My sister the novelist

My sister Octavia has been taking part in this year’s NaNoWriMo, the challenge to write a 50,000 word novel in a month, and she’s done it! She is a NaNoWriMo winner! Her novel came in at 50,250 words (but, for some reason the NaNoWriMo word count squeaked her in with a word count of 50,080), all written in November with extraordinarily little in the way of preparation, forethought or planning. Needless to say, I’m terribly impressed.

To my amusement she wrote the whole thing on my very old Toshiba laptop that took me through university in the mid 90’s and runs Windows 3.1, has a little black and white screen and contains my CompuServe email from back in the day. The battery’s dead, obviously, but it works and there’s no chance she’d get distracted doing anything else on it!

So, how did my sister get into the less than 20% of people who complete NaNoWriMo? My observation would be that the key thing was, basically, committment. She put her social life on hold, set herself a reasonable daily word count, and went home and wrote. She had bad times with nothing to write, but she wrote, and days when she didn’t want to be in the office but instead home writing, but she went to work and wrote in the evening. She was also spurred on by some frankly brilliant emails from Chris, who runs NaNoWriMo, full of motivation, little tips and support. She wanted to do it, decided she’d do it, and did it.

I think it’s not unrelated that a few months ago Octavia decided to run the Nike 10K in London. She had never run before and started a training regime, sticking to it, and resulting in a very impressive run. Basically, she took on a challenge, and succeeded, which makes other challenges that bit more achievable. Probably no less hard in themselves, but it’s easier to believe you can do it if you’ve just done something else that seemed hard to begin.

And what’s the novel about? Not a clue… and I’m not sure it really matters. In talking to her I’ve gathered there are three main characters, one of whom is named after her cat, but the greater emphasis has been on the writing process. At one point she got bored with a character, so she just started writing about another one. Then she decided she’d move from first person to third person for a bit. She played with it and fought with it, and it worked.

I’m allowed my very own copy of the novel if I donate some money to NaNoWriMo. From their site:

Our estimated costs for NaNoWriMo and the Young Writers Program in 2006 total $183,400. This is our break-even point. Half of all money raised beyond above that will go to our Libraries in Southeast Asia program, and the other half will serve as much-needed start-up funds for the 2007 event.

Sounds good to me.