Tag Archives: nanowrimo

Cannot Write Without: Nikki Woolfolk

The question in the lagoon this month: What’s the one thing you cannot write without?

Today’s answer comes from author and chocolatier extraordinaire: Nikki Woolfolk.


The Edible Plot

Food is a character. Food is an adventure. Food is a plot point.

In early 2011, my decade long writer’s block broke open and I dreamed of a Steampunk universe that did not exist within the genre itself.

Nowadays I confidently write Steampunk adventures and culinary cozy mysteries, but I didn’t know that’s where I was going when I participated in my first NaNoWriMo in 2011. My anxiety about writing was so bad the only way to combat it was to write by hand so I did. I have several notebooks filled from that month to prove it.

In that Steampunk Universe Bible I created my main character had a sister that was just the cook, Alex LeBeau, while the group traveled, but LeBeau became something more and it was through the food she created. I used recipes to convey the undercurrent of the story mood or sometimes to give myself an inside joke to tickle me whenever I found the scene getting way too heavy.

For LeBeau the culinary school she teaches in, when not amateur sleuthing, is a place where she can create and work at solving a clue. It’s tactile. It’s facing a problem without much effort and that’s how many of us solve a problem, we do something not related to the issue.

This is the same way I plot, but I didn’t realize this four years ago. By utilizing my food history and food science education I have been able to create edible plots.

What’s that mean?

Please feel free to buy these for me for Christmas. Love, Alethea.

Please feel free to buy these for me for Christmas. Love, Alethea.

The food that makes it into my stories is a result of my plotting. Sometimes a story comes out from a ‘what if?’ scenario and other times it comes from discovering one item of food that is either unique or has a history behind it. Gunpowder tea has made its way into a metaphor, a plot point and a batch of cookies in my current WIP (another Steampunk Culinary Mystery).

Before I became confident in cooking, my stories were flat, but when I begin adding my researched food history into the story I found my voice. It not only added to a scene but made my Steampunk Chocolatier Alex LeBeau multi-dimensional. Food was another character for the ensemble cast to work alongside.

Soon after I submitted sample pages of this story to a critique group and had one beta reader tell me to remove the reference of food in my culinary mystery. Not tone it down, but omit it all together. Yes, let that sink in for a moment.

So while I took the advice on how to tighten my writing to heart I left behind the suggestion to remove my food porn because I know who my audience is and it’s not for readers that do not like reading about food and that’s alright.

After all these years I admit that  it’s tough to know how to balance a character (food) you adore that is forever changing, but I’m learning and I wouldn’t have it any other way.


Nikki Woolfolk is the author of multiple Steampunk (Sweet & Steamy series), Cozy Food Mystery stories and a Professional Chocolatier. Nikki enjoys taking her readers on culinary adventures in a spectacular cogged and geared world with the perfect recipe of fun and adventure with a dash of wit! You can find her at:  www.NikkiWoolfolk.com and her chocolates at: www.LeBeauChocolates.com

Cannot Write Without: Alethea Kontis

The question in the lagoon this month: What’s the one thing you cannot write without?

Today’s answer comes from Waterworld Mermaids’ very own Alethea Kontis.


Princess AletheaThis is one of those months where I’m always thrilled that my name starts with A…because it means I GET TO BLOG FIRST. (April, not so much.)

I’m excited because it’s November…which means MASSIVE AMOUNTS OF WRITING AND WORD WARS.

My first foray into National Novel Writing Month was 2004 — I finished the first draft of a novel. Unfortunately, it clocked in at a measly 36,000 words. That’s right, to date, I have never successfully “won” NaNoWriMo. I’m hoping this year, that will all change.

I often get asked about my writing schedule, or what my writing area looks like. My answer is always: HA! I have yet to establish the Perfect Workplace, or the Perfect Daily Schedule.

However, it did get me thinking: What do I need in order to write? What’s the one thing I literally cannot write without? And, for that matter, how would all my writing friends answer this same question?

Thus I bring you this month’s Theme Question — be sure to check back in every day (or Like us on Facebook) to enjoy a plethora of incredibly inspired answers from writers all over the globe.

