Writing Tip

My Worst Writing Bad Habits: Using Find/Replace to Scrub the First Draft

The first draft is finished. Great! Um… now what?

I am often asked about my “writing process” and the more I write the more procedural it becomes – it is the engineer in me.

Getting the first draft on paper/electrons is a monumental task. And if nanowrimo and write sprints have taught me anything, it’s that snails could crawl over the keyboard faster than I write. So when the words are flowing, the last thing I want to do is disrupt my train of thought by editing.  But when the words flow, my bad writing habits tend to sneak in. That’s OK, a first draft is just getting the story down so it can be molded.

But it needs molding.

So after completing a first draft, the next step in my personal writing process is a systematic scrub for my worst writing habits. I have a list of my issues and systematically go through the manuscript with “find and replace” to address them before diving into developmental edits and more complex issues.

In all of its glory, here is my list:

1. Minimize Filtering

These are words that unnecessarily filter the reader’s experience through the character’s point of view. they place the character between the author and the reader. Examples include:

  • To see
  • To hear
  • To think
  • I wondered
  • I read
  • I saw
  • I feared

For example, instead of saying “She felt fear as she heard another’s footsteps,” it is more compelling to write “Shivers ran up her spine with the unmistakable echo of approaching steps.”

I have a personal list of my most used filtering words and use find/replace to do perform manuscript surgery. However, no rule is absolute. Notice I said “minimize” and not “delete all.” Do what makes sense for your manuscript,  your voice, your story, and the particular use.

2. Check overuse of certain words

Every author has a list of safe words that they overuse or naturally rely on during writing. While drafting, I overuse the word “with” and for the sake of getting the story out, I often get lazy and my characters “smile” a lot. (Smile 🙂 )

By using the find feature, I can systematically go through each instant of my commonly overused words and determine if there is a more exciting alternative. This also provides variety to the voice.

Don’t know your over used words? Don’t fret! Try running your manuscript through a word cloud. Instructions here.

wordcloud ASAW

3. Check your common grammar errors

Despite a degree in journalism (and simply knowing better) I often confuse “it’s” and “its”. Needless to say, its it’s on my “must check” list and is easily fixed with find and replace.

4. Minimize the words “was”/”were” and passive voice

During editing I find I can often replace “was/were” with more interesting verbs and finding these two words is also quick way to start targeting passive voice.

Active voice is generally more interesting, but passive voice does have its uses. Here’s a fantastic article which describes when passive voice can be the right choice.

5. Minimize adverbs

It is generally agreed that adverbs weaken writing and most authors have heard Stephen King’s quote: “The road to hell is paved with adverbs.”

One problem with adverbs is they are subjective and most often can be replaced by a more accurate phrase that provides an image of greater depth.

The good news: most adverbs can easily be spotted by searching for the word “very” and the characters “ly ” (note I recommend adding a space in the search after the ly).

Example: Instead of “She left quickly” consider “She sprinted” or “She sped like a criminal” or “She hurried.”

Of course, not all adverbs are bad and there are good use cases for them. Read more at this fantastic blog post about adverbs by Henneke.

The rest of my bad habits are not easily identified with find and replace but the above list provides a good start for editing.

What is on your personal bad habit list? Please share your editing tips in the comments!




Apricots and Wolfsbane

2018 B2BCYCON!

Welcome to my 2018 Brains To Books Convention Post! I am exciting to be highlighting my historical thriller, Apricots and Wolfsbane, which follows the career of a female poison assassin in Tudor England.

B2BCyCon runs April 6-8. Readers can participate in the convention by: 

And thank you to all who voted in the cover wars! Apricots and Wolfsbane won both the historical fiction and thriller cover wars!

B2BCyCon Explaination

Synopsis of Apricots and Wolfsbane

front cover

Lavinia Maud craves the moment the last wisps of life leave her victim’s bodies, to behold the effects of her own poison creations. Her morbid desires are balanced with faith since she believes confession erases the sin of murder, though she could never justify her skill to the magistrate she loves.

At the start of the 16th century in Tudor England, Lavinia’s marks grow from tavern drunks to nobility, but rising prestige brings increased risk. When the magistrate suspects her ruse, he pressures the priest into breaking her confessional seal, pitting Lavinia’s instincts as an assassin against the tenets of love and faith. She balances revenge against her struggle to develop a tasteless poison and avoid the wrath of her ruthless patron.

