Monday, August 16, 2010

Bum Glue

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 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?

Dr. Harry


  1. "Push through to the end" has to be my daily call. I would have to say the words I chose would be God, guts and God. That's what keeps me going. I love the bum glue analogy.
    Great post.

  2. My characters are my bum glue. I want to spend time with them, get to know them in an intimate way. The only way I can do that is write their stories. That means bum in chair, and write, write, write until I have their stories told, then it's a sad time when I say goodbye to them until I meet my next group of characters and begin the process again.

  3. Write something. If it's wrong, I can cut/alter later.


  4. Harry, great post! For me, being self disciplined about my writing time is very important. I recently returned from an Aussie Romance Writing Conference, where a NYT bestselling author said she writes 5 pages every day. This challenged me to think about how I need to be putting my bum on the seat and prioritizing my writing routine. I also find 'Book in a Week' challenges helpful to kick start my writing.

  5. Great advice, Harry. I appreciate every WORD you wrote and allowed to sink in this old noggin of nowledge..(not misspelled). The area in my brain labeled "Creative Writing Cells" is slightly empty so far and I want to fill them up quickly and permanently with good ideas and information I need to write. Just beginning and organizing my foundation to sit atop my bum, I'm depending on my new author friends to share themselves with me - I trust them to give it to me straight and to the point. I do this, because I've lived 72 years of dramatic/traumatic experiences from the deepest pits of hell to the glorious heighth of miracles and I hope someone can benefit from what I've learned. I have no time to waste and am as excited and nervous as I was before my first date!! I know lots of new things are coming and I'm ready. Bring 'em on, friends. Please tell me your best and your worst experiences, your best advice and lists of learning sources, teachers, and well....I leave it to you to share with me what you wish someone else had shared with you when you first started. Thank you, Harry for the opportunity to express myself and to those who take my plea seriously, I am grateful. All I have to pay forward to you is my word and my faith that God will not permit your sharing to return void; and lead each of us into the blessings of the give and take of sharing. To that I pray there will be a day when I can pay it forward to someone else.

    Sharing God's Love,
    Barb Shelton
    Arlington, TX
    barbjan10 at tx dot rr dot com

  6. Some of the ingredients in my 'bum glue' recipe for staying the course in writing my novels are: being convinced I have a clear call from God to write; a large 'dollop' of self-discipline; heaps of prayer (both my own and that of a precious email prayer team who support me); and definitely the reward of tapping into my creativity in such a satisfying and fulfilling way. I could go on, but I'll leave it at that!