Hi guys, I'm Una LaMarche. I'm a Wesleyan alumn, 2002, and I'm also a writer. I'm actually reading what I'm saying right now off of a document that I wrote in advance, because I'm better at articulating my points and sticking to what I'm trying to say when it's on paper. So, forgive me. Anyway, I've written four novels for young adults and one comic memoir essay collection and I also freelance for the New York Times and the Huffington Post and various other websites and newspapers and magazines. So first of all I want to congratulate you on taking this class and getting to the point where you are, which as I understand it, is kind of close to the end. You have a creative project that you're getting ready to polish and turn in, and I just want to say first of all as a disclaimer that nothing you write will ever feel completely finished. And that's normal. So your job is to just get it to the best place that you can possibly get it and then release it into the world and then go do something nice for yourself. I'm here to give you advice. I think, though, that no one piece of writing advice is going to work for everyone, so I also by way of disclaimer, want to say that some things that I say might resonate for you, some won't, and that's also okay. Part of our jobs of figuring out how we write is to figure out how we work best, what we need, what applies to us, what doesn't apply to us and that's a long process. So you're just starting out and so feel free to take what works for you and dismiss what doesn't. So, yes every writer works very differently. I am pretty type A. I've met some writers who will write the ends of their books first, which I think is crazy, or write them totally out of order or write all the dialogue and then fill in the rest. That does not work for me. I am an outline girl. I like to lay out a blueprint, sort of a trail of bread crumbs for myself before I start. I find I'm very chipper and confident before I start writing a novel. So to figure out all of the things that I want to say, all the plot plans, how the story's going to unfold really helps, because then once I'm really in it, I have that lifeline to come back to.. Because as you guys probably know, once you're actively working on a piece of creative writing, it's really hard to get perspective on it. In fact, one of the things that you may be asking yourself, I know that I ask myself about almost everything that I write is, is this terrible? Is this still worst thing that a human being has ever produced? Probably not, [LAUGH] but you're always going to have that of doubt, and probably many moments where you just think my gosh, do I need to set my computer on fire, just walk away slowly like I'm in action movie and never come back to this? You should definitely not set your computer on fire, I do recommend that. That question of is this working, when you come up against any kind of block, whether it's a plot point, or character development, or just getting the words out can be such a struggle. My advice is to actually step away. There are a lot of writers who will say you have to just sit down, be at computer for eight hours a day, do the work, and I think that there's a lot to be said for discipline like that, but you need breaks. Your brain needs breaks. I truly believe that when you're stressed out about something that you're trying to fix in a piece of writing, that tension can create a barrier to creative breakthrough. So what I do and what I counsel you to do, is take time away, as much time as your schedule allows. I think it's always good to have maybe like a day in between coming back to it, so that you can really kind of reset. But if you're on a much more tight dead line even just a few hours, 15 minutes can help. I think that when you do take time away and when you come back to something, you will know if it's working or not. It might take more than one time coming back to it, but things that are just not meant to be part of your work or that are not working at their core will reveal themselves to you. That moment of clarity may come when you're in midst of writing, it may come when you're taking a break and your brain is free to think about other things and it just comes to you. But trust your instincts. If there's some part of your piece that just doesn't feel right, that doesn't feel like it's fitting in with the rest or if there's a character that just doesn't feel right or a plot point that feels too forced. Listen to that instinct, because it's probably right. Kill your darlings is something that a lot of writers like to say, and what that means is that you need to get out of your own and cut out things that you love, but that are not going to serve the whole, things that are too precious or self indulgent. Things that you think are great but are actually weaknesses. But in addition to killing your darlings, which I'll get to in a second, I think that seeing pieces that are already dead for what they are is also very important. Let's talk about killing your darlings. That's a tough thing, because all of us have our own styles and things that we like to do that, actually, don't serve the work. For me, it's overwriting. I like to write long, long sentences with parentheses and asides and ellipses and dashes and I just write and write and write. And I feel like the more words that I stuff into a sentence, the better it'll be. When actually, I believe that the opposite is true. I think that no matter what you're trying to say, whether you're trying to be funny or poignant, actually diluting what you're trying to express down to a more simple form is always going to be more powerful. So that's what I struggle with. But you might struggle with something different. And I think that learning to edit yourself, learning to see what your traits are that are not serving the greater work is really hard but very important. And luckily, you don't have to do it alone. I mean this is where feedback really comes into play, things that you will hear from teachers or mentors or other writers when you show them your work. They can help you see the things about yourself that are not elevating what you're trying to say. So be able to go through your piece at this stage. When I get to kind of final draft, going through and cutting out the dead wood and trying to look at it with a critical eye and find the things that you're doing, your idiosyncracies, your overwriting, whatever it might be for you that needs to come out. Those are the two things that I look for the most. I try to take outwards as opposed to adding them if possible. I think most writing, even people who don't overwrite, could usually use just the excising. I should know that word right? I'm a writer, don't listen to that part. Actually, my computer went to sleep so I don't have my blueprint anymore. So I'm just off the cuff. Good luck to all of us. But anyway, so taking out words I think is important, and then when you're looking at the overall voice and characters, what you really want to be doing is making sure that they are full realized. That they're layered, that they're three dimensional and I know that that's a very big thing and hard to do. But I would say just go through and make sure that they sound different, that they don't all talk the same. That they're not just banging out one note over and over again. That you've really given them things to do. And that doesn't always mean adding in scenes or adding in dialog. It just means looking at the work with a critical eye and trying to put the most punch into the least amount of bloat possible. One trick that I have for figuring out dialog or seeing when it's not really flowing is talk out loud to myself like a crazy person, which is actually what I'm doing now, even though ostensibly I'm talking to you. So talking through things, just saying dialogue back and forth to yourself. Talking through a scene to make sure that you sort of know where it's going and where it's going and where it needs to go. If you do this outside or in public, I highly recommend that you pretend that you're on a phone call. Took me a very long time to realize that. So I know I'm running over. As I overwrite, I overspeak. But so I would say go through, try to take out words, try to add in layers, know that it's never going to be perfect and that's okay. I wish you the best of luck. I can't wait to read your writing in the future. And if you want to email me any more questions if I didn't address something that you're specifically struggling with, you can find my email on my website which is unalamarche.com. And I also have a couple of articles there where I've written some of these tips or things that I've used to get through the final stages of writing, which you can find on the website. So thanks so much, good luck.