ROE And Why Writers Should Care About It

I don’t like acronyms. If you tell me you went to DRT to learn YUR, you might see my eyes glaze over and be given a polite excuse that my phone is ringing or my house is on fire.

Okay, I’m not that much of a jerk, but I don’t like acronyms for their exclusivity and lack of description.

So why am I talking about ROE? If you’ve read any books by James Scott Bell recently, you are probably clear on why, as a writer, keeping ROE in mind is important. If not, let me induct you into the group. Here’s the Kool Aid.

If you are in the business world you might be aware of its cousin – ROI – Return On Investment. How much you expect to get back for your efforts/investment. ROE – Return On Energy is just as important to the time-strapped novelist.

Time is our enemy. We scramble to cobble together three minutes to whittle a sentence or two and hope it doesn’t have a lot of adverbs. We must be intentional with all of our time and projects to ensure our efforts are productive and we get the proper ROE.

So how do you ensure you are getting the proper ROE? Good question.

I firmly believe in writing when you have the time, not meandering around Facebook/Pintrest or throwing together a writing playlist. You sit down and write on your novel/article/blog post. All of this screen time and usage of time is making sure you are getting the proper return on the energy spent. This means keeping your end goal in mind and working towards it.

Sometimes you must leave a bit of editing and move forward with your work or plotting your book for the eighth time, so you don’t veer off course like an errant firework. Maybe it’s simply taking time away from marketing and blogging and actually work on your next project.

Whatever this might mean for you writer, keep writing and keep aiming. Keep searching for the best Return On Energy.

See, I still can’t do acronyms.



What Is Your Scene/Chapter Aiming At?

I mentioned in the last few posts that I am reading James Scott Bell’s The Art of War for Writers. It is an essential guide for fiction writers.

Through my interaction with it, I’ve come away with a hundred different ideas. It’s like each paragraph holds four morsels to help tighten up your prose and create books that will continue to ratchet up until the final page.

One of my recent takeaways was to make sure you have a focal point for every scene you write.

Each portion of your work should be directing the audience toward something. What I mean by this is that there is something they are looking forward Archerto, some dangly little cookie that is just in front of their face. Is the character to have a visit from someone? Are they finally going to go through that door? Has your character had enough and it is time to speak up after months of getting trod on? Whatever it is, there needs to be a purpose for each scene, or in other words, the scene’s bull’s-eye.

It’s hard to write a book and be in a fictionalized world and not write for me. In a way I am. I would hope I am entertained at the placing of each word after the next otherwise why would I spend all of this time by myself typing away? But, one thing to keep in mind is that focal point. The place in the distance we are herding our audience. It’s a crescendo that is building and then instead of handing it to them, take it up an octave. This could be an action or a reveal that comes completely out of nowhere.

To take it from Mr Bell –

Every scene in your novel should have a moment or exchange that is the focal point, the bull’s-eye, the thing you are aiming at. If your scene doesn’t have a bull’s-eye, it should be cut or rewritten.  Art of War for Fiction Writer’s pg 113.

So as you consider your next chapter – the one with the scene at the café or the grocery store or standing on the parapet overlooking the battlefield, remember, what are you aiming at?



How To Create An Effective Word Count Goal


Think about the last time you failed at a goal. Be it to land a job, run a triathlon, swim a mile, write a book, etc. Whatever it is, it weighs on you. It can be a mocking, dark cloud. You might have failed from lack of effort but those usually don’t hurt. I am talking about one that hurts, and hurts bad. Not a mosquito bite, but a side swipe by a car.

I’ve been side swiped on and off for the last seven years. Okay that might seem a bit dramatic but the stings have been there. I’ve gone through spurts where I have written a lot, and not written at all. This is not what a novelist does, I told myself. Novelists write every single day. They get up and write when they don’t feel like it. They write when they are tired and when they have no effort or words left. Still, they keep laying them down one by one.

I’ve read how Stephen King would spend hours every day finishing his daily word count, Hemingway too. These giants keep/kept a pace of writing deities. I used to think with a little bit of effort, I could do five hundred words a day. But then I’d have a bad day. A day where nothing comes together and my emotions are sapped. I’d given all I could to my family and gladly, but I’d get nothing on the page. There was no more time for artistic pursuits. This was a big issue for me. I’m serious about my work. This is what I want, but I keep failing at measly little daily word counts.

A Realistic Goal

I am reading the Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. It is an excellent read and I recommend it to any writer I know. In its pages I discovered something so simplistic I could punch myself for not trying it before (actually I did punch myself): the weekly writing goal.

Instead of walking around feeling like a failure five days a week, because I wrote only two hundred words those days, I’ve decided to aim for a weekly writing goal.

Here are three reasons weekly writing goals work

  1. They are flexible. With a life dominated by the sporadic, I could suddenly lose or gain writing time. Instead of being bummed or paralyzed you can be okay with not writing, or staying up late working toward your goal.
  2. It is a goal. Writers need goals. We need to be working for something. Be it a short story, poem, or novel, there needs to be consistent work and effort. Professional writers, like professional athletes, don’t get to where they are by being lukewarm in their pursuits.
  3. It builds momentum. I wrote 2547 words on my novel last week. I wrote 2 blogs (429, 589 words) and in my sons journal every day. It was nice to continually write. If I had a daily goal, I am sure missing one day would let the air of out my momentum and crush another day with ease. I want to stop that failing feeling.

