Seven Things: Coach John Wooden’s creed and the writing life

coach-woodenLegendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden wrote a wonderful book that I read recently. It contains 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 lifeHis 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 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. Wooden’s call to cultivate meaningful friendships, though, 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 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.

No problem.

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 and much more wisdom and interesting stories from John Wooden’s extraordinary life. It’s a gem.


8 thoughts on “Seven Things: Coach John Wooden’s creed and the writing life

  1. I love this, and I love how you applied the 7 lessons to writing. Very clever. I think the hardest one for me is to make each day a masterpiece. It’s so easy to feel swamped and overwhelmed and exhausted. I can’t tell you how often I have just felt like I was going through the motions and couldn’t wait to get to bed just so I could sleep! But this post helps remind me to enjoy my days, even if it is only for fifteen minutes. No matter how crazed I am, I am certain there is a speck of time when I can savor something. 🙂 Good luck NaNo’ing.


    1. I do remember those days of exhaustion, as a mother with a young child. I was a singer/songwriter then, and finding time to focus and work on music was impossible! But, yes, even 15 minutes a day is a success if you give your best to it. Get your children involved — maybe have them help you draw up a “Do Not Disturb” sign!


  2. I think rule number two is simply lovely. Marilyn lives this ‘rule’ with her sponsorship of no-fee writing contests. I am sure you help others too; just guessing from this one post 🙂


  3. Darla, your post of Coach Wooden’s creed (and the writing life) is superb!
    I’m going to put a link to your post on my post this afternoon. My post is on my mom’s persistence in writing in spite of some setbacks, this is a perfect plan!


    1. Oh, Marylin, I can’t wait to read your post. I usually save it to read on Sunday evenings, but I might have to get right to this one. Your mom is one of my heroes, so it feels great to know that I’ll be sharing some space with her on your post. John Wooden would have felt a strong kinship with her.


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