Editing Tips For First Drafts

Hello fellow writers, re-writers and readers

Just a quick note to let you know I’ve finished my first draft of the manuscript

IN The Woods“In The Woods”

I’m very excited about the story line, it’s different from my last books and I really like the protagonist, Samantha Tremblay. She’s a Vermont Forest Ranger who’s involved with solving a murder after she stumbles across the first dead body in the woods. Samantha has her own quest as well, finding her Native American roots. I hope to represent that group of people as best I can. We all want to know who we are, where we come from, but for Native Americans, it’s often a difficult path.

I still have to edit some more, but I think a break is needed just to forget about the work for a week, so then I can begin again with fresh eyes. This is an editing practice—to step away and let the brain rest, and it works!

My Process to write first draft:

  • I write the draft using Scrivener to help me make a cohesive story line using the tools available, which includes tracking my word count, a great motivator.
  • Then I compile it into a Word docx file and use the editor in Word.
  • Next, I use the Grammarly editing software loaded into my Word software (it turns the Word editor off but gives many more insights, like overused words).
  • Last step, I take each chapter separately and paste it in the Hemingway App software for desktop and review and make changes as appropriate to make the manuscript easier to read.

When my first draft is finished, I load it into Jutoh software and create a quick eBook (no worries about meta data etc. yet) and share it with Beta reader(s). Then I’m ready to let someone else read it while I rest. So, this week I’m on vacation.

A few other editing tips:

I’m taking a week off, even writers deserve a vacation.

But do we ever really take one?

Of course, I’ll be reading by the pool, but if you’re like me, that becomes part of the writing training. I can no longer read just for the sake of reading. I dissect the plot, check the clues, see if the characters are congruent. I do the same when I watch a movie or television show. It’s a good way to recognize others’ skill of their craft.

The story could be the most thrilling you’ve experienced or a complete bomb, but always a learning experience for you.

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Here’s some photos I took of Brunswick Springs

Live Like It’s Your Last Breath

Photo by George Hodan
It’s a beautiful spring day. The rain has passed, the skies are blue and the grass green, and the birds are singing. As we appreciate the beautiful surroundings, preparing for our spring holidays, it’s easy to forget the truths in the world. We are lulled into a false nicety, a fairytale land, and hope for goodness. ‘The world would be a beautiful place if we all loved each other’.

Art by Frits Ahlefeldt

But if we take a good look behind the greenery, and peer into the dense brush, what we’ll see is the savage nature, the rule of survival of the fittest. Humankind is part of that brutal nature.

Despite the cheery veneer, the world is in turmoil even on the most pleasant days. While we work and play in suburbia, people are killed in Syria and other places ruled by tyrants. Those who survive atrocities will have their guard up, even though they are caring individuals who wanted freedom, they are changed. They became tuned into their basic instincts for survival.

Even the darkest of hearts can love.

Now some will say, “that’s a grim outlook on life” and I will respond to you that my outlook is based on reality. It’s the truth, and for every good moment, there is another equally brutal one.

Today Catholics all over the world celebrate Good Friday, the day Jesus was nailed to the cross. Some of the men who betrayed him had once been his followers. Fear for their lives allowed them to falter in their love. We are human, that’s what we do, get defensive when we are scared and unsure of the things going on around us.

So friends, while many authors write about the trials we face, often with the hero overcoming the odds, that’s exactly what they are unrealistic probabilities. A fanciful wish that isn’t in sync with reality. That may be why we have relied on stories like Aesop fables and the Grimm nursery rhymes, to show the brutal realities of life to our children. They have been useful to balance out the happily ever after.

I write darker scenes, subtle evil based in reality, but show how good people do bad things and sometimes, there is no happily ever after like we’ve been groomed to expect. There is always something else waiting for us to respond to, just around the corner.

Only if you see life as the good and bad, the gentle and the brutal evil, can we really say to ourselves, “I see and know the truth.”

