A Day in the Writing Life of ….Vanessa Barneveld

 This week we welcome Vanessa Barneveld who has very kindly agreed to share her experiences as a writer with us.

 What time of the day do you write? Are you a morning, night-owl or anytime writer?        I’m an anytime writer, but sometimes the WIP likes to dictate what time of day it likes to be given a workout. I’ve arranged my day job’s work hours so I can start there freakishly early and have most of the afternoons free to write.

 Where do you write? Do you have your own special place? Does the location vary?        I have a study, but when it gets too messy and I don’t feel like cleaning it, I gravitate toward the couch to write. My local library is also an option if it’s noisy at home (we’re renovating and my hubby’s a musician…). I’ve also been known to scratch out a few pages while commuting to and from work. It’s only a seven-minute train ride each way, but you’d be surprised how much you can write if you’re on a roll.

 Do you spend much time reading over the previous day’s work? Do you have a special system in place in order to begin writing or go with the flow?        When I’m about to finish for the day, I’ll write down a few lines or phrases about what needs to happen in the following scene. Those thoughts can then marinate in my subconscious overnight. The next time I sit down to work, I can theoretically continue from where I left off. If I’m stuck, I might go back and edit the previous session’s work to get the synapses firing.

 Are you a plotter / planner or a pantser? Do you edit as you go or prefer to edit after completion of the ms?        I used to be a total pantser, but after too many saggy middles and unfinished stories, I decided to give plotting a go. And it worked! I had one particular idea that came to me very clearly and I was able to write a full synopsis, then a chapter-by-chapter summary before writing the book. I thought I’d be bored with the story by the time I got to writing, but I was actually excited because I knew where I was heading and how I was going to get there. That book really poured out of me.

 What writing tools do you favour? Long hand, computer …..         If my internet-avoidance powers are weak, I’ll work with pen and paper. Otherwise I’ll use my laptop. I plan out my books and put research material into a fantastic writers program called Scrivener, and do the actual writing in Word.

 Do you take time out to stretch, rest your eyes etc and if so do you do any exercises at your desk or between sessions?         I’m a poster girl for ergonomics! A few years ago, I injured both wrists through excess typing and mousing, so I now espouse the importance of breaks and stretching. An orthopaedic surgeon once told me, just as athletes train their bodies to run/jump/swim, desk-workers have to train their bodies to sit in a chair all day and type. That means doing regular exercises and being aware of your posture as you work.

Is your writing space messy, organized or somewhere inbetween? Are you prepared to show evidence of your claim with a desk photo?         I’m pleased to show and tell you it’s very tidy, but that’s only because I spent all of yesterday cleaning it in preparation for my first attempt at NaNoWriMo. I can’t write in a cluttered environment because all I think about is the mess. I have to admit that the photo shown here was taken a couple of years ago—I’ve been trying (and failing) to keep it looking that neat ever since.

 What is your favourite form of procrastination? Do you have any tips to beat off that old foe “procrastination”?        I spend an inordinate amount of time at the I Can Has Cheezburger site, but it makes me laugh, so it’s not a bad thing. I’m also a TV addict. Apparently, the trick is to write first, then use TV or internet fun as a reward.

 Website – http://www.vanessabarneveld.com

Blogs – http://authorness.wordpress.com and http://www.rubyslipperedsisterhood.com 

I’m a two-time Golden Heart finalist in the Young Adult category and a two-time Emerald Award finalist.

Vanessa, once again thank you for sharing a day in your writers life.

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  1. Hey, Vanessa – how excellent to read about your writing day!
    You’ve given some very wise tips! Especially about “training” and being sensible when working at a desk – and it looks like you’ve got one of those shaped keyboards… does it make a difference? And I like the idea of jotting those notes to marinate overnight so you can hit the ground running the next day.

    I was so interested to read that you’re a plotting convert. I’m going to Google Scrivener after this and check it out… ah, Google… my favourite method of procrastination!