With her ideals in conflict, Lavinia must decide which will satisfy her heart: love, faith, or murder, but the betrayals are just beginning.

Watch the Book Trailer

Read reviews from other readers and on Goodreads or read an excerpt below.

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My B2BCyCon Virtual Interview

1. Describe your main character in one or two sentences.

Facing with the choice between the convent or marriage, Lavinia Maud claims independence in Tudor England by employing poisons as an assassin. She balances her morbid career with faith believing confession erases her sin.

2. Which one word would you use to describe your antagonist? Now which word would your antagonist use to describe themselves?

My protagonist is an anti-hero which makes this question interesting.

Antagonist #1 is the magistrate she loves but who could never understand Lavinia’s murderous desires. He is honorable and would describe himself thusly.

Antagonist #2 is the Priest who refuses to hear her further confessions. He is conflicted but believes himself to be righteous.

Lavinia’s patrons serve as several more antagonists. They are vindictive but believe their actions are self-justified.

And then there are the antagonists that no one suspects.


3. What’s the worst thing your main character has done?

The reader would say murder but Lavinia begs to differ.

4. What is the one part of your book that you, as the author, like best?

I love how my book ends and no on e has yet told me they saw the ending coming. I love every time someone tells me it is original. The ending actually inspired the rest of the book. In order to not give spoilers, feel free to DM me on Twitter or contact me through my website and I’ll tell you more after you’ve read it 🙂

Excerpt from Apricots and Wolfsbane

The violent display of convulsions lasted longer than I anticipated.

With my boots propped on the table, I remember watching beads of wax roll down the candle, marking time between my victim’s spasms. The brothel room was sparse, and the bed in the corner remained undisturbed. I had assumed the role of temptress that evening, but delivered a different climax.

I savored the fear on my victim’s face as much as my own unlaced mead. The sweetness of both danced on my palate. His repulsive gagging, however, I endured with patience.

My target focused upon me. His hand shook, reaching out in a misplaced plea for aid. Instead, I raised my goblet in a final toast while he turned purple. He glanced towards his spilled glass, and then studied my face with new understanding. With his last remnants of life, he pieced together what I had done. Those little moments made the act so delicious. And as his body collapsed upon the floor, I added one more success to my mental tally.

Murder just never got old.

The scratching of my chair sliding across the uneven floor broke the sudden, serene silence of the room. Driven by curiosity, my boots echoed with each step towards my victim.

The man’s eyes contained a lingering remnant of vibrancy despite the departure of the soul they once served. White froth percolated from his open mouth, overflowing the orifice to trail down his neck. It was not an honorable death, but my client had paid for certainty, not dignity.

Curious, I examined the large ruby on the victim’s pointer finger which matched the client’s description — an ornate setting with a coat of arms on one side of the gem and a mare’s head on the opposite. The worked piece of silver did not seem important enough to procure my service, but as a professional, I had not asked for justification, only payment. Material significance so often motivated patrons to fill my coffers. I recognized the inherent sin, but I never judged a client’s reason. I was not qualified to cast the first stone.

I did admire my victim. After all, he was a fellow criminal. I believed his talents as a thief must have been remarkable to pilfer the ring unnoticed from the finger of its owner. I often boasted of my own sleight of hand, but admittedly, I could not accomplish such a feat. Though in my defense, assassin clearly trumped thief.

After donning the black leather gloves concealed within the lacings of my bodice, I returned to business. I pushed the tipped chair out of the way and pulled on the ring, but my motion abruptly halted.

Caught at the knuckle, the gem did not budge.

I stared at his limp hand, dumbfounded, before a flame of focus burst through my body. How I craved and savored that rush. That high, and the feeling of power, motivated my ghastly craft all those years. Despite the stress, I never lost control of my emotions on the job. No matter the circumstance, I learned to remain calm and reason through any dilemma. That night was no different.

Grabbing the corpse’s wrist in one hand, I pulled on the metal band with all my strength. Still, the damn ring did not move, even with my heel braced against his chest. But through the sound of my grunting, the unexpected scratching of a nearby rat interrupted my efforts.

The rodent stood tall on his hind legs, observing the entertainment outside his hole in the floorboard. What else could I do except laugh in amusement? There was something poetic about the meager creature being the singular witness to the growing farce, while beyond the chamber door, an entire brothel remained unaware.

But their ignorance would not last for long.

