books, ness writes about writing

writing a first draft

It started because I’m as excellent at remembering birthdays as I am at maths.

(I am terrible at maths.)

Recently, I wrote the words ‘The End’ to Project If. I’ve been basking in the weight of ‘I must get this story told’ finally – FINALLY – rolling off my shoulders.

Sure, there’s so much more to do but for right now, the project is marinating and my mind is resting, relieved from the burden of a story made corporeal.

Here’s how I did it …


There’s nothing quite like a big birthday coming up to make you panic. My dad was days away from his birthday, and I was in a different country. Now, I’m terrible at remembering birthdays and presents on a good day. I was aware of his birthday approaching, as I was aware of the Pyramids of Gaza – they and it existed, but it never troubled my mind.

Until it did. And then I realised that the only proper and meaningful gift I could give my parent was … a book. I mean, obviously.

True, he never has much time for leisure, and true, there are other things he’d probably rather do in that leisure time but dang it, it would be a meaningful gift (to me) and I couldn’t think of anything else befitting such an auspicious occasion.

It was decided then – I would inflict graciously pen an exciting adventure novel for my stunningly grateful parent.


I went to the local print shop – braving the weather conditions and nipping in before my classes started – and loaded up with lots of stationary. There’s nothing as wonderful as a good, honest pack of post-it notes. There’s something delicious about it. Something that promises of infinite possibilities.

First of all, I did a brain storm – I wrote elements I wanted in the story on post-it notes and slapped them onto the wall. And then the monster was born – an entire wall was covered. (Okay, so it wasn’t the entire wall!) Characters had a post-it note cluster, there was a time line divided into three acts, what the city would look like and how the plot was go – OBVIOUSLY there would be no plot holes. There was NO ROOM FOR ERROR AT ALL.

And then I transferred them from the wall and onto A4 sheets of paper which glamorously represented chapters.

And then, using FocusWriter set to ComicSans font (honest to goodness, any pompous notions of I’m writing the next big thing are effectively knocked out by that font. It’s aces. You can just concentrate on the story because it’s not going to be worse than ComicSans. I believe I have Hayden to thank for these tips.) I typed the fateful first words that are probably going to be completely butchered in the next month:

He didn’t think he’d ever betray his country.



I wrote the beginnings of Project If whilst I was teaching in Moldova. I’d take up the A4 Chapter that I was working on and write the chapter from there – side note, I’m terrible at planning reasonable length chapters. They’d end up being 3,000 to 4,000 to 5,000 words and that’s a little too long for me, personally. But still.

I was teaching and planning lessons and marking papers and all that sort of thing, but I wrote and that was wonderful.

And then I came home and everything changed. Paradoxically, it seems that it’s when I have the most time for writing, I write the least. I had a few weeks in which I had nothing pressing to do – except for writing. And I wrote barely anything.

My brain is very contrary; when I started working full time AND ESTABLISHED A ROUTINE suddenly, I was writing a lot more and word count soared. It wasn’t record breaking; I wasn’t getting down 10,000 words a day, or a week … but words were happening.

And so, slowly, the word count creeped up. Day by day. Sometimes I did timed sprints. Sometimes I simply thundered as loudly as I walk on the keyboard. Occasionally, the plot would veer off into unthought of grounds, but you have to roll with it and fill the plot holes up later.

Being consistently creative, for me, requires a routine. And so I’ve found a sort of groove. And yes, it can mean that one moment I’m writing a gory scene in my lunch hour and the next, I’m having a pleasant conversation with a colleague. But hey – variety is the spice of life and what they don’t know won’t put them off their lunch.


I stalled. I couldn’t help it. Stage fright whisked me into a land of worrisome panic. I delayed it day after day until I realised that I just had to do it. This wasn’t that ’30 day until you get killer abs’ app that I refused to complete on day 29 on the grounds that 1) I had put weight on and 2) no abs had happened.

I had to complete it. So I sat down at my desk, rewrote a section of the final chapter that hadn’t worked out too well, added a few more scenes and typed THE END. It wasn’t quite as speedy as it sounds, but it happened.

Typing ‘The End’ was exhilarating – there’s much further to go on a first draft, at least there is for me, but the story in its crudest, most basic form has been told. It’s all about rewriting and editing it and trying to make it look like I totally meant for that to happen. Yep. Totally.


I’m about to plunge into this – by the time this has been posted, perhaps I will have already done so. It’s going to take a while, I suspect. I’ve planned out my list of edits – and there are five rounds to do in the second draft and just oh this is going to be so time consuming kill me now I mean don’t I’m joking but it’s going to be PAINFUL.

I’ve had a glorious week researching and planning out my next novel – Project Unicorn Poop is undergoing an overhaul. There’s only been one post-it note used. You need a large, empty wall for the Post-It Note plotting method, and I don’t quite have that any more. But another novel is happening because … well, I simply must.

And though it’s going to be a trifle tricky trying to edit one book and write the first draft of a second at the same time but … I’m going to do it. (Probably with total success. *ah-HEM*)

There’s so many stories to tell, you see.

ness writes about writing

The Tale of a Story Told (Part Two)

Click here for Part One. In which Ness takes a past tale and tells its story.

My favouritest Robin Hood

Now, whenever I pick up the threads of this story, I time-travel – two years forwards, two years backwards. Spoiled and less spoiled.

The story still isn’t finished, in fact, it isn’t all that long. But ‘They Call Me Marian’ gradually moves forwards – like a glacier. Or a snail. Or anything terribly slow, really – and I am enjoying it.

If you read it you can see my growth as a writer. You can see when I decided to utilize the magnificent things known as ‘Paragraphs’ (it really was quite the discovery for me).

You can see that my grammar has somewhat improved. (The key word being somewhat).

True, the story has changed with the character. It even had a story spiral off from it (in this tale the sheriff was the hero, Robin the rogue and Sir Guy of Gisbourn had a rough exterior but a heart of gruff softness).

Joan Rice as Maid Marian

Whilst I continue to write and edit various projects, I sometimes drift back to a word document which has waited patiently for my input; for new words; for the story to continue in the telling.

Who knows – one day it may be published. One very, very distant day.

But for now, Maid Marian has just been shockingly kidnapped and two years ago, Allan a’Dale is singing a singularly uncomplimentary song with the subject matter of a certain maid.

Favourite Quotes (in no chronological order):

“A most insincere apology with less meaning than a traitor’s promise.” He smiled, charm dripping off him along with the raindrops.


“It, well,” I would rather be locked in a field with an angry bull. Ten angry balls. With a hundred jousting knights galloping towards me, their lances lowered. “I needed to …”


“Marian,” he said, savouring it, “a most beautiful name.” He looked me up and down – took in my faded dress, patched apron, and wet hair plastered to my crown. “It is too bad that the bearer of the name does not live up to its promise.”


Lines which I (perhaps) have a facial seizure when reading:

I related to her my whole history in my childish way inserting unconscious pathos as my lonely, motherless heart cried out for love.

… Sir Guy’s smooth voice replied, “Ah, well, I am gratified that I have finally caught this barbaric half breed Saxon fox…”

Sir Tomas was, according to Lady Anne, handsome and good looking, but in my private opinion his spirit – ugh! It was small, mean and cold AND he has a huge wart on his nose.