Completing the NaNoWriMo Challenge in 18 Days, The Novel Writing Marathon for Writers

Because your own strength is unequal to the task, do not assume that it is beyond the powers of man; but if anything is within the powers and province of man, believe that it is within your own compass also. – Marcus Aurelius (AD 121-180), Roman emperor and Stoic philosopher

Wow. From start to finish, I just finished a 50,000-word novel writing challenge as an official first-year participant in the National Novel Writing Month in less than 30 days. 18 days to be exact.

Have you ever written that many words in that many days in a succession? Maybe during college for one of your major research papers or a thesis you had to do?

But usually, you had more time to do it. You paced yourself. You took many, many breaks (aka procrastination). And then you came back, and you wrote some more. Until you finished. Or until you could not, or did not have to, write anymore.

And here we are.

From November 1 to November 18, I have written more words than I have ever written in my entire life. And I’ve been writing for fun ever since I was a child. Countless short stories were written and several novel ideas were begun but never completed.

Year 2010 is when I would first complete a novel from start to finish. I did it. And I feel spectacular!!

Let me give you the breakdown of the psychology behind NaNoWriMo, as experienced by me over the past few weeks:

Week 1 (Nov. 1-6)

I started off strong. I wrote approximately 2,100 words on my first day.

The average number of words a participant needs to write in order to complete 50,000 words in 30 days is 1,667 words/day.

My personal goal was to write a minimum of 2,000 words/day. Minimum. Anything above and beyond would be great. I wrote well this week.

I also handed in my resignation on Nov. 1, which was the first day of the Nano challenge. I seem to be getting myself into a lot of “challenges” lately! But all in good ways. Ways that help shape me to be even stronger for the bright future I have ahead of me.

The future that will be infinitely brighter because I chose to do something about my life. To listen to my heart and work hard to make my dreams a reality. It’s working, folks. My dreams, in a matter of days, will come to full fruition.

Week 2 (Nov. 7-13)

Nov. 10: I want to break my fingers off but not before I throw my laptop against the wall and pull all my hair out. Argh!! It’s these trying times – the times when my mind just goes blank – that I ask myself, “Why am I doing this again??!”

But then I stop. I calm down. I go within myself and listen. Softly, a voice inside, strong and clear, tells me that I can do it. I need to do it. And I will prevail.

I take a writing break to regain focus. I go out and take a nice walk, breathing in the deep, cool air that is the late autumn weather and the beginnings of winter here in Chicago. I look around me and observe quietly as the golden yellow leaves fall gently from the magnificent trees up above and lay themselves peacefully upon the earth.

The earth renews itself. And so will I.

Week 3 (Nov. 14-18)

Over a period of 24 hours over the weekend, I wrote close to 10,000 words. It was like lightning struck my fingertips and I couldn’t get the words out fast enough onto the screen.

But I did it. It’s not perfect, my novel, but I wasn’t aiming at perfect. I never was to begin with.

And the last few days? Glorious.

Like the first-time marathoner who is on his last 3 miles of the marathon. So close. He sees the finish line, gasps for air, his lungs bursting, and thinks to himself, “Must. Keep. Going.” One foot in front of the other. Keep going. You can do it. Keep writing. You can do it. Believe in yourself.

And so I kept writing. Until I finally crossed the finish line, that which is my total word count of 50,371 on November 18, 2010, at 11:20 p.m.

I, Nina Yau, have written my first novel.

Letting Go: One Woman’s Self-Discovering Journey to Find Meaning In Her Life

By Nina Yau

Wendi Passett is a successful 28-year-old advertising executive in one of the world’s top advertising agencies. She has it all. The looks, friends, power, prestige, and a salary to match.

But is she truly happy?

Wendi attempts to find herself through a series of twists and turns on a self-discovering journey to realize what it really means to live a meaningful life, one that excites her to no end.

2 Things I Learned About Myself During This Challenge

1. Focus On the Process Rather Than the Product.

The whole point of the NaNoWriMo challenge was not to write Pulitzer Prize-winning novels. To not write the next fictional bestseller. To not necessarily have my work published. To not necessarily have perfect grammar, punctuation, spelling, plot summary, character development, and so forth.

The whole point of the challenge was the process itself. For through the process, one can learn so much about him/herself. That, in and of itself, was the reward.