By God’s nails, I was not going to degrade myself to play tug of war with a corpse, nor disgrace my spit to serve as lubrication. I retrieved the dagger from my boot and sawed through the bone of the blasted digit. In contrast, his purse strings cut with ease and the contained sum gave me confidence the proprietor would retain his promised discretion. Eager to depart, I cleansed the ring with the pure decanter of mead and left the contaminated gloves on the table.

I threw the finger to the rat.

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Thank you to my genre leads, A.F. Stewart and Richard White for all of their support and time with B2BCyCon.


Cover Reveal: Abducted Hope

Abducted Hope

by Tracy Renee Wolfe

From Filles Vertes Publishing, LLC


Available March 30, 2018

Pre-order HERE!

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When lonely college student Melissa Field is abducted and swept into an out-of-this-world adventure, it’s nothing like she imagined. Her life collides with Orion’s aboard a space station where Melissa is the captive subject for Orion’s forced experiment to save his species.

Being the center of this life-changing study has its perks. Having researched humans as a longtime hobby, Orion allows Melissa the comforts of home; even if the pizza is cooked in a replicator. At least his touch is warm and real enough.

As they discover the corrupt intentions of those in charge, their only chance at joy and safety together exists away from the Phaeite leaders known as the Ruling Class. But escaping brings short-lived freedom when the Phaeites aren’t the only species intent on ruining their lives.

It will take more than reliable transportation and courage for Melissa to span a galaxy and save her new family. Being abducted by aliens was nothing compared to getting in the middle of an intergalactic war.

Meet the Author

Tracy Author PhotoTracy Renee Wolfe is an author, lover of books, Christian, wife, mom, animal lover, geek, and Hokie. She lives in her native state of Virginia with her husband and son. She loves all furry animals, including rats, and is known for stopping to pet any dog she encounters. As a self-professed geek, she loves science fiction and fantasy, and fervently defends her belief that Star Trek and Star Wars are not mutually exclusive fandoms. She considers herself to be an online extrovert and an offline introvert, leading to her love of social media. Additionally, she shares many interests with little kids, such as Disney movies, the opinion that no food can be “too sweet,” and cheesy poetry that rhymes. An example of the latter can be found in the poetry anthology, Our Virginia: The State For Lovers.

Connect with Tracy on Her Official Website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads

Full Jacket


After a few minutes, I adjusted to the noxious air. Maybe my subconscious accepted its fated death and allowed me to relax and accept the gas into my system. I physically relaxed and idiotically gave up my struggle under the strange circumstances.

“I’ve completely weaned you off oxygen,” he said. “You’re now breathing the same air I am. Now we just need to ease off the psychotropic. It’s similar to a drug you know as valium but stronger. It helps to lessen anxiety but also makes you more cooperative.”

“Ohhh,” I said with a musical lilt to my voice.

That’s why I’m so relaxed. But why on earth would I be breathing something other than oxygen?

The calming effect slipped away as he turned off the drugs. The panic slowly started to creep back in at first. Then it bombarded me, and everything went black.

At some point, I realized I was waking up again and tried to speak. But even breathing was like sandpaper rubbing my windpipes, aching as if I was inhaling fire. The thick air seemed to congeal in my system, almost like a solid instead of a gas.

Orion sat next to me on a stool, staring and holding my hand as if he were a friend trying to comfort me. “Shhhhhh,” he gently cooed. “Try not to speak. Give your body the chance to get used to this new feeling. You didn’t pass out; I gave you a sedative, so your body could just focus on breathing ryphahl instead of oxygen. Also, we were both in bloody desperate need of sleep. You slept for ten hours.”

I tried to speak but got shushed again. “I promise, I’ll answer all your questions later. Let me get you something to drink.” He placed my right arm back into the restraints as he left the room.

I didn’t have time to attempt a breakout as he returned quickly with a cup of water. He held it close to my mouth, and I took a big slurp through the straw but gagged and spewed the entire mouthful all over my lap.

“I should’ve warned you.” He gently wiped off my hospital gown with a towel. “This is similar to your water, but not quite the same. Plus, everything tastes different due to the change in atmosphere which affects your sense of taste and smell.”

He tossed the towel behind me and sat back down on the small stool. As he seemed to be composing his thoughts, I searched his face for the answers I needed. He noticed and, gazing toward the floor as if suddenly self-conscious, he straightened the surgical cap he wore.

