Facing The White Bull: The Discipline of Writing


Anyone who has written a book will know the importance of discipline. Getting up at roughly the same hour every morning and sitting down at the computer to ‘face the white bull’ as D.H. Lawrence called it.

Every writer has their own way of doing things. Dark fantasy author, Clive Barker, always writes the first sentence of a new chapter at the end of his working day so’s he isn’t starting from scratch the next day. Some writers do not hit the word processor when they get up in the morning (or afternoon). Neil Gaiman waits until around midnight to start writing. Everyone approaches the white bull in their own way. Here is how I do it.

  1. Be disciplined but not machine like. You don’t have to do a 9 to 5 day every day. When you feel you’ve done enough work, save it and turn off the computer. We know how writing is hard work, right? So you don’t have to feel guilty about finishing up in the afternoon. Also, you might want to return to your book later in the day. Be structured but keep it loose and flexible. Good writing is a mix of hard graft and inspiration.
  2. Put your thinking cap on. The book won’t flow out of you from beginning to end. There are periods when you have to put your thinking cap on. When you need ideas, in particular for plot lines, if your writing fiction, you have to stop writing and start thinking. You have to be obsessive about it. You have to go to the edge. No one knows where ideas come from, right? So in a way it’s like fishing. This implies relaxation and ease but we know how hard it is even if others don’t, so, again, don’t feel guilty.
  3. One line at a time. Remember that half the job of writing is making one line flow from another. You might have so much to say but you don’t know where to start. Well, just write a sentence and think of nothing else but the next sentence, how it will flow from the first. This is essential to the craft of good writing. Be patient. In time you will say everything you want to say. Trust in your mind.
  4. Self-belief. It’s important to keep motivated. Make sure you read over what you’ve written so far so you can remind yourself of how good you are! Believe that you are capable of writing the best book you can. If you are just starting out get feedback from others. Self-belief is at the core of good writing. Consider Samuel Beckett, a writer who only achieved the recognition he deserved when he was in his 50s. Think of the self-belief and discipline he must have had to keep writing. If you don’t believe in yourself, there is no point in getting up to face the white bull every day.
  5. Treat it like a journey. Writing, just like reading, is a journey: it’s important to finish it. Finish everything you start. Abandon nothing. Think of yourself as sitting in a pilot seat, making a journey every day until you reach your destination. Think of your readers as taking this journey with you. You have the responsibility to get them home.

So be disciplined and it will pay off. The joy of writing is in finding inspiration as you work. This is the ‘zone’ of creative writing. Trust in your mind and trust in your fingers and they will take you there.