Writing the Tom Brady Way

by James Scott Bell

So Tom Brady has retired. He’s one of the few superstars who managed to go out on top and on his own terms. So many others have hung on past their primes as we averted our eyes—Joe Namath hobbling around on two bad knees for the Rams; Shaquille O’Neal lumbering up and down the court like a bear stuck with a tranquilizer dart (in a Celtics uniform yet!); Muhammad Ali getting his clock cleaned by Larry Holmes (who cried after what he’d done to his hero).

Brady steps away while still at the top of his game.

There is now no question (and you can just ask Sue Coletta if you don’t believe me) that Tom Brady is the greatest quarterback of all time. But he may be more—perhaps the greatest team athlete ever. Winning a Super Bowl (his seventh) with a new team at the age of 43? Are you kidding me? And all those amazing last quarter, come-from-behind drives—his greatest being Super Bowl LI. The Patriots were down 28-3 to the Falcons well into the third quarter. Brady took over and the Pats went on to score 31 straight points to win in overtime. Brady blasted previous Super Bowl records by completing 43 of 62 passes for 466 yards.

But what is most remarkable about Brady is how he defied and flummoxed all his critics by playing some of his best football in his forties. Back when he was an “ancient” 39, sports know-it-alls were saying he was about to “fall off a cliff” as far as his physical abilities.

Brady proved them all wrong. How? By an incredible, iron-willed discipline. Let’s start with what he put in his mouth. Brady was famous for his rather unique diet, which included avocado ice cream(!). A typical day looked like this:

  • Wake up and drink a 20 oz. glass of water infused with electrolytes.
  • Smoothie for breakfast chock full of berries, banana, nuts and seeds.
  • Mid-morning workout, followed by a protein shake.
  • Lunch and dinner comprised of 80% vegetables.
  • Water throughout the day. Nuts and seeds for snacking.
  • A hot cup of bone broth for added vitamins and minerals.
  • And avoidance of alcohol, pasta, cereals, dairy, trans fats, sugar, artificial sweeteners, and fast food.

Yikes! Not even the occasional apple fritter?

What else about Brady made him special?

He never stopped studying. He—perhaps along with Peyton Manning—is the most dedicated student of quarterbacking ever. Always in the film room. Always looking for the little things that would give him and his team an edge.

He was not the most gifted passer (Dan Marino probably was), or the nimblest out of the pocket (Patrick Mahomes). He wasn’t flashy (Joe Namath) or wildly entertaining (Brett Favre). All he did was get the job done and win. And he happens to own nearly all the passing records there are.

He was a model off the field, too. He avoided controversy, primarily because he is a dedicated family man and never let his tongue get out in front of his mind.

So what writing lessons can we draw from all this?

Discipline is the foundation. Are you willing to do what it takes to produce the words, day after day? Inherent talent is obviously a plus, but hard work and dedication will take whatever talent you have to its fullest expression. That’s the way it was with Brady. When he was told in college he’d be the backup quarterback at Michigan, he determined to keep working to be the best he could be. He later explained his mindset at the time: “Whatever role I play, whether it’s starting quarterback or demo quarterback, I’m going to work my butt off to help this team win the Rose Bowl.”

In his Instragram retirement message, Brady wrote: “There is a physical, mental and emotional challenge EVERY single day that has allowed me to maximize my highest potential. And I have tried my very best these past 22 years. There are no shortcuts to success on the field or in life.”

No shortcuts in the writing life, either.

Study is an X factor. Are you taking positive steps to grow in the craft? Brady spent hours watching game film and studying Surface tablets on the sidelines during games. Do you ever crack a craft book? Do you look at your own work, spot weaknesses, and figure out how to get better?

You can always come back when you’re down. Brady was never discouraged when the score was against him. He figured out ways to win. No one was better at reading defenses at the line of scrimmage. Are you able to shrug off disappointments and criticism, and keep on writing? Can you look at the obstacles and figure out how to defeat them?

Finally, can you control your messaging on social media, so you don’t mindlessly make a pigskin of yourself?

All of this is worth your time to consider. No, you probably won’t turn out to be the GOAT (Greatest of All Time) like Mr. Brady. But you can always do some of the things GOATs do—and get farther along than you may have thought possible.

So have a scoop of avocado ice cream, and think about it—and let me know what you think in the comments.

34 thoughts on “Writing the Tom Brady Way

  1. Excellent analogy, Jim. I think disciplined is the best overall adjective to describe Tom Brady, although there are many other fitting ones – checked ego being up there at the top as well as positive mindset. And I think these are the top traits for writers, too. I’m looking at some prompts before me. “Study.” “Ass in chair. Fingers on keys, Write more books.” “Ya gotta wanna.” “Do the work.” And “It’s a marathon. Not a sprint.” Enjoy your day!

    • I like ’em all, Garry. I have some prompts taped to my bookshelf, and photos of three writers whose output I admire. Whatever it takes to get them words down!

  2. Great post, Jim. Words to live by.

    One thing I would add IMHO, “Ignore the Critics,” those who make fun of your zealous quest for perfection. those who would say “take time off, have some fun, don’t work so hard.” And there will