“Okay, Melissa—is it okay that I call you by your name?”

I nodded, wondering how he knew.

“Learning to breathe was rough, but that’s not the only thing to get through. This next part will be uncomfortable, and I’m sorry.” He looked remorsefully at the ground again, but got right to work without waiting for any response.

Click HERE to check out the mini-trailer for ABDUCTED HOPE


Book Review

Book Review: In Defense of Innocense (Adult Thriller)

In Defense of Innocence_

I was lucky enough to get my hands on an ARC of this incredible debut thriller, In Defense of Innocence, which follows Janice Williams, the head of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police’s Child Sex Crimes Division.

Janice’s hunt for pedophiles is more than a job, it is her obsession. But limited by protocol and regulation, she is unable to keep up with a vigilante who vows to avenge children in ways Janice cannot. Now forced to protect those she has convicted, Janice’s resolve is further conflicted when it becomes clear the murderer has an inside connection.

The sensitive topic initially made me unsure about this book, but I loved every minute of this read and highly recommend the novel. The narriative keeps primary focus on Janice’s investigation and the unknown vigilante’s hunt, without treading into uncomfortable ground. It is a commentary about Candandian law and a fantastic turn on a thrilling man-hunt.

Beautifully written, In Defense of Innocence is a wild ride with multiple climaxes that keeps the pages turning. A masterful use of changing narration point-of-view furthers the storytelling and challenges the reader’s allegiance.

Who will you root for, those who enforce the law or the one who accomplishes what the law cannot? 

Dave WIn Defense of Innocence is a debut novel from Dave Wickenden. Wickenden says he is an individual who is grabs life by the reigns and doesn’t let go – and his bio backs up the claim. He spent time in the Canadian Armed Forces before the Fire Service, so is as comfortable with a rocket launcher as a fire hose. He has brought six people back from the dead utilizing CPR and a defibrillator and has assisted in rescuing people in crisis. He has learnt to lead men and women in extreme environments. He loves to cook, read and draw. Wickenden ran his own home based custom art business creating highly detailed wood and paper burnings called pyrography. One of his pictures of form Prime Minister Jean Chretien graces the walls of Rideau Hall in Ottawa.

At home in Canada, Wickenden and his wife Gina are parents to three boys and three grandsons. His two youngest boys are busy with minor hockey and fishing, so you can guess where you’ll find Wickenden when he’s not writing.

After 31 years in the fire Service and attaining the rank of Deputy Fire Chief, Wickenden retired to write thriller novels full time. He has been a member of the Sudbury Writer’s Guild since 2014.

In Defense of Innocence releases April 16, 2018 but you can pre-order it now. Wickenden’s second book, Homegrown, will be out in the summer of 2018. Both novels are published by Crave Press

Find In Defense of Innocence at:

Writing Tip

Surviving the Fair Chaos: Tips and a Checklist for Selling Your Books

Planning for a book fair, comic con, or any book sales event is a lot of work which distracts from precious writing time! To simplify the task, here’s my checklist for events.

1. Books!
This should be a given, but you will need your book to sell. The difficult question is: how many? If you’re traditionally published, then you’ll have to buy them from your publisher and it becomes a math/risk game – buy too many and you won’t make a profit, have to few and you’ll miss out on sales. Unfortunately I haven’t found a magic formula for this dilemma and from talking to local authors, it seems it’s hard to predict turnout at events you have not been to before. I would recommend having 5-6 copies of each title/hour of the event.

Of course, you can sell other things besides books. I’ve seen authors also sell journals, and cards, etc.

2. A Sales Price and Sign.
You’ve got books, but how much should you charge? I recommend charging as close to retail price as possible, but with some discount. Also consider the ease of making change (it’s easier to charge $15 then $16 and then have a lot of $5 bills on hand to make change). Think about the psychological affect of the price ($9 sounds better than $10 simply because it’s a single digit). Also decide if you’ll give a discount if someone buys more than one book.

Whatever you decide, you’ll need some sort of sign to display the price. I also put a quick summary of my book with reviews on the sign in a frame.

3. Cash to make change and a good bag/box to keep your money safe.
Bring more than you think you need. You don’t want to lose a sale because you can’t break someone’s $20.

4. A credit card reader.
I was unsure if this was required but several authors assured me it was worth the effort and I have to agree: I would lose a lot of sales if I didn’t take credit card.

