’ve sort of always known this, but it’s good to be reminded. Especially now that people put up time and money to read what I write. Not to take myself to seriously or anything, but it’s different than when I wrote for myself or friends or some writing class.

I’ve got a couple more weeks of slogging and then I get to dive into revisions. It’s daunting, but an exciting part of the process. Almost as satisfying as seeing that word count go up during the initial writing. And while I don’t think I’ll ever reach the level of David Sedaris, I can try to channel him now and again. Eavesdropping, taking better notes, reworking a page a dozen times. I wonder if Andie will buy me a pair of culottes…

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