During his biannual multicity lecture tours, Sedaris says he routinely notices imperfections in the text simply through the act of reading aloud to other people.
“I used to hate it when a book came out or a story was published and I would be like ‘damn, how did I not catch that?’ ” he says. “But you pretty much always catch it when you’re reading out loud.”
He circles accidental rhymes or closely repeated words, or words that sound alike—like night and nightlife—in the same sentence, rewriting after each reading and trying out revisions during the next stop on his tour.
Taking the collective temperature of an actual room helps Sedaris gauge how well a joke is working or if a story has gone on too long or has a satisfying ending. “There is no substitute for a live audience,” he says.
When he looks back on books like Naked (1997), which he wrote before he began reading his work on the road several weeks a year, Sedaris says his reaction tends to be: “ ‘Oh my God, what was I thinking?’ I wish I could go back in time and work those in front of an audience.”
Had he done so, he says, many of the stories would have been shorter. “Also, on the page it seems like I’m trying too hard, and that’s one of the things I can usually catch when I’m reading out loud,” he says. “ ‘Oh, that sounds a little too obvious,’ or, ‘that sounds like somebody who’s just straining for a laugh.’ ”