By Ali Cross
Recently I’ve spent some time in a physical therapist’s office, with lots of opportunity to read and re-read the inspirational art they have plastered on the walls. You know the kind—picture a cliff face with a solitary climber struggling against the sheer rock. The words on the bottom might say something like “Joy is found not in the destination, but in the journey.” They’re meant to help you not feel so bad about the pain you’re currently suffering, but to keep your eyes focused on that finish line.
One photograph that I’ve spent a lot of time looking at lately features the famous quote by Thomas Alva Edison, “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”
I couldn’t help but think about writing in this context. Oftentimes people assume writing is mostly inspiration and that a writer simply lets the muse do the work for him. In point of fact, writing is tedious, sometimes boring, and very, very long.
When I was a brand-new writer, one of the first books on writing I got for myself was “Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul.” It was a bit premature, as I hadn’t suffered for my art enough yet to truly appreciate much of what was written about in that book.
But one article sang to my soul and has stuck with me over the past few years.
It’s an article by Bryce Courtenay in which he tells of the time he ran the Boston Marathon. He found himself running alongside another man with whom he struck up a conversation. When he discovered his new friend was a writer, he asked the one question that burned most brightly in his mind: what he believed was the secret to writing a bestseller.
Huffing and puffing, his friend responded, “Bum glue!”
Mr. Courtenay says,
“Bum glue—glue your bum to a chair and keep going, and never give up. Writing is about time spent with words until eventually they become your friends and begin to cooperate with your gifted storyteller’s mind.
“Writing is about time and practice; it takes six years to become a physician, a task infinitely easier than learning to write” (Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul, p. 313.)
Like Mr. Edison said, inspiration only accounts for a tiny fraction of writing a good story. Most of it is sheer effort, force of will, and dang hard work.
So when your muse has gone on vacation and you’re left with a novel to write, plant your bottom down in your chair and settle in. You’re doing the work you were created to do, and you’ve been blessed with that 1% of inspiration. Now it’s time to put in the work, and you can do it—with a little help from Bum Glue.