    • Hi, Sharon! (Waving madly whilst sitting sensibly at my desk!)

      The keyboard really does make a difference. It looks bizarre but it feels like my hands are in a more natural position when I type. I’m so used to it now that using a plain old straight keyboard feels weird.

      You’ll love Scrivener! I playing…er, working with it. I think there’s a new version for PC lovers too.

      Thanks for popping by!

  2. Hi Vanessa! It was great to learn a bit more about you, you tallented thang you! Have a Fabulous Xmas and New year, maybe we’ll catch up in NYC?

    • Hey, CC! Are you enjoying a white Colorado Christmas? Glad you could stop by today! All best wishes to you too for the holidays. I will be in NYC next year–yay! Though, I did get disqualified from the GH this year because my entries failed to make it to Texas in time. I hear it happened to a number of other entrants too. Gah!

  3. Addison Fox

     /  December 11, 2010


    What a great interview! And I was really interested in what you mentioned about training yourself to sit for long periods.

    I think we often forget that we need to take care of ourselves no matter what the activity!!


    • Thank you, Addison!

      I did think it was odd when the surgeon said anyone who sits at a desk all day has to train like an athlete for the job. But he’s right! You’ve gotta work those core muscles, baby! Changing your posture every five minutes or so really helps too. I would actually love to try those new stand-up desks–you can crank them up high so you can stand and type.

      • Ooh, I would love one of those stand-up desks–or one that could be added to a treadmill!

        For those who use Macs, I recommend a program called MacBreakZ that helps you remember to take breaks and do stretches. I’m sure there are similar programs for PC and Linux users.

      • A treadmill desk–ha! Great idea, Cate! That’s the ultimate in multitasking.

        Thanks for sharing about MacBreakZ. I’d use that for sure. At my previous workplace, we used ErgoPro for PCs. It gives you exercises and stretches to perform at regular intervals.

  4. Hey, girl, really enjoyed reading about your day! And I’m so with you–if I can manage to get a chapter by chapter outline going, the book works so much better for me!

    I don’t have a Mac but I use a program called WriteWay Pro for the PC which is very similar to Scrivener (and I do think that Scrivener works for PC now, but I already had WWP). Also WriteWay just did a cool upgrade, anyway, I can have such a good time playing with all the chapter plotting, note cards, story boards, research files….well, just another form of procrastination, lol. Still, aside from that, it sure helps me as I’m a very visual person!

    Keep up the good work!

    • Hi, Diana! What an adorable profile pic you have there!

      Isn’t it great to have a sort of road map for your book? I’d be horribly lost without it. And I love the storyboard and plotting functions of those writer-specific programs. So much fun sourcing pics. It’s not procrastinating–it’s research!

  5. Thanks for sharing your tips, Vanessa. They’re certainly working for you! That desk looks soo tidy:) Interesting that you could switch from pantzer to plotter and it’s sped up your writing. And that you can sometimes write while commuting:)

    • Lovely to see you here, Bev! Thanks for coming along. I’m glad I have that picture of my desk when it was neat! Such fond memories!

      Sometimes I even switch to plotser mode–a cross between a pantser and plotter. But either way, it helps to have some idea of where I want the story to go.

  6. You sound so orginized. if ever you don’t have anything to do come visit and help me get organized.

  7. Kimberly MacCarron

     /  December 11, 2010

    Ah, Vanessa,
    How I envy you being able to write while commuting. But, seeing how you wrote a whole book in a month, I guess you need every minute! Congratulations on completing NaNo!
    I wish even one room in my house looked so tidy! I flourish in complete chaos, so that’s why I’m a bit messy. I keep telling myself there’s a reason, and that’s the one I’m sticking with. 🙂
    It was great to read about your writing experience. Keep up the amazing work!

