Facing the White Bull

Does the blank screen or page ever paralyze you? Would you rather edit a piece than write a first draft?

If you’re like many human beings, the answers are yes and yes.

Ernest Hemingway called the blank page the white bull. I like that. One time when asked why I get out of bed in the morning and go to work, I said, “For the thrill of facing the white bull.”

The white bull isn’t for all thrill seekers, though.

“This bull has probably intimidated people for centuries,” wrote a fellow copywriter, “ever since early man stared at a blank stone tablet with chisel at the ready, scratching his prominent forehead.”

So how do you defeat the white bull? What’s the secret?

I don’t think there is a secret. Each person has to find his or her own way to get words on the blank screen or page.

“There’s no rule on how to write,” Hemingway said. “Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it’s like drilling rock and blasting it out with charges.”

If there’s a key to the process, it’s to do whatever you can to free yourself to write. That includes silencing the harsh critic within and gently prodding yourself to let the words out, whether as a trickle or in a steady stream.

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6 thoughts on “Facing the White Bull”

  1. Hey, Neil,

    A couple of thoughts. First, never underestimate the power of just being there. I find if I have an appointed time (and place and lucky coffee cup and pillow on the chair), I’ll get something done. May not be great, but it’s writing.

    The other thought? If I’m really in a jam, I’ll use a kitchen timer to freewrite in bursts of 10-15 minutes. Only rule? No stopping. There’s usually a pony buried in there somewhere.

  2. Michael: Yes! Being there. Showing up. It seems so obvious, but many would-be writers have trouble keeping the appointment. Free-writing without stopping is also a wonderful technique. Thanks for your contribution.

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