Writers, how would you complete this sentence? The three things it takes to become a successful novelist are _________, __________, and ___________.
I can think of a lot of things I'd put in the list. The ability to create scenes that stimulate reader's emotion. A unique voice (but not too unique!). A passion for premise. The ability to twist plot in an unexpected, but believable way. Characters that, while larger than life, create a sympathy in the readers that have them in the cheering section from page one. An understanding of all the finer details of craft, the selection of point of view, ability to create tangential dialogue thick with microtension. Oh, then of course there is conflict, conflict, and more conflict.
And someone always brings up the stakes, the answer to the "who cares?" of our protagonist's dilemas. Just how does a successful writer ratchet up the stakes so that the conflict matters?
Somewhere in the conversation someone always brings up marketing and publicity, but I always wonder how much difference interviews, blog tours, print ads and TV really make.
Then, somewhere in the mix behind the authors that break out in a big way is some unpredictable element, the scratching of a public itch that satisfies thousands of readers in a way that no one could have predicted. Before the Left Behind series hit, who would have predicted the huge crossover impact that a novel about the end times (especially one clearly written from a Christian viewpoint) would be?
Regardless of how you fill in the slots, I'm going to argue that without this one element, the other two don't matter. The one quality that is necessary (and by opposite argument, the one quality that, if absent, will guarantee failure) is something the Aussies call "Bum Glue." (Bum, of course, is Australian for butt). I think the phrase may have been coined by Bryce Courtenay, Australian author of the bestseller, The Power of One.
A few years ago as I was preparing to teach a group of college students about novel writing, I wrote to many successful novelists and asked them the question, "What five things do you know now that you wish you'd known when you were just starting out?"
Jerry Jenkins (Left Behind) put this one down as number five: "The only way to write a novel is with butt in chair." How many times had Jerry forced himself to stay in the chair to complete a novel before he wrote his first number one NYT bestseller? I'm not sure of the exact answer, but I know it's well into three figures. That's some bum glue!
That's what I mean by bum glue: it is the ability to sit in front of the blank page or blank screen and put in the necessary time to gut it out. Without that, all the passion and ability in the world will fall short of the goal. We have to be able to sit there, day after day, alone with our characters and push through to the end.
How does one get it?
Can't be purchased at WalMart.
Unless you're independently wealthy, you're going to need bum glue to finish a novel, because you're going to have to fit the writing in around another job. That means time taken away from a thousand other necessary things. Important things like paying bills, eating, sleeping, laundry, ferrying the kids to activities, love, family, work and a needed hour of play. (Not to mention the other perhaps not-so-necessary Facebook, email and checking amazon.com for our book's latest rank).
It comes down to motivation. How do you do it? What glue sticks you to the chair (ok, I do know one author who writes while on the treadmill, not fast mind you, but over the course of a novel, she puts in a lot of miles) or your fingers to the keyboard? What drives you to get over the hump in the middle?
What are your strategies for staying the course, remaining at task when there are a thousand easier ways to spend your time? Looming deadline? Fear? Love?
What's the composition of your bum glue? What goes in your best bum glue recipe?