Christians are celebrating Holy Week, others are celebrating Passover, all these traditional religious holidays are wrapped around both sides, the good and evil of the world. The holy texts tell us of the root of evil, our own instincts to survive, and ask that we rise above, but many cannot pass above the survival instinct. Evil exists, and no matter how often we try to spread our love philosophies, it is present and destined to remain because it’s baked into our DNA.

My message is to stay aware, don’t fool yourself, and enjoy the happiness you have in your life with vigor because it could all be gone in a second. <snap fingers>

Photo by Petr Kratochvil

Live like it’s your last breath because it could be.

Keep reading – Keep writing!

Paying tribute to some who have already left us in 2017

Photo by George Hodan
RIP J Geils (rock musician) RIP Charlie Murphy (Chappelle show comedian)  RIP Chuck Berry (RollOver Beethoven) RIP Mary Tyler Moore (actress and comedian) RIP Bill Paxton (Aliens, Twister, Titanic, Apollo 13)   RIP Sir John Hurt (elephant man) RIP Miguel Ferrer (Twin Peaks and Crossing Jordan) RIP Paul O’Neill (Trans-Siberian Orchestra) #RIP Don Rickles (comedian)  RIP Lonnie (Chicago blues)  RIP Gilbert Baker(civil rights activist – rainbow flag)  RIP Noreen Fraser (TV producer and activist against cancer)  RIP Carl Clark (WWII metal of honor veteran) RIP Sib Hashian (Drummer -Boston)  RIP Martin McGuinness (Irish Republic Army commander) #RIP Colin Dexter (author of Detective Morse novels)  RIP James Cotton (blues musician) RIP Fiora Corradetti Contino (female conductor of opera) RIP Tommy LiPuma (jazz producer – Natalie Cole and George Benson) RIP Jack Harris (produced 1950’s The Blob) RIP Mike Connors (Manix) RIP William Peter Blatty ( author of The Exorcist) RIP Gene Cernan (walked on moon) RIP Geoff Nicholas (Black Sabbath) RIP John Wetton ( Asia and King Crimson) RIP Al Jarreau (singer)  RIP Warren Frost (Twin Peaks as Doc Hayward and Seinfeld) RIP Yevgeny Yevtushenko (author, poet of Babi Yar)


Writing Is Hard, Sometimes


Writing is hard. This sentiment repeats itself over writing posts everywhere.

Why is it so? I reflected on this notion and came to realize that it’s not a correct universal statement.

It should read: “Writing is hard, sometimes.”

There are times when you the writer knows what’s in your head, you understand the scene that you want to share, and the words just flow. That’s a great experience, and any writer feels a sense of catharsis, a physical release, and satisfaction. Even though we know, we’ll probably have to rewrite it and spruce it up a bit later; these moments can keep us motivated.

The writing becomes difficult when we face a scene that we need to write, and we don’t want to relive that experience for personal reasons. I ran into this the other day, so let me share my experience.

I have a scene in my new WIP, In The Woods, where my protagonist, Samantha, meets up with an old friend, Zach. Big deal, right. Well, it was tedious to write because the character’s mindset is so far from my own.

You see, I’ve been happily married for over thirty years. To write with the correct mindset of Samantha, I had to remember what it feels like to confront a person whom I’ve admired in the past, held a torch for, and was crushed by the breakup. Not only that, but Samantha was hurt to the point where her character had no other love interests since.

samanthaThe protagonist’s entire sense of trust had been depleted when the man she was infatuated with had left her hometown. Now he walks into her life again, and feelings are stirred. Add the conflict of Samantha having to work side by side with this guy.

Yes, most of us have experienced unrequited love, but do you remember how it felt? Can you spill the right tension onto the page?

Thank goodness I have a dependable memory and also have counseled many broken hearts over the years. I pulled in those real life stories and used them. I found it uncomfortable to go back there, into the thoughts of the past, things better left behind.

But the scene called for the emotional state of a young teenager, hurt and disillusioned, now a grown woman trying to come to terms with herself. I had to go there.

Situations like this scene are when the writing is hard work. We search our feelings even those out of our comfort zones and are willing to relive healed wounds and tap into the emotional drive needed to reach the momentum the scene demands.

