What is NaNoWriMo?

According to the NaNoWriMo website:

National Novel Writing Month is a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing. Participants begin writing November 1. The goal is to write a 175-page (50,000-word) novel by midnight, November 30.

Chet’s NaNoWriMo Experience


I’d first stumbled upon NaNoWriMo in 2002, just a few days before November that year. I signed up to participate, and went in with little beyond the main character’s name and profession. I stumbled again on the second day at less than 2,000 words, and didn’t finish that year. It turns out that’s more or less a newbie experience with many other first-time NaNoWriMo participants.


The next year, 2003, I was better prepared. I went in with more than the main character’s name and profession. In fact, I went in with a WIP from a few years back. A few days before 1 November, I came upon a brilliant title for the NaNovel – Not Writing – and I had the exact sentence that I wanted to end the 50,000 words on. With that ending in mind, I wrote and wrote, and passed the finish line a few hours before midnight on 30 November 2003.


It was during the 2004 NaNoWriMo that I met other Malaysian participants, including Sharon Bakar, Tiara Shafiq, Erna Mahyuni, See Ming and Sim, and also Leah aka Ms Wonderly. Leah, who was a writer with The Star, went on to write a series on NaNoWriMo that year. Some of us were featured in the second article, and my NaNovel, Glutton Square, was given a visual treatment that could very well be the book cover, if I ever get it published! (I have a digital copy of this picture somewhere in my computer which I will put up when I find it.)

That year, I set myself a daily target of 2,000 words and passed the 50,000-word line on 25 November. I spent the rest of the month cheering the other Malaysian participants past the finishing line.


The next year, 2005, turned out to be the best year for Malaysian NaNoWriMo participation. MPH Bookstores gave us space and time during one of their Writers’ Circle Saturdays to make a presentation. I did the intro about the history of NaNoWriMo. I still remember my opening lines:

For a long time, I thought NaNoWriMo stood for National November Writing Month. It was only when I was reading up the history for this presentation that I found it actually stands for National Novel Writing Month.

That year’s NaNovel, Hammer Girls, was based on another WIP from quite a few years back.


For 2006, I was travelling for part of the NaNo month and thought the early evenings would give me ample time to write my NaNovel for that year. But I was wrong; I couldn’t concentrate after my days visiting my giant pandas, and didn’t complete NaNoWriMo that year. But I continued to support the NaNo effort – a US$25/- contribution bought me a halo that appeared near my name whenever I posted in the discussion forums, and various other physical goodies that included postcards and stickers, as well as this supporter icon:


I was determined to complete the 2007 NaNoWriMo, and I did, using the unfinished NaNovel from the previous year, but starting from word 0. As I was no longer on a 9-to-5 work routine, having left the corporate world middle of the year, I had all the time to concentrate on writing and finishing what eventually became Half-Breed.

There were various meet-ups with the other Malaysian participants, including a TGIO (Thank God It’s Over) dinner on Saturday, 1 December.

What’s Next?

There’d been some worry after 2006 that I no longer have what it takes to NaNo. Well, last year, I not only finished but proved to myself that I could still write a 50,000-word NaNovel in 30 days. So now, I can “retire” on a completed NaNovel.

I’m thinking I won’t participate this year, but I will continue to support the NaNoWriMo cause – contribute my annual US$25/- for my halo, cheer on the other Malaysian participants, and remain an AlphaSmart advocate in the NaNo Technology forum. But who knows? Come October, I may feel the familiar itch to write a 50,000-word NaNovel during the 30 days of November. At least, it gets me to sit down and write.

2008 (updated 23 October 2009)

Yes, after a bit of uncertainty whether I would be doing NaNoWriMo in 2008, I did. And once again, I completed the challenge with a final total of 50,178 words.

Unlike the previous NaNo’s, which were WIPs from many years back, The Old Neighbourhood is a brand new story with all-new characters. The story premise looks promising, and I might revisit it sometime in the future.

With 1 November 2009 just 8 days away, I am planning to participate yet again, but this time, with not one, but two, NaNo’s – one fiction and the other non-fiction. Stay tuned …

2009 (updated 31 October 2010)

With slightly more than 12 hours to the start of NaNoWriMo 2010, I’m finally updating this page.

I did it. I wrote two for NaNoWriMo 2009 – a fiction, and a non-fiction. I’d wanted to write just one, but after I found out non-fiction won’t be validated and awarded a winner’s certificate, I decided to write a fiction, too, cuz I do love getting that winner’s cert when I participate.

The fiction (see in the picture of the winner’s cert above) is an old WIP from more than 10 years ago. Early last year, I was already thinking about what to write in November, when these voices came to my mind, asking, “What about us?” So I dusted off their WIP and started updating the notes. Later, of course, I put it aside for the non-fiction, but when I decided to write two, it was a no-brainer which would be my fiction submission. Mag is Missing is a story of female friendship, with the promise to meet again on Millennium Eve complicated by the fact that one of them had gone missing. Hence, the title. Final official word count verified by NaNoWriMo – 50,839.

As for the non-fiction, I needed to keep a promise to myself – to commemorate my 10 years as a giant panda lover with a piece about those 10 years. So I wrote a sort of history, my black and white history, as well as comments on practices around captive giant panda breeding, the work being done with wild giant pandas, etc. Final word count – 50,829.

It was after I finished writing it that I realised a book about giant pandas would be more pictures than text. So I went about gathering a set of photos to publish as a photobook. This eventually became a photobook called Tai Shan in China, with pictures and captions about Washington, DC’s favourite “son” coming out of quarantine and moving to new digs in Bifengxia Panda Base. I published it through Blurb Books which has a feature “Blurb for Good” which allows prices of Blurb books to be marked up and the profits given to a charity. Without hesitation, I designated profits from my photobook to Pandas International‘s Wolong Earthquake Fund.

And now, onto 2010 NaNoWriMo. This is probably my most ambitious to date. I have a lot of notes about the story, including character sketches, and even the ending! It’ll be good to know what I’m writing towards.

Some thoughts about NaNoWriMo

To write 50,000 words in 30 days, the daily output must be at least 1,667 words. November is actually quite a bad month to write, especially for the American participants because of the Thanksgiving holiday. Some of my American NaNo friends work out a schedule whereby they know how many words they must have written by Thanksgiving in order to have a few days off and still be able to pass the 50,000-word line by 30 November.

I usually have three NaNo sessions every day, which works out to around 600 words per session. This is less intimidating than having to write 1,667 words in one go. It’s even less intimidating when I can do the first session first thing in the morning (often very early morning, since I’m a late night person), after which I can go about my day knowing I only have another 1,000-odd words to write for that day. I usually write more than 600 words per session, because once I get going, the story flows, and flows, and flows …

Related entries about NaNoWriMo:

More NaNo thoughts

If nothing else, NaNoWriMo got me to sit down and write. I have four completed NaNovels which, now that sufficient time has passed since I wrote them, I can bring out to start editing.

More than “a fun, seat-of-your-pants approach to novel writing”, NaNoWriMo has also turned out to be a very caring organisation. My US$25/- annual contribution has gone towards their Libraries in Southeast Asia project.

Way to go, NaNoWriMo!