    • Kim! Congrats to you, too, on writing a whopping 65,000 words during the NaNo craziness! Creative people are meant to be messy, so don’t worry so much if your house is untidy. It clearly works for you and me–LOL! Did you know there’s a Facebook group called ‘No, It Isn’t a Mess, It’s Called Creativity’? We should join it!

      Now that NaNo’s over, when I’m commuting, I do have to stop myself from playing solitaire on my phone. I’m trying to retain my newly acquired good writing habits!

  8. Hi Vanessa,

    I love hearing about how other people write. Thanks for showing us your writing space. I’m jealous! Actually, I’m jealous too of your keyboard. My ergonomic one died and I’m on an old fashioned one. I’m getting used to it again but really should find time to go in and buy another ergonomic one – they’re so good. I’m trying to be better about taking breaks too but I keep forgetting. I’m thinking of using a timer…

    Laughed at you writing on the couch if your avoidance of the net’s not so good. I can relate!

    • Oh, Annie, I’m sorry your ergonomic keyboard died–you must’ve been working very hard! I hope Santa brings you a new one. The characters are starting to rub off on my keyboard. So glad I know how to touch-type.

      The problem of the couch is its close proximity to the TV. And now I have a new danger–internet TV! My house is full of hazards!

      Take those breaks! I’ll be checking on you…

  9. I can’t tell you how I envy your writing space (clean OR messy). I live in such a tiny house, I have to set my computer up on a little sewing table in the corner of our bedroom.

    And it’s good to hear your testimony about being a recovering pantser…I’m working hard at that transition myself. Yes, definitely too many sagging middles and too much unfinished work.

    • “Recovering pantser”–LOL! I wish I could share my space with you, Elisa. Remember, when you’re a bestselling NYT author, you’ll look back on the sewing table days and think of the wonderful books you wrote there.

      Good luck with making your transition into plotting. You’ll be amazed by the difference it makes.

  10. Gwynlyn MacKenzie

     /  December 11, 2010

    I so understand the cluttered space, cluttered mind thing. Although I’ve been forced to do so now and again, a messy environment is detrimental to both my mental health and my writing. Of course, since my office isn’t a ‘public’ space, it’s the main catchall. *sigh* They tell me it’s a Virgo thing. I don’t buy into that, but I do like a modicum of a path, at the very least. 😉

    Nice to know more about you, lil sis.

  11. That is a very clean and tidy desk, young lady. I’m suspicious. Maybe that’s because my desk looks like a flock of magpies have made it their permanent nesting site. Bits of all sorts of things clutter my desktop.

    I’d love to know what kinds of exercises you do. Are they ones you do at your desk or do you actually get up and take a quick lap around the block? I’ve been tempted to do that with my dog, but she’s such a pest, I’d be arrested on nuisance charges.

    • I’ll get you out on bail, Shea, don’t worry! I just do forearm, bicep, tricep, and hamstring exercises and yoga stretches when I’m in the middle of working, and I go to the gym four times a week…and read magazines on the treadmill. No, no, I don’t. I pump weights. Really.

      You have good reason to be suspicious. I can’t actually see my desk right now. Someone keeps putting papers and books and chocolate wrappers and scarves and lord knows what else on it. I don’t know who that could be.

  12. Hello, my gorgeous sis, Gwynlyn! Thanks so much for commenting.

    Oh, I know what it’s like to have your space invaded by other household stuff. There is a fine line between a creative mess (good!) and a crippling mess (bad!). I hope you win the battle between good and bad.

  13. Vanessa, I now have total writer’s space envy! Your creative place is gorgeous – lucky you! And how interesting what the ortho said about keeping your body fit to sit and type for long hours. I never thought about it from that perspective, but what great advice for writers. Thanks for sharing!

  14. Hi, Jen! Fabulous to see you here. I wish you could come visit for real. That desk–when it’s neat–is fabulous. I inherited it from the house’s previous owner.