Here are three things that may help any writer:

  • First, answer questions about your character’s motives as an objective onlooker.
  • Then let the character speak in their own voice, not your past, but their past.
  • Last, tap your own emotions to create a mood, but do not rewrite your own story.

I wonder, does anyone else want to share a scene they had a hard time writing? Please share and post your comment.

kai Stachowiak


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The Things We Say: through a glass darkly

It’s funny how we repeat phrases often without thinking of where they came from or the context of the meaning. I noticed one such phrase recently

through a glass darkly“.

I had suggested to a reading group at BookLikes.com that we should read a book series called:

withintheglassdarklyWITHIN THE GLASS DARKLY by William Gareth Evans published in 2010.

It’s a Gothic tale based on characters introduced in 1872 by the author Joseph. T. Sheridan Le Fanu in his novella Carmilla which was included in his short story volume named In A Glass Darkly.

indexWhile searching for the original short story volume, so that I could read the story that inspired William and other authors, (even Bram Stoker’s Dracula was inspired by the story Carmilla),

I came across another novel Through A Glass Darkly by Karleen Koen an historical fiction published in 2003.

In A Glass Darkly is also a short story written by Agatha Christieregatta_mystery – first published in 1939 by our favorite sleuth author

and now available in a collection, The Regatta Mystery and other stories .

I was curious of what else would turn up referencing glass darkly . . .

A few more strokes of the keys and I discovered poetry regarding this phrase as well. THROUGH A GLASS, DARKLY is a poem by Gen. George S. Patton, Jr. which you can read by clicking the link.

throughglassdarklyfilmThere was also a well received movie Through A Glass Darkly made in 1961

Directed by Ingmar Bergman, famous for his close up shots without movement of any  kind to magnify the intensity the character’s emotions, as well as the famous double face shot of two characters looking in opposite directions and never meeting each others POV unable to communicate or understand each other.

This is all heavy stuff and with so many people inspired through the ages, and in various art forms,  I decided to get to the crux of the matter.

Glass darkly is a term coined for a mirror.

mirrorMirrors have been around in one form or another for ages. Long ago people used a metal base like bronze to see their reflection and had to polish the metal vigilantly. Later forms were layered with glass tiles on top, but still the image was dark, thus glass darkly. Learn more about the history of mirrors here: The History of Mirror: Through A Glass, Darkly

The term was even referenced in the Bible, yes that long ago . . .

For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known.  And now stays faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.

(1 Corinthians 13: 12-13)

Who knew!

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More Info:

Indie Wire The Essentials: The 15 Greatest Ingmar Bergman Films

through-a-glass-darkly“Through A Glass Darkly” (1961)

A slow and painful disintegration of a family vacationing at a summer home on the island of Fårö trying to cope with the deteriorating mental state of the family’s eldest daughter Karin who has suffered a nervous breakdown.


Within My World – Dracula, the musical

The musical is by Gareth Evans and Christopher J. Orton, with orchestrations by the noted British composer and producer, Ian Lynn.

Writing For Yourself – VIP ME

new-year-quotesA new year means new chances for us to create the stories we want to write, read, and share. Stories should make the reader feel and a good way to accomplish this is using the five basic senses, and then some.

The basic five senses are taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing.

Let’s add a few more ‘senses’ to the list: Vision, Imagination, Plot, Movement, Emotion.

These added senses are created when a writer uses the first five as building blocks and configure them to such a degree, that they transcend the reader to a new experience level.

VIP – ME! Check it out and see if you agree.

Vision, more than just the sense of sight, but a total new experience that expands a reader’s mind. The reader is moved to feel emotions by the scene set before them and is challenged to think. VISION / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:scottish-coast

When a scene is near the seashore we want to taste the sea water upon our drying lips, know that the waves are tossing the boats about, feel our stomachs churning and the wind blowing against our skin until we have goosebumps, smell the fish and seaweed, and hear the gulls squawking, blocking out every other around us. Vision refers to the entire experience that we can immerse the reader into . . . the reader will ask questions in order to learn more about the author’s vision.