But first, here’s my answer. Are you ready?

Hey Alethea, what’s the one thing you cannot write without?

My answer: LOVE.

You know the old cliche about tormented artists and how they find all their inspiration from the horrible events that happen in their lives? Well…not so this optimist. I know this because it was pointed out to me by someone in my inner circle…one of my very first beta readers, copyeditors, and harshest critics: My Mother.

I don’t remember which story — it was either “Blood & Water” or “Sunday” (I think it was the former). But after Mom read it, the first thing she said to me was, “You should always write when you’re in love.”

It’s true…I had a crazy-huge crush on a boy at the time. (Who ended up being a horrible specimen of a person…but I digress.) Being in love made me all lofty and poetic. The words flowed. I wanted to write (instead of just making up stories in my head and calling my friends to tell them about it).

When I am sad, I do not write. It is a horrible thing. The stories end up all trapped in my head, banging at the walls to come out. It creates this incredible powder keg of anxiety that at one point even forced me to seek medical attention (not even kidding). The misery compounds in one horrid downward spiral.

Last year, I broke up with a guy and moved to Florida. I wrote in strange fits and spurts, but it was incredibly difficult. It was less about finding my Muse and more about finding MYSELF.

When I did, I remembered what my mother had said.

I had a nervous breakdown at the age of 23. From that point on, I began surrounding myself with things that made me smile. Rainbows. Fairies. Stickers on my window. Quotes on my wall. Things that I loved.

It’s been kind of wonderful, moving into this house and starting that collection all over again. I have a prism in my kitchen window that scatters rainbows all over the house all winter. What walls aren’t lined with bookshelves are covered in artwork by artists who inspire me. And I have my friends — the Mermaids, my Brute Squad, my peeps on social media — whom I need to remember most, because these are the people I write for.

Princess AletheaThese are the people I love.

So…thanks, you guys. xox


Connect with Alethea on Facebook

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Alethea’s Profile on NaNoWriMo


NaNo Midway Point

Okay, people. This will be short today because I can’t be wasting my word count on a blog post. Some of you are nodding because you understand. Some of you won’t read this post until December. I understand that too.

For those of you in the dark, I’m talking about NaNoWriMo—National Novel Writing Month.


Like Veterans Day and Thanksgiving, it happens every November. You commit to writing a 50,000-word novel. That’s it. That’s all. It’s very simple. Right?! Can I get an AMEN?

This year I started off strong, mostly because my local chapter (WRW) had a first annual write-in on November 1st. My kids had soccer games and other activities previously scheduled. If I had followed the same pattern as every other November 1st, I probably wouldn’t have written a word that day. Instead, when Kathy Seidel opened her home to fifty chapter members, I jumped at the chance. I knew if I committed far enough in advance, I would follow through with my goal of starting the book. So I farmed out my kids for the day. I missed a soccer tournament and several of my other kids’ activities as well.

Did I feel guilty? Hell no! I wrote almost 3,000 words that first day, which kicked off a rather successful NaNo month for me.

Up until recently, that is. At 38,000 words, I’m starting to stumble. Starting to lose my way. Starting to think about all the plot points that don’t make sense. Starting to wonder how the hell I’m going to wrap this thing up.

It’s at this midway point where I start realizing all the things wrong with the plot. It’s usually at the midway point where I finally get a decent grasp of a character’s motivations, his or her personality, the setting, the tone. But the characters didn’t start out that way. So I have to gag my inner critic/editor who wants to rush back to the beginning and start fixing.

But I need to finish the damn book. I also have to obsess about word count. I have to keep refreshing that stats page on the NaNo website so I can watch the graph rise. (Admit it! You do it too!) I have to check out my writing buddies and see how they’re doing.
That inner editor itches to go back and start fixing the beginning. But if I do, I could potentially lose word count.

So I’m pressing ahead. I. Will. Finish. This. Book.

Normally, I wouldn’t be stressed about the potential awfulness of this first draft, but I have another problem. Her name is Margie Lawson.  I signed up for an Immersion class beginning next week, hosted by Denny Mermaid, where we deep edit our story, and I plan to work on this NaNo book.