You learn that you can be a temperamental person. Especially when you are starved for time and on a pressing deadline. But within a short deadline, you can do it, if you focused on the process, the process that challenged you in ways unimaginable.

It’s Parkinson’s Law in full effect. Parkinson’s Law states that the work expands to fill the time you allot it.

Just like how that one report seems to take you an entire 8 hours to complete at work, but given the same report to do in half a day, you somehow miraculously finish it. How did that happen?

You focus. You eliminate distractions. You clear your desk, your mind, your computer, and you get down to work.

I focused my entire energy and mental faculties on writing my novel.

And at the same time, I still found that I needn’t drastically eliminate other activities which brought me joy, like painting, training in Karate, and reading.

Just because I was writing a novel didn’t mean I had to stop my entire life because of it. That was the beauty of the challenge.

That I could write a novel all the while engaging myself in activities which also enlightened me, stimulated me, gave me more creativity, inspiration, and encouragement. Win-win.

2. Believe In Yourself. You Are Stronger and More Capable Than You Think.

Those that think they cannot do something are most often the ones who give themselves, and others, a thousand and one reasons why they cannot. Because they need to justify and make themselves feel better for their decision on why they are “incapable” of doing something.

If you’ve been reading Castles in the Air for quite some time now, you will understand my viewpoint on this type of thinking, which is: This type of negative thinking is incredibly foolish and has got to go.

I understand. It’s hard to always think positive. It takes work to consciously rid yourself of self-degrading thoughts, of destructive beliefs about yourself and your innate capabilities. It’s really hard, I know.

But I will tell you this much: No amount of self-help books, inspirational leaders and speakers, powerful motivators and feel-good writing you read will give you the confidence and self-esteem you so desire.


Because it comes from within. Inspirational books, blogs (such as this one), and people can be the catalyst for change to occur but the driver and motivator for such change is you. You, and only you.

And you are incredibly powerful beyond measure. You have the abilities to change the world if you only believed in yourself.

Now, It’s Your Turn!

Take on a challenge today. But of course, find one that’s worthy of your pursuit, time, energy and focus.

I find the most fun and stimulating challenges are the ones in the areas you are most passionate about.

To give you an idea of what that means, here are some examples:

  • Running. If you enjoy running as a casual exercise but have never run anything longer than 15 miles, sign up for the next marathon. Stretch yourself to do something you believe to be much more difficult, but yet so much more rewarding. Read Joel Runyon’s Blog of Impossible Things for serious inspiration on doing the impossible. He’s an active athlete, like I am, but in a different way. One can learn a thing or two from Mr. (im)Possible himself.
  • Reading. If you enjoy reading as a casual bedtime activity, try reading one or two books a week. I’ve now read 69 books and counting this year, way more than one book a week. Or, if you like discussing and diving deeper into a book, join your local reading club. Or form a group on your own. Even if it’s just one other person, you can learn so much about a book – and about the other person – just by discussing it openly and candidly.
  • Writing. If you enjoy writing and have never written a novel – though you would love to — sign up for next year’s NaNoWriMo challenge. Track your progress online and feel the excitement grow as you see your novel nearing completion. If you can, do it with a friend, like I did. We encouraged one another, asked “How many words did you write today?” and sent each other funny excerpts from our novel just because it was fun and entertaining. Write your novel at home, at your local coffeeshop, your library, during your lunch break at work. You can do it. I did it. And I’m still working full-time (until my last day on Nov. 30) all the while!

Think you’re too busy for any challenges now? Because just living your life right now is a challenge?

Think again, my friend. Someone, somewhere in this world, is living a life more challenging, more difficult than you can ever imagine. You owe it to yourself to stretch your self-imposed limitations until they all but break. You can totally do it!

Thank You, Yes, YOU!

Finally, thank you for your support and encouragement during the past few weeks while I wrote my novel.

If you are a follower on , you will have seen me post, from time to time, where I was during the challenge. And you cheered me on. You gave me hope. Inspiration to continue doing what I was doing. Thank you. You’re simply wonderful.

Free Prize!

Swing by this Friday, 11/26, to download your free copy of Inspirations from The Radical Minimalist, a companion ebook to the full book The Radical Minimalist.

If you celebrate Thanksgiving, I hope you have a very happy and joyful one. Be thankful for your life, for it can all fade to black, all too soon … Live it with no regrets. Learn to let go. And be well, my friends.

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