For my weekly goals, I’ve decided to write:

3000 words on my novel.

2 blogs a week.

1 short story submission per month.

I do all of this while keeping track on a notebook. I always count backward to my goal 3000-0. It’s a physiological thing. Do whatever works for you.

Avoid the power of failure. Set an effective weekly writing goal and don’t compromise. Don’t make it 10,000 words if you don’t have the time and vice versa. Maybe you can only get 1000 words done per week. Whatever your goal is, keep striving and keep writing. If you have goal setting tips, please comment below.





Does It Always Have To Be About Writing?

Does It Always Have To Be About Writing?

My blog has been dormant for a month now. After the last Jot Conference I came to the realization that I was not growing much as a writer, at least not in the last year. I was writing, and that is always good, but I wanted to get better. I wanted to reach another plateau.

I decided to get back into reading about writing and practicing what I read. I’m reading The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell. On the cover it describes the content as: fiction writing strategies, tactics, and exercises.

This book has been a revelation. It’s short, concise, like a daily devotional for the writer. I am reading it through now, and can imagine myself reading a brief chapter before my writing time in the evening.The art of war for writers

One of the most surprising things in the book was the emphasis on things other than writing. Of course, Mr. Bell mentions all writers must have a weekly word count goal built into their regimen and other routines the professional  writer-to-be must incorporate, but tucked into its pages he also suggests doing things like memorizing a Chopin ballad, play the ukulele, go for a hike, and several other activities that have nothing to do with writing.

Writing is my main hobby. I am working on another novel now and prepping a few short stories for submission, but I was getting burnt out. I gave every free moment I had to writing on my laptop. I work at a desk all day and stare at two computer monitors. I get my fill of screen time and thus it is hard to force myself to come to the computer when the day is done.

However, when it came to free time and I wanted to go for a run, or watch hockey, or just read a book, guilt would creep in. Guilt that I wasn’t getting to my daily word count. Guilt that I was being a slacker and needed to get to work! Honestly, it would eat me up.

This book has given me permission to enjoy my free time a bit more, and to do so without the guilt of not writing. I still write and still think of my novels and short stories all of the time, but it is also good to live, to refill your creative well, and to find joy in things other than writing. I also need to remember to use the revival these things can give and use it as fuel.



A Prolific Writer

The writing advice on this blog is learned from my own experience and failures. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about how I treat my writing. Am I a slave to it? Do I treat it like a job, as it should be, because I want to do it as a career?

I listened to an interview by James Scott Bell recently and I think it would be helpful for you to hear from him as well. I posted it below. If you have not heard of him he is a best-selling thriller writer. He also has written several books for Writer’s Digest about the craft. I suggest visiting the library and reading a few of them if you want to strengthen your fiction.

Write well today my friends.



Reading With A Pen And Notebook

Last week, I was a vandal. Or, at least I felt like one. A local bookstore is in the process of closing its doors and I helped give them a final shove by raiding their shelves. Schuler’s on Alpine Ave was one of my favorite places to go. My wife and I would go there on dates. We took the kids there so much that my when my oldest was one she would always pretend to leave and when we asked her where she was going she always replied, “to the bookstore!” every time.

While I was being a villain, I bought a copy of the book Revision and Self-Editing for Publication by James Scott Bell. It is subtitled Techniques for Transforming Your First Draft into a Novel that Sells. Now, I have never believed that you buy a book, follow its principles, and say hello to a monster book contract. But, I believe that you should always be learning and growing and not become complacent if you want to succeed at the craft.

Mr. Bell loves teaching about writing, this is very plain. One of the first things he did when he was in the process of learning how to write a great novel, is read with a notebook and pen. At first I thought it would transform the pleasure of reading into an arduous experience. I was wrong.

In the opening Mr. Bell talks about his grand scheme to improve his golf game. He decides to by videos, subscribe to magazines and learn all he could about the tips and tricks of the game. Though he did this, it did not help. He got really frustrated and nearly gave up because, though he had the theory down, he could not do it. Learning it was one thing, doing it another. Just as he was about to give up, he met a golf instructor that showed him how simple household items like brooms and coat hangers and the like could help him ingrain the natural movements in golf. Soon, he was better at the game. His body knew how a good swing or putt felt.

This is why reading with a notebook in hand is wonderful. You can write down your own tips as you read your favorite books. You get the feel of a great story or why a particular scene or character is so spot on. I’m reading Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone and learning why it is so great. I am studying the chapters and the characters. I see the ballon of hope in Harry swell in three paragraphs, a one sentence paragraph plateau, and then three paragraphs tumbling him back to his horrible reality. I’ve learned how the technical part of dialogue and action followed by more conversation. And I’m better at comas.

There are endless things to learn about the craft and Mr. Bell is a great guide for fiction writers. I suggest if you want to get better, read a great work of fiction, and do so with a pen and notebook in hand.