Now, I’m sure I can sift through the 50,000 words of the new book and come out with a few that are keepers, but usually large chunks hit the virtual trash can.

I set a goal for myself to finish this book before next Wednesday, which is a far cry from the other years, where I have generally slid under the finish line—dusty and tired—at the last minute. But what a ride!

Who’s doing NaNo this year? If so, how are you doing? Here’s your place to brag or seek commiseration. Here’s the place to admit you feel some word-count envy when you see your writing buddy’s graph rising every day when you stumble into your own road block.

When you do hit that writer’s block, reach out to your writing friends. Ask for help. A fifteen-minute brainstorming session could easily get you back on the right road. That’s what writing friends are for.

GH 2014 photo

Once Upon a Time

NaNo 2014Hello, the lagoon. Welcome to November! And you know what that means…NaNoWriMo!

Since I am 1.) not in the middle of editing or revising a novel at the moment and 2.) new to the East-Central Florida area, I have not only thrown myself straight into the fires NaNo this year, but I have committed to attend several of the Brevard County kickoff parties and write-ins in order to make a few friends and meet some like-minded folks. You know…people who just LOVE writing so much that they can’t seem to think about anything else.

What I’ve forgotten about fledgling writers, though, is that sometimes they would rather just talk about writing instead of actually writing. *sigh* Like teenagers who are in love with the idea of being in love.

And after the jaded “Get Off My Lawn” exasperation in me subsides, I remember what it was like. The dream of writing. The romance. The what-if. Knowing that if I just found that key to the walled garden, the secrets of the publishing world would reveal themselves to me.

Yes, the writing was romantic…back when I snuck it into work breaks and scribbled ideas on the backs of receipts at stoplights. The words were stolen moments in a hidden season, and in them I was transported to the worlds of my wildest dreams.

These days, I mostly feel like a masochistic junkie. I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

But it was so lovely to be there in that study room at the Titusville Library on November 1st, surrounded by people of all ages and hearing the joy in their voices as they talked about their ideas. And talked. And talked. And talked. Like lovesick schoolchildren. It was sweet. And I did my best to keep my temper when all I wanted to do was shout “DO YOU KNOW WHAT THE SECRET IS? JUST SHUT UP AND WRITE!” but I didn’t. Because I was in a library. And because writers sound horrible when we say things like that. I remember being a nobody at a major book wholesaler and sitting in on a plethora of author talks, those annoying writers who made writing a novel sound so easy just because they’d done it.

I won’t lie to you: That first one is the hardest. My first finished manuscript was a product of a NaNoWriMo, but I fell short of the word count because the story ended after 36,000 words. It was still the most words I had ever written in a month until then, and it was the first time I had actually FINISHED anything that long. The year was 2004.

The next manuscript I wrote was Enchanted.

Last month–ten years and three novels later–I  completed the umpteenth revision of that first manuscript. It’s now 77,000 words long and my agent LOVES it. (Keep your fingers crossed.)

That idea I had back in 2004? It was a great idea, I just didn’t have the best tools. But I had inspiration and gumption and the desire to finish something, and I did. I was able to use what I learned in the last decade and go back and make that first story the best it could be. That sort of thing happens in this biz…even Jennifer Crusie didn’t sell Bet Me until a decade after its completion, and that’s my favorite one.

Sometimes, the time just isn’t right. You’ll know it. You’ll feel it. But you have to finish that first manuscript AT SOME POINT. Why not now?

My NaNo project this year is one of the first novels I wanted to write. Now that I (mostly) know what I’m doing, I feel I have what it takes to tackle the project.

The title? Aletta: The Ugly Princess.

When did I come up with the idea? 1990. I was fourteen years old.

I wrote “Aletta” as a short story: handwritten, on 35 pages. I edited it down to four typed pages (with no margins) for a peer grading assignment in 10th grade English and the class loved it. When I was twenty I tried to expand the idea into a novel, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t have *it* just yet. Granted, I didn’t realize then that I could achieve *it* if I just kept on writing…but Aletta was too close to my heart. I couldn’t allow myself the freedom to fail.