Photo by George Hodan


Imagination, is needed when we introduce new places and situations to experience for the first time. A good story draws the reader into a room or a planet, but no matter the setting it will look fresh and is a place where the reader will be want to discover more. IMAGINATION / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:

Good stories have vivid settings and take the reader away from their daily lives into a realm so wonderful that they have to keep reading. When a scene is placed on a futuristic planet a reader will experience the taste of new foods that may be tough or squishy, the sky may have different colors and odd clouds, hills explored may have odd formed trees and rocks might feel soft instead of hard, the air is sulfuric or smells rancid because of the different black foliage with spiked rods instead of leaves, the wildlife may have eerie mating calls that fill the night with moaning sounds . . . the reader will be hooked into this new place, and open to experience the ideas you have to show them.

Photo by linnaea mallette

Plot, is a map quest and the picking up of the clues crafted by the writer—the reader can actually catch the dropped comments, see the stained rug, taste the tainted food or wine. PLOT / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:


Scenes build, one upon another, and the plotting is dribbled in between them, leading a reader to a new experience and surprise. A good story will let a character taste the tainted wine and spill it to avoid any subsequent unpleasantness—the reader will sense relief that the character isn’t dead (yet). Relevant objects are pieces that fit together in the end, allowing the reader to follow the trail while letting them touch the ornate ivory handle of the knife or feel the engraved markings of an antique jewel, objects that will be tied into a symbolic meaning when ‘The End’ is finally written. A good story allows cakes to burn and fill the house with thick smoke and allow the reader to smell the charred pan. Scenes can consist of boisterous crowds and be just as suspenseful when all noise suddenly stops! . . . A good story should always add a different twist to an old plot sequence to prevent boredom.

Movement, let the story roam and breath to discover more about the characters, and also reveal truths to the reader about themselves. It’s nothing a writer needs to do intentional, the smart reader will pick up the vibe and relate things to their own experiences. Allow achievement of goals and the ability to learn something new. MOVEMENT / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:run2007calendarphoto-resized

A story with movement will have the characters eating at the corner greasy spoon or running over hills to the next scene, they’ll see road signs and other people bustling about boarding trains and planes, often characters touch each other with hugs and kisses and a reader can relate to the scene through their previous love experiences. As characters flee a crowded market they may smell the fresh-baked bread from the open window of a bakery they just passed (who can’t relate to that smell), and they might hear whistles blowing, perhaps the police chasing the antagonist or the misunderstood protagonist . . . the reader will remain active mentally and kept on their toes with the momentum of the story scenes.

Photo by kai-stachowiak

Emotion, allows the reader to be involved in the character’s lives and problems and swept away from their own daily life. Total reader investment is a good mark for any story and is usually an indication of a great suspense story. EMOTION / taste, sight, touch, smell, and hearing combinations:red-sky

A scene that takes the first five senses and transforms a reader into emotional investment is true success. Suppose the setting is the deep woods. A character could be all alone eating a leftover cheese sandwich with dry bread and tangy mustard spread all over, maybe upset because their significant other dumped them in the middle of nowhere. Okay, now we have an experience most of us can relate to and we’re there with them, angry with the person who just dumped them. Then  a shadow crosses the path and now everything else is forgotten. Of course the lunch is dropped to the ground that’s covered in dried pine needles and dark green ivy wrapping around the towering trees with rough dark bark. They’re spruce trees that fill the air with a deep pine scent, comforting the character until he/she smells smoke. Then the crackle of a fire draws near, raging closer at tremendous speed. All the five senses have been deployed but the emotions have ramped up from the every day to urgency . . .  a great story will move a reader to feel something, not only a little, but will get them to want to do something, vicariously through the characters.reading-a-book

This investment compels the reader to keep turning the page, to look for the resolution. They can empathize with or at least understand a character.

Progress of my next novel, IN THE WOODS, is going well. I’m going back to my writing boards and pulling together the experiences that my characters’ extra senses will use in my next story. I like the setting—the North East Kingdom of Vermont. It’s a suspense thriller with some supernatural elements added. I’m very excited about my new characters and hope they keep revealing themselves to me.

Until my next update, Keep reading – Keep writing!