John Wooden and Writing

This is about writing, not sports.  Trust me.

Legendary basketball coach John Wooden died last Friday at the age of 99.  He left behind a number of quotes that transcend sports and I’d like to apply to writing.

Let’s have a look.

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.

Many writers get frozen at the keyboard trying to write the perfect sentence and the perfect story.  They rewrite a manuscript over and over because they’re afraid of making the fatal mistake that will result in a rejection. 

Even worse, they might shove the manuscript in a drawer.  Note to writers: drawers don’t buy stories; drawers don’t buy novels.

Take a chance.  Write the story as best you can, then mail it.  Then write another and mail it.  If it comes back, mail it again.

No editor is going to come after you with a SIG Sauer just because your story sucks.

 Never mistake activity for achievement.

 This was my worst and most absurd failing when I first began writing.  I would go down to the basement for three hours of writing, but what did I accomplish in that time?  It’s only modest hyperbole to say that I’d spend an hour rewriting the same two or three paragraphs over and over, another hour bemoaning that I didn’t start writing as a teenager, and then the final hour writing my eventual Hugo Award acceptance speech.

Activity?  I was allegedly writing for three hours. 

Achievement?  Almost nothing.

Sit down and write new words of fiction.  Stay off the Internet.  Email, Facebook, and Twitter can wait.  So can research.

Achieve new words, then send them out.

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

Don’t make the same mistakes over and over.  Your weaknesses won’t go away by pretending they don’t exist.  Take a weakness and work on it.  Do focused practice, in the words of Dean Wesley Smith, a mentor of mine.

I’m working on setting right now.  I’m reviewing Jack Bickham’s book on the topic and as I write, that’s my one point of focus.

Consider yourself to be like a shark, always moving, always learning.

It’s what you learn after you know it all that counts.

Ditto what I just said after the previous quote.

Do not let what you cannot do interfere with what you can do.

Once you’ve mailed a story or a novel, there’s nothing more you can do.  Don’t obsess over its fate or query the editor after three months.  You can’t force an editor to buy it.

Write a new story or novel and mail it.

Then write another, each time working on your craft.

That’s what you can do.

Do it.

You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one.

Don’t let praise make you think there’s nothing left to learn.  There is.

Don’t let criticism make you feel you can’t learn anything.  You can. 

Keep working.  Keep learning.

It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen.

This can apply to description.  An accumulation of relevant and specific details brings a setting or a person alive.

This quote can also apply to making small incremental improvements in area after area.  Characterization one month, dialogue another, and setting after that.  Little improvements add up to big improvements.

Success is never final, failure is never fatal. It’s courage that counts.

As another mentor of mine, Kris Rusch, says, it isn’t how many times you get knocked down that counts.  It’s how many times you get back up.

Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.

In the sports world, preparation involves practice.  Hours and hours of it.  And it if all other things are equal, the team or individual that works harder and smarter during that practice will win out.

Your work on improving your craft with new words is your preparation.

Success is not a destination, it’s a journey.

And you want to enjoy the journey.  You enjoy writing; don’t lose the joy.

I’ve used the word “work” a number of times in this post and for some that’s a turnoff.  A writer once said that she didn’t think of the word “discipline” in relation to her writing; she thought of “devotion.”

For some, the emotional reaction to “devotion” is far more positive than to “discipline.”

So be devoted to your writing.  Be devoted to your dream.

A writer friend has the following posted next to his computer: Go Play.

Writing is fun.  Enjoy the journey.  Go play.


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