I use Square. They will send you a free device reader and the app is free and easy to use. If you sign up with this referral link, you’ll get your first $1000 or 6 months fee free (afterwards it’s 2.5%+10 cents per swipe.) I’ll get a perk too I greatly appreciate! (Thank you in advance.) You’ll also have to decide if you want to charge more for a credit card payment than cash.


5. Sales Tax Permit.
(U.S. information below. If you’re in another country, you’re on your own…)

If you’re like me, this item is more daunting than writing item #1 above. Tax laws vary significantly from state to state. Depending upon where you live,  you may not have to pay sales tax if you do not sell more than a certain amount of sales in a year. If you live in Texas, like me, you have to pay no matter what. Some venues will want to see your sales tax permit before you start selling. I have to file quarterly with the State of Texas – even if I didn’t sell something that quarter. What a pain!

Regardless of what state you live in, you need to know the NAICS (North American Industry Classification System) code for the product you’re selling. NAICS is the standard used by Federal statistical agencies in classifying business establishments for the purpose of collecting, analyzing, and publishing statistical data related to the U.S. business economy. Interestingly enough, it is managed by the Census Bureau. To save you an hour on the phone, the NAICS number to sell physical books is: “454390 Other Direct Selling Establishments.” (Totally obvious, right?)

I wish I had better tips for you on this topic, but you’ll have to spend time digging into your state laws and applying for a permit if required.

6. An Ice Breaker.
You’ve got a product, you’re set up to sell, now you need customers!

Think of an ice breaker to draw potential readers to your booth; something age and genre appropriate. Nothing is a bigger turnoff than an obvious sales pitch as the first words from a seller’s mouth.

Since Apricots and Wolfsbane is about a poison assassin, I ask people as they pass if they want to try some poison trivia. It’s a great way to see if they might be interested in the topic of my book. I give them a trivia question that’s not too hard because people get so excited when they get it right! Then I launch into my book pitch and hand them a book to look it.

I’ve see other authors comment on something someone is wearing, ask people what type of books they like to read, ask if they’ve visited a specific destination, etc.

7. Decorations for Your Booth.
Along with an ice breaker, the physical set up of your booth can attract readers. Decorate it with appropriate items of interest. (I use battery powered candles and a mortar and pestle). Use table cloths to cover the bare table. Use a cake stand or some other item to add vertical height for appeal and pick up a small stand to hold up the book.


8. A Big Cover or Banner
A blown up version of the book cover can help attract readers from a distance. I love my book’s cover and had it printed on foam board. I’ve had several people come over from across a room to look at the foam board and then comment they also love the cover.

At least at the time of my research, Vista Print was the cheapest vendor to print on foam board (you can save some money if you print to a standard size) and I picked up a cheap, collapsible easel from Amazon.


9. Consider Your Appearance.
No matter what you wear, look professional and approachable. Since I write Tudor English historical fiction, I wear my Renn Fair Garb and it does attract people to my booth – it also serves as a nice ice breaker 🙂

This is not the time to wear those high heels. Pick a comfortable shoe so you can be out in front of your booth selling. Prepare for a lot of standing!

10. Promotional Material
You’ve got a potential reader at your booth – Great! Make sure they at least leave with something to remember you with: a bookmark, a business card or some freebie. Just because they don’t buy your book there, doesn’t mean they won’t grab the kindle later!

11. Sweat The Small Stuff.
When in doubt, pack it! Bring:

  • Lots of good pens to sign books
  • Rubber bands
  • Extension cords/battery back for that cell phone which is taking credit cards
  • Masking tape
  • Post-It Notes – Write the reader’s name on a scrap piece of paper before you write it in a book. It’d be awful to have to waste a book because you spelled their name wrong!
  • Plastic bags in case a buyer asks for one
  • Snacks! You need to keep your energy up, but try to refrain from eating at the booth.
  • Water – You will do a lot of talking!

12. Do You Need A Friend?
Having a helper can be great. They can take sales while you talk to others. If you’re participating in a panel (or just need to run to the restroom), a friend can watch your booth as well.

13. Wheels.
You have a lot to carry and books are heavy! Bring a wagon, a dolly, or something to help you transport everything from the car. I pack things in a large rolling suitcase.

14. A Smile.
Yep, it’s cliche but no matter what, have fun and be polite.

What is missing from my list? If you have a great tip to share, please leave it in the comments!