DIY Writing — How’s that going for you?

DIY — do-it-yourself. Is that the way you learn best? Me too.

I’ve been a DIY learner pretty much my whole life. One day when I was a toddler, I heard one of my mother’s teacher friends talking about my education. She mentioned the time—still some years off—when I would learn to count by twos.

“I can already count by twos!” I announced indignantly. And indeed I could. I didn’t know that’s what I was doing, but once she named the skill I recognized the game I’d made up with my grandmother’s playing cards.

DIY
Hardanger altar cloth by me, photo by Nina Nicholson

Many years later, I bought something that looked like a counted cross-stitch pattern book and was working through one of the pieces when I encountered a stitch I couldn’t figure out. I went back to the store for advice and the proprietor said, “Oh, that’s probably in the beginners’ book.”

There’s a beginners’ book? I’d done it again—taken a skill that some people find impenetrable and taught it to myself.

For the record, it wasn’t counted cross-stitch; it’s a Norwegian craft called Hardanger. I made this altar cloth for my old church using the technique, which turns ordinary linen into something resembling lace. And, yep, I’ve still never had a lesson in my life.

DIY writing?

If you’re a DIY learner like I am, you may think that what you already know about writing is sufficient.

Well, is it?

Are you satisfied with the work you turn out, or do you secretly wish you could be a stronger, more consistent writer?

You don’t need the “beginners’ book.” You just need a nudge in the right direction. Someone to point out great writing techniques you may want to emulate. Analyses to get you reading more intentionally—reading like a writer

And because writing can so often slip to the bottom of the to-do list, maybe you’d like a reminder every now and then, a writing prompt to kickstart your creativity.

A DIY writing program

That’s exactly why I created The Weekly What—a yearlong DIY writing program.

Every week you get a writing prompt. Use it or save it for the proverbial rainy day. And every other week you also get my personal analysis of a piece of great writing: a speech, a magazine or newspaper article, a blog, an essay. (Full disclosure: there may be more than one piece about baseball.)

Read and absorb these at your leisure. And then join us once a month for a group discussion with your fellow Weekly What-ers. Swap insights about the analyses. Talk about how you’ve used the techniques in your own writing. There’s nothing as validating as hearing someone else struggle with the same challenges you’re facing.

I’ll be releasing the next cycle of The Weekly What starting on October 4th. But register by October 1st and you’ll get a half-hour private coaching session with me, absolutely free.

If do-it-yourself hasn’t done it for you yet, this may just be the extra support you need.

“Our best selves” — Seahawks coach Pete Carroll’s lessons on football and life

Reading made me a baseball fan—thank you, Roger Angell. And it may just make me a football fan, too. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s lessons on football may teach us a thing or two about life.

Angela Duckworth wrote about Carroll’s philosophy in her book Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. And I have to say, I liked what I read.

Pete Carroll's lessons work for football and life
Carroll hugs his quarterback, Richard Sherman, following their 2014 Super Bowl win. Photo: Anthony Quintano – Flickr: Super Bowl XLVIII (48) New York New Jersey

Carroll has only coached one Super Bowl-winning team (so far—Seahawks, 2014), but in the last seven seasons, his teams have made the playoffs six times. That’s no accident.

Also not accidental: the philosophy he instills in his players and coaches. It’s not about winning. It’s about a passion to do your best.

When Carroll invited Angela Duckworth to come watch the Seahawks practice he promised she would see that:

“All we do is help people be great competitors. We teach them how to persevere. We unleash their passion.”

Carroll says it sometimes takes a while for new players to understand his philosophy, so he shares new thoughts about it as they arise:

“If I didn’t talk about it, they wouldn’t know that. They’d be thinking, ‘Am I going to win or am I going to lose?’ But when we talk about it enough, they come to an appreciation of why they compete.”

Pete Carroll’s lessons in etymology

You might guess that a Venn diagram of people who talk about etymology and people who work for football teams would show two completely separate circles. And you would be wrong.

One member of the Seahawks staff talked to Duckworth about the roots of the word “compete”:

“‘Compete comes from the Latin,’ explains Mike Gervais, the competitive-surfer-turned-sports-psychologist who is one of Pete’s partners in culture building. ‘Quite literally, it means strive together. It doesn’t have anything in its origins about another person losing.'”

Duckworth begins to understand the Seahawks ethos:

“…it’s not solely about defeating other teams, it’s about pushing beyond what you can do today so that tomorrow you’re just a little bit better. It’s about excellence…Reach for your best.”

Carroll’s Seahawks made the Super Bowl two years in a row. After winning the first, they lost the second in heartbreaking fashion. Commentators laid the blame squarely at the head coach’s feet, saying he had made “the worst call ever.” Duckworth tells us Carroll reframed that:

“it wasn’t the worst decision, it was ‘the worst possible outcome.’ He explained that like every other negative experience, and every positive one, ‘it becomes part of you. I’m not going to ignore it. I’m going to face it. And when it bubbles up, I’m going to think about it and get on with it. And use it. Use it!‘”

When life is like football

One of Pete Carroll’s lessons offers a different take on the sports cliché that winning isn’t everything; it’s the only thing. Carroll says,

“If you thought of it as who was winning and who was losing, you’d miss the whole point…it’s really the guy across from us that makes us who we are.”

In Duckworth’s translation, “Our opponent…creates challenges that help us become our best selves.”

And that’s really why I turned my attention to Pete Carroll today. Not because football will be inescapable this weekend—with fans critiquing the game and non-fans critiquing the commercials. Well, okay, partly because of that.

But also because in the U.S. right now, it seems like “opponents” are everywhere. And we have a choice. We can vilify them, mock them, and cause them to dig further into their illogical ideological foxholes. Or we can recognize that while it’s no fun to be challenged, those challenges can “help us become our best selves.”

That’s what I’m striving for. In the face of “the worst possible outcome,” we must “compete”—strive together. As one of my favorite signs from the march put it:

“They tried to bury us. But they didn’t know we’re seeds.”


Be your best self as a writer. Strengthen your skills and discover how to use them effectively. My Writing Unbound program starts February 2nd. More information here.