Now, I will never forgive myself if I never try.

I’d love to know…who else had crazy story ideas when they were a kid, once upon a time? Would you ever be tempted to go back and write about them? Or have you already?

And what are YOU working on for NaNoWriMo?

Dream big.

Dream big…and just keep writing.

How a Mermaid got Entangled and Lived to Tell the Tale

The Savvy Authors Entangled NaNoWriMo Smackdown is winding down, and I am one of the lucky writers who participated.  I had an entire month to achieve a book, just for the Entangled Line!  How exciting is that?

Entangled Smackdown

I confess, I didn’t take this challenge seriously until I had an email telling me (surprise!) that my badge was waiting to be claimed.  Once I understood, I spend a couple of days being just plain scared.  I even ordered a workbook, Susan Alderson’s The Plot Whisperer Workbook (worth every penny, imho).  I splurged and went to Staples for a new paper notebook.

Then I got to work.  Then a hurricane came and took away my power for four days.  But I kept working, charging up (and showering) at a friend’s house, and working some more.  In fact, I worked even harder.  I was determined not to let a measly power outage stop me from writing!  I also knew a terrible truth:   These days off were my only chance to write full time! I also knew I have a tendency to panic.  Perfection, procrastination, panic, paralysis. 

Yes, spending a month with the NaNo challenge for Entangled was exciting.  Until I realized I have a habit of doing those four P’s mentioned above, and probably wouldn’t make my personal goal.  So I had to start getting a grip on some home truths, and the month wasn’t all about writing 50,000 words any more.

Friends, I did not make 50,000 words.  My personal goal was just to finish the story.  At forty thousand words.  Okay, maybe thirty thousand.

My final tally, as of 10:00 p.m., November 28?  18,260 words.  That’s right.  I didn’t even break 20,000 words. 

And it really sucks that I couldn’t keep up the pace with all those other fabulously prolific writers (Hi, Pin! *waves*).  There.  I feel better just saying it.  I am not prolific.  Still, it’s valuable  to look back at the mistakes I made, celebrate what I did accomplish, and acknowledge the reality of my life and commitments. Admit some truths about myself.  About my writing.  About my own temperament and tolerance for pressure.  And maybe, possibly, someone out there will see some reason in my ramblings about this past month.  Maybe there’s someone just as crazy as I am.

The most important lesson is one I have resisted for years.  But, let it be said, now and forever, once and for all.  It’s hard to say, and I have hated learning this:


There.  I’ve said it.  I can’t write by the seat of my pants.  Somehow, I was behind the door when that gift was being handed out. 

I am more intimately acquainted with my writing personality than ever before.   With Act One of my work planned (thank you again, Martha Alderson), I achieved a thousand words a day. Sometimes I made the full 1667 word the Entangled gods were asking for. When I tried to double that output in response to a promise of double points, though, I burned out.

Worse,  not having planned Act Two brought my output to a measly three to five hundred words a day.  Or none.  I needed two weeks to finally see the center of the story.  One evening last week, it finally clicked while I was eating sushi at a new restaurant in town (note to self: sushi is an effective writing tool).  I rushed home and blocked out the action for the rest of the book that evening.

So, now I can tell the truth.  If I have a clear idea of my story and what needs to be written, I can spit out five hundred words a day.  If there’s more time and I’m more motivated, a thousand.  I don’t want to do NaNo again.  I like taking my notebook with me when I go out to dinner with my sweetie, and calling it a “business dinner.”  I like online chat with other authors.  And I really, really like Martha Alderson’s books.

Not a bad set of lessons to learn in a month, huh?



This is what happens when you land on the first day of NaNoWriMo and you’re still not done the read-through of the novel revision that was due on the 31st AND IT’S YOUR DAY TO BLOG.


You’re all participating in National Novel Writing Month, right? Me too. My handle is Princess Alethea.

