Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden wrote a wonderful book that I read last year. He includes the lessons he learned from his parents who raised him on a small farm in south-central Indiana. Wooden carried those lessons with him into every area of his life: husband, father, teacher, and his amazing career at UCLA.
In the book, Wooden reveals that his “gift of a lifetime” was his father’s creed, a list of “seven things” to do for life. His father wrote the list on a card and gave it to Wooden after he graduated from a three-room grammar school.
Wooden carried that list with him for the rest of his life.
And, of course, his list applies perfectly to the writing life.
1. Be true to yourself
Wooden was one of a kind. He didn’t follow suit; he followed his list, even when others mocked him for it.
I want to be published someday, and I’m sure you do, too.
Often I wonder if what I want to share with the world will ever interest a publisher. There’s no profanity, no sex scenes, no over-the-top violence in my work.
Will I change who I am and what I want to share in order to blend in?
No, I won’t.
True: Loyal, faithful. Write in a way that tells us about you and the confidence you have in what’s important to you.
2. Help others
Wooden found the most joy in what he could do for others, whether it was in his teaching, coaching or being a great husband and father. What are you doing in your writing life to help another writer? To help another human being? If you’re focused solely on what’s in it for you, then you’re missing out. I’ll never forget how I felt when I read a tweet from a writer who turned back to her craft after reading one of my posts. It gave me the chills.
Give back from what has been given to you.
3. Make each day your masterpiece
The best result of my first NaNoWriMo challenge was a daily writing habit. Before that, I just wrote when I “had time,” and that time didn’t seem to come around very often.
NaNo helped me to see that I have plenty of time to write. I looked forward to doing a bit each day and being satisfied with what I produced.
Wooden would have been happy with that effort.
Don’t waste a day. Go into it with the goal of spending time on your craft.The masterpiece isn’t a finished poem, blogging post, or novel chapter. It’s your sense of accomplishment for sticking to it.
4. Drink deeply from good books, especially the Bible
This one is my favorite, not only because Wooden includes the Bible (my favorite book) in such a special way, but also because of the way he describes reading.
A good writer is a good reader. You’ve heard that from the best of them. Wooden sees reading as so important to a successful life that he compares it to water.
Drink. Read as if your writing depended upon it.
Deeply. Read with understanding and purpose.
Good. Read books that will improve your writing and bless your soul.
And if you’re curious, here’s the version of the Bible that I read.
5. Make friendship a fine art
In this age of social media, we are introduced to new people daily. Yet Wooden’s call to cultivate meaningful friendships doesn’t have to be discounted. Even though we may never meet our writing life friends in person, there is still a proper way to treat our fellow writers, loyal readers, and business contacts.
Part of being a good friend is not taking the friendship for granted, even on the social media level. Think about your collection of friends and followers on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Are they people you try to engage with or are they just numbers you use to improve your Klout score and impress your website visitors?
Wooden was a success because his friends knew he appreciated them.
Do your writing friends know that about you? They truly are gifts.
6. Build a shelter against a rainy day
Wooden was speaking of financial savings here, but writers can also apply this to another type of savings.
You probably have a binder, drawer, or file folder full of scraps of paper on which you’ve written story ideas. Or maybe you use an app like Evernote to gather bits of information you find on the web.
You’re set, then, when that rainy day comes — that time when you sit down to write and your brain can’t muster a single piece of creative thought.
You’ve planned for such a time as this and your creative storehouse is full. Write on.
7. Pray for guidance, and count and give thanks for your blessings every day
Wooden didn’t live his life on a pedestal, though many tried to put him there. He knew he was only a man, with a talent given to him by his Creator.
We like to have our heroes and stars, even in the literary world. And there’s nothing wrong with gaining fame from writing a great story.
But this final “thing” is a reminder that what really made Wooden great is that he was a humble man.
How can we be humble writers?
I think it starts with acknowledging from Whom our writing talent comes, and understanding that it wasn’t given to us as a prize, but as a tool to write good stories with great messages for a needy world.
Click here to read about the book in which I found these Seven Things along with much more wisdom and interesting stories from John Wooden’s extraordinary life. It’s a gem.
(Updated. Originally posted on DarlaWrites.com October 2013)