Sutton Massachusetts

Aspen Allegations - NaNoWriMo 2012

2012 was the very first year I contemplated attempting National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo. At the time I had ten medieval novels published and five more in the works. The challenge of NaNoWriMo, though, was to start a novel from scratch. I wanted to do something entirely different for this project, so it didn't feel like "cheating". I wanted to help show my writing friends that this could be done even as a very first challenge in a new area.

Therefore I decided to tackle something completely new. I would write in modern times. I would write a mystery novel. I would write it first person. And I would write it based on a central Massachusetts town. I hadn't even done much "preparation" for this project, other than already loving Sutton. I would simply launch into it and see how it went.

With the task being 50,000 words at the end of 30 days, that meant 1,667 words a day. I gave myself a rough limit of about an hour a day. That way it would be something that "nearly anybody" could do. Most people, if pressed, could carve out an hour of time into their day somehow.

I had a few foundational thoughts for my project. First, I adore Pilgrim on Tinker Creek with its naturalistic storyline. I wanted my own story to have similar references to the beautiful landscape, flora, and fauna of Sutton, to highlight why this town is so pretty. I wanted to bring in the Blackstone River, the forests, the chickadees and nuthatches.

Next, I wanted my character to be a compassionate, caring, peaceful person. I wanted to promote with her attributes the kind of future I dream of for our planet and community.

And finally, I wanted to imbue the story with a sense of realism. As much as possible I wanted to go to the places and breathe in the aromas of the places near to when the story took place. If it was pouring rain on one day, I wanted the rich smell of wet leaves to rise off the earth.

Here are my notes!

Week 1
Day 1 of NaNoWriMoThu Nov 160 min2,680 words2,680 total
Day 2 of NaNoWriMoFri Nov 250 min2,175 words4,855 total
Day 3 of NaNoWriMoSat Nov 360 min2,226 words7,081 total
Day 4 of NaNoWriMoSun Nov 460 min3,266 words10,347 total
Day 5 of NaNoWriMoMon Nov 550 min2,217 words12,560 total
Day 6 of NaNoWriMoTue Nov 660 min3,025 words15,585 total
Day 7 of NaNoWriMoWed Nov 760 min2,512 words18,097 total
Week 2
Day 8 of NaNoWriMoThu Nov 846 min2,157 words20,254 total
Day 9 of NaNoWriMoFri Nov 950 min2,363 words22,617 total
Day 10 of NaNoWriMoSat Nov 1060 min2,183 words24,800 total
Day 12 of NaNoWriMoMon Nov 1260 min3,091 words27,891 total
Day 13 of NaNoWriMoTue Nov 1360 min2,252 words30,143 total
Day 14 of NaNoWriMoWed Nov 1460 min3,139 words33,282 total
Week 3
Day 15 of NaNoWriMoThu Nov 1560 min2,373 words35,655 total
Day 16 of NaNoWriMoFri Nov 1660 min2,343 words38,008 total
Day 17 of NaNoWriMoSat Nov 1760 min2,646 words40,654 total
Day 18 of NaNoWriMoSun Nov 1860 min2,647 words40,655 total
Day 19 of NaNoWriMoMon Nov 1960 min3,168 words43,823 total
Day 20 of NaNoWriMoTue Nov 2060 min3,427 words47,250 total
Day 21 of NaNoWriMoWed Nov 2160 min2,861 words50,111 total
Week 4
Day 22 of NaNoWriMoThu Nov 2260 min3,189 words53,930 total
Day 23 of NaNoWriMoFri Nov 2360 min3,028 words56,958 total
Day 24 of NaNoWriMoSat Nov 2460 min2,522 words59,480 total
Day 25 of NaNoWriMoSun Nov 2560 min2,307 words61,787 total
Day 26 of NaNoWriMoMon Nov 26x minx wordsx total
Day 27 of NaNoWriMoTue Nov 27x minx wordsx total
Day 28 of NaNoWriMoWed Nov 28x minx wordsx total
Week 5
Day 29 of NaNoWriMoThu Nov 29x minx wordsx total
Day 30 of NaNoWriMoFri Nov 30x minx wordsx total

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: How do you physically type out 3,000 words in 60 minutes?
A: 3,000 words in 60 minutes is a rate of 50 words per minute. The average typist can type 50-80 words in a minute. Fast typists do 120 words per minute or more. Using online speed tests, I tend to clock in about 112 words per minute. So definitely I am not a hunt-and-peck typist. One way NaNoWriMo is great is that it helps you build up your typing speed. The faster you can type, the better all your online experiences will be. You will be much more efficient sending email, writing notes, and doing all sorts of other tasks. So I definitely think practicing typing is an important modern skill.

That being said, if you're a slow typist and simply want to get your story out, there are many software packages like Dragon that will let you talk to the computer and have it type for you. In my case, I type faster than I talk, so that would slow me down. If you're an extremely slow typist, it might be worth looking into Dragon while you practice up your skills!

Q: Did you map out or outline your story?
A: I went into this having an overall idea of what the story would entail. I knew there would be a dead body found on the first day, in Sutton Forest. I know I had a heroine who had a male support character. I knew I wanted to feature the three main restaurants in town.

Other than that, though, things flowed organically. When I was out in the woods with my boyfriend on that first day, I had assumed that my character would be a single woman with her boyfriend, going out for a walk. However, while we were in the woods, a forest ranger rode by on a mountain bike. The idea struck me as fascinating. Suddenly I wanted my heroine to meet a mountain bike riding ranger on her first day, when she discovered the body. That then had an impact on how day 2 played out, and so on.

I had three suspects and I wanted each one to be questioned in a different restaurant. We went to one restaurant fairly early - on election day. The second, I arranged with friends to meet them there, so that was fairly easy. But the third was a royal pain because they're barely open in the winter months. I had to keep putting off that "meeting" in the story because the physical restaurant wasn't open on the days I wanted. So then I had to write "filler" in the story itself because the meeting was going to provide key information to move the story along.

Other events, like the band playing or meeting with friends, happened in real life so I incorporated those into the story. Then I thought of ways to have those scenes move the plot along.

So, on this first novel, I didn't do much mapping at all. In some ways it was great, such as allowing me to change the entire nature of the male character on the fly. I love that he's a forest ranger now and it seems so perfect. But I had no idea of that going into the story. On the other hand the repeated delays of getting to eat at the restaurant was a pain. I would much rather have known what their schedule was, and been able to work with that smoothly.

On future novels I will have more of a calendar plan, to account for that. But I will still be open to changes and improvisations, because I enjoy that so much about the process.

Lisa Shea on NaNoWriMo

NaNoWriMo and the Sutton Mass Mysteries
Sutton Mass Mysteries main page