You will see from my stats that I have participated in NaNo a bunch of years, and I have yet to ever complete it. That’s right, folks, I have failed EVERY SINGLE TIME.

But that doesn’t stop me from trying.  As I learned from Sherrilyn Kenyon & Buzz Lightyear: Never Give Up! Never Surrender!

Based on the fact that I only had a few months to piece together a novel this summer (and then completely revise & partially rewrite it), I believe this year is my best chance of hitting 50K by November 30th.

But I’m not holding my breath.

For instance, I will probably get no new writing done until this weekend because I AM STILL POLISHING THIS REVISION. (And let me assure you, I am chomping at the bit to work on a new project right now. Anything else. PLEASE, FOR THE LOVE OF GOD.)

Want to feel more productive than a NYT Bestselling author? Friend me on NaNo. You’ll instantly feel better about yourself, I promise.

So, do you NaNo?

Do You NaNo?

Welcome to November 1st, my watery denizens. You know what that means!

Yes, in writerly circles, November 1st marks the advent of NaNoWriMo— National Novel Writing Month. In short, those who sign up (I believe you can still sign up today) pledge to attempt to write 50,000 words in the month of November.

I’m not sure why November was chosen as opposed to say, August, when there are no Holidays and people are expected to go to parties and shop for the holiday season of their choice…but that wasn’t up to me.

My handle on NaNo (as it is affectionately called) is Princess Alethea. I will also be tweeting some of my progress and writing sprints under the #NaNoWriMo hashtag.

I have participated in NaNoWriMo every year since 2005, and I have yet to get to 50,000 words. But I still participate every year, and I am still proud when I look at my word count come December 1st.

Now, there are all sorts of theories about how NaNoWriMo should work. Like writing, THERE IS NO ONE WAY TO DO IT. Should you try to write 50,000 words this month? Absolutely. Should you commit seppuku if you do not achieve this goal? Of course not.The purpose of NaNoWriMo is to teach you to find that elusive BUTT in CHAIR state, and get used to it. In the month of November, you will feel what is like to be a full-time writer. If writing is your goal, these are good habits to have. If you are already a writer, these are good habits to remember. This is why I sign up and play the game, every single year.

A couple of things to address:

PLANNING: A lot of folks plan what they’re doing for NaNo prior to the month. They have an outline and a writing space and time in their schedule.

I hate these people.

I usually have a general idea of what project I want to work on going into November, but that’s about it. This year, I got  a second dayjob as a sub at an afterschool program. It sounds crazy (and is), but it also forced a routine into my schedule. I told the bookstore that I could work 9-2 on the weekdays, and assorted weekends. The days I had off at the afterschool program, or the bookstore, would just be writing time. Hooray! My days were going to go from up in the air all the time to a set schedule. I had PLANNED TIME for writing. I told the afterschool program that I could start on November 1st. This was PERFECT.

Apparently, Murphy (my guardian angel) heard the word “perfect” and slapped me down for it. One manager at the bookstore got spirited away to help open more bookstores, and the other manager got fed up with this situation and quit. Suddenly, instead of quietly slipping into a position of less responsibility, as of Saturday I will be the only acting Manager on the premises. Yeah. Oops.

SO you haven’t planned. So you have a wrench somewhere in the works. Who cares? I have a secret: your life will never be perfect, and you’re still going to have to find a way to shove the writing in between the cracks. Make this promise to yourself, just for this month, and see what you can do. I dare you.

CHEATING: Some people say that if you 1.) continue a novel already in progress, 2.) don’t finish your novel in 50,000 words or 3.) write “shark shark shark shark turtle shark” for 24 pages, you’re CHEATING. You know what? I don’t care about this either. Princess Alethea Mermaid’s rules say that if you write 50,000 words in November, whatever those words are, you’ve “won.” Of course, Princess Alethea thinks if you only write 24,000 words in that month, you have also “won.” I mean, come on. In what other month have you written 24,000 words? (Except you horrible prolific people. Just humor me here, okay? Don’t rub it in.

Go on, jump in the deep end! The water’s fine. We’ll be swimming/flailing/treading water right alongside you. Are you with me? xox