    The ortho’s advice makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? Actually, when I’m on the treadmill or riding my bike, it’s a great time to think about the wip. Exercise has so many benefits–who would’ve thought?

  15. Hi Vanessa — it was fun to read about your writing process. I like that tip about writing down a few ideas for the next scene at the end of the day and letting them gel overnight. And your office is great–esp all those bookcases! Have a great weekend.

  16. Happy weekend, Anne! Thanks so much for coming by.

    I have a memory like a sieve, so if I don’t write an idea down right away it’s gone forever. I’m glad you like the bookcases. You can never have enough! My dream is to line all the walls of my office with floor-to-ceiling shelves.

  17. “I thought I’d be bored with the story by the time I got to writing, but I was actually excited because I knew where I was heading and how I was going to get there.”

    That’s me exactly, Vanessa. Great interview!!! It’s always fun to read how other writers go about their day. Speaking of clutter, every time I start a new book, my office gets a MAJOR cleaning. By the time I’m finished with the book, yikes. But I refuse to clean it until the book is done. So about twice a year, I have a really clean office. 🙂

    Big hugs!

    • Hi, Darynda! I love peeking into other people’s writing lives, too.

      Isn’t it fab to start a fresh book with a freshly cleaned office? Then you get so engrossed in the book that you don’t notice the clutter piling up. That’s kind of good, isn’t it? Please tell me it is!

      • Haha!!! It is! I promise. The shocker comes when the book is done and you look around and wonder what in name of chocolate happened?

      • “What in the name of chocolate”–you are so hilarious, Darynda! I cannot wait to read all your books!

      • I’m amazed if the clutter by the end of a book actually stays in the office. When I get to that point, I almost can’t stand to walk through my house because EVERYTHING gets shoved to the background of my mind until I get finished. Needless to say, when a book gets finished, I spend the next few days picking up all the miscellaneous stuff that’s gathered everywhere.

        And…hi, Vanessa! 🙂 Darynda pointed out what I was going to say. With an outline, I get very excited to see what I know is going to happen come to life. But I also get frustrated because I can’t just fly through the rest of it. It’s almost like having a book by one of my favorite authors (a book I know I’ll love) halfway read, then having to finish it only one chapter a day. Killer!

        Nice interview! I love seeing how(and where) other writers work.

      • Hi there, Kim! It’s always a bit of a shock when you come out of a novel-writing fog and suddenly all the cobwebs and dust bunnies seem more visible. You know it’s really bad when you’re tripping over stuff you meant to put away. This may seem a bit sick, but I do find cleaning up afterward satisfying!

        I’m with you on how long it takes to draw a story out. So excruciating!

        Thanks for commenting! 🙂

  18. Excellent interview, Vanessa–expecially the bit about your “conversion” from pantster to plotter. I’m also interested in Scrivener. I downloaded a trial copy but never got around to trying it–must try again…

    • Hi, Kandy! You’ll have fun with Scrivener. It’s a really good investment.* You can keep all your notes, your characters’ recipes and pictures of their dogs all in one place. Oh, and the story too.

      *I’m not affiliated with Scrivener. This is not a paid advertisement. Just thought you should know! LOL!

  19. I think if anyone ever wanted a picture of my writing desk, I’d have to go and look up stock photos of one and post that instead.

    I also have to go pen and paper when the internet beckons too strongly. I end up cutting most of what I free hand, but it does get my head in the right place for the scene.
    Great interview!

    • I laughed at your idea about the stock photo, Jeannie! Love it. Speaking of pictures, your Butterfly Swords profile pic looks faaabulous!

      There’s something about writing with pen and paper. I find I write faster. Maybe it has something to do with being that little bit further away from the Net! After relying on keyboards for so long, though, my handwriting has become awful. Sometimes I can’t understand what I’ve written!

      Thanks so much for coming over here!

  20. Hello Vanessa, dear!

    What a wonderful interview. So interesting to hear about your writing process ! And I understand completely the lure of the internet, especially when I am frustrated with my writing!

    Like you, my first three books were completely pantsered and now I am getting started on massive rewrites for the third book as a result. I am excited about the direction of the rewrites but NOT about having to actually do it! So, I think I will be spending a lot more time plotting from now on!

    Your office looks lovely. Mine is a complete disaster, but I hope to get some cleaning done over the holidays. I do tidy up after each book and tuck all of my notes away in the notebook I set up for each book and the notecards in the box I have for each book. That way if I have to go back and do yet ANOTHER rewrite I have all of my little ideas and snippets from that book to refer to.

    And I love the idea of writing what happens next to sort of prime the pump for the next day.

    What clutters my writing area the most are the snoring canines and felines who feel I cannot do anything without them sitting or lying at my feet.

    Happy Christmas, dear !! Hope to see you in New York!

    • Hello, my darling Louisa! I appreciate you coming all the way down here to comment!

      I’m glad you’ve found your way with your third book. Plotting is such a revelation! What a great idea to have a box for each book. I’ve tried folders but things just keep falling out of them and that adds to the mess.

      I did have this great image of you in my head surrounded by all your fur folk. It’s lovely to have a symphony of purrs serenading you as you write. If you look closely at my photo, you can see my Pinklepurr lolling around it the sun. My other cat prefers to sit *on* my laptop.

      Have a fabulous Christmas and New Year. I’ll see you in NYC!!!

  21. Hi Vanessa,
    Great to show us a sneak peak into your office and writing life. It’s good to know how other writers operate.

    I’m a bit of a plotter, then it takes off from there. I have to have something tangible to kick start my writing, even though it may change as the writing progresses. 🙂

    Thanks for sharing,

    Suzanne 🙂

    • Hi, Suzanne! Ah, another plotter! I’m glad you mentioned that you can change direction. I used to think plotting wouldn’t suit me because I thought I’d have to stick with the course I’d nutted out.

      Thanks so much for interviewing me for the blog!

  22. Your office is GORGEOUS — no surprise, since you always look gorgeous, too! Thanks for letting us take a peek!

    I, too, use the internet to procrastinate. The best trick I’ve found is MacFreedom, which turns off your internet for a preset period of time. The only way to cheat is to reboot, and I’m lazy so…no internet! It’s the electronic equivalent of putting your credit cards in the freezer.

    I LOVE seeing how other authors structure their days…it’s such a treat! Thanks again, V!

    • OMG, Erica, I hadn’t heard of this MacFreedom thing! That’s ingenious! I’m going to seek it out right now. If anybody doesn’t hear from me, you’ll know why.

      Thanks so much for coming along and saying lovely things. Congratulations to you on becoming the lead author for Kensington’s new K Teen line. I’m so excited for you!

    • Oh my gosh, I have never heard of MacFreedom, but WOW! What a great idea. I am totally going to try it. Thanks, Erica!

      • I just tried it for an hour! And I spent that hour vacuuming. Can you believe it? I’m going to get the full version now. 🙂

      • I just downloaded it! This is going to be a godsend for me, I’m telling you. I was just telling my husband today he needs a switch that will turn off the internet on my computer and he’ll only turn it on in case of emergency. True, I’ll have to drag out the thick, dusty thesaurus (love the online version), but it will be worth it.


      • Yay, Darynda! Did you see Sara’s comment below about procrastinating over turning MacFreedom on? Too funny. She got over it, though.

      • Haha! I did! Sara, you are too funny!

  23. Whoo-weeeeee! Will you look at all those comments, Miss Vanessa? I’m back from my cruise singing yo-ho-ho and a bottle of rum. Actually, seriuosly, it’s about the stage when I used to start on the cocktails so I could really do with a waiter right about now. Vanessa, what a fascinating series of answers and your office looks lovely. I saw it very much in its unrenovated state and I look forward to seeing the finished version now. How interesting that you used to be a pantser and now you’re a plotter. I actually tried to be a plotter on my current project but I think I’m even more of a pantser than I used to be – and that’s saying something!

    • Anna! I’m so glad you’re back from swanning around the ocean. I’ve missed you! I’m dying to hear more about your adventures. Thanks for your postcards and special thanks for coming round here to say hi.

      How funny that you you’re even more of a pantser now. Hey, if the method works for you, why change?

  24. I loved this interview, Vanessa – almost (but definitely not really) as good as talking to you in person! You really should try MacFreedom; my problem is that I procrastinated from even turning it on, but once it is on, my ability to focus improves tremendously.

    Just out of curiosity, why do you write in Word instead of Scrivener? I’ve been writing in Scrivener, but I will say that the amount of time it took me to properly format everything for the GH after exporting from Scrivener into Word was a bit much. I may just not have set up the export properly – but are you doing it in Word because of formatting issues, or something else?

    • Hi, Sara! Oh, I’d much rather be talking to you face to face, too, but this has been a fun day in cyberland. Thanks for visiting me!

      LOL to you procrastinating over turning on MacFreedom. Wow, you had it *bad*! I’m glad to hear you overcame that.

      You hit the nail on the head about formatting headaches. I just couldn’t get the right number of lines per page. There must be something vital I’m missing in regards to formatting preferences. That said, I still seem to maintain good productivity using Scrivener for storing plot notes and research in addition to Word.

    • I have something you might try, Sara. I learned an odd thing when I was my chapter’s newsletter editor. I don’t know if this will help with Scrivner. I keep wanting to try it and putting it off, but you might try this trick. Instead of copying from Scrivner and pasting into Word, paste it first into a plain text editor like notepad, then re-copy and paste it into Word.

      Okay, this might not help, but it works like a jewel for Write or Die. It never formats correctly when I paste it into Word and I spend the next half hour hitting enter just to get a new paragraph. If you are copying something from an email and want to keep that formatting, ditto. Not sure why this works, but it’s awesome!

      Good luck.

  25. I’m horribly late to the party. And that other Sharon always beats me. 🙂 Thanks for sharing all the tidbits about your process. I too am a reformed pantser – though if I go much beyond a synopsis I start to twitch and worry that all my plot twists are too predictable!

    Your office is so beautiful I feel productive just looking at it. 🙂 And I have learned a few things about writer tools, too, so thanks for that!

    • I’m thrilled to see now *both* my favourite Sharons have made it here! Glad to have been of service. 🙂

      And predictable? You? Never! It’s great that you can at least start off with a synopsis. So many people get twitchety by the very idea of one. Can’t say I blame them. Synopses are almost as hard as writing the book!

  26. Thanks very much for having me here today, Suzanne, and thanks to everyone for commenting. Happy weekend to all!

  27. Suzanne

     /  December 11, 2010

    You’re welcome Vanessa. Thanks everyone for participating too. Have a good one!

  28. My office was clean once upon a time, too… but that was a long time ago. : )

    • Vanessa Barneveld

       /  December 13, 2010

      I can relate to that, Diane! It’s nice to have photographic proof of what it once looked like.

  29. Hey Vanessa, I’m running fashionably late as usual 🙂 Love your office. I cringe when I look around at mine. I actually find the Mac keyboards a lot easier to use than the PC ones. But you are right we need to train our bodies for this job.

    • It’s *always* lovely to see you online and in person, Eleni!

      Do you use a separate Mac keyboard with a laptop? If Mac made a gorgeous but ergonomic wireless keyboard, I’d definitely get one. The Microsoft ergo ones ain’t pretty, but they are functional.

      • I have an iMac and love the normal flat white keyboard with the flat wide keys. I also have an MacBook now and love those keys as well. Of course, if I’m too long my arms don’t like it but if I get up and stretch, all’s good. 🙂

      • Oh, two Macs! How fabulous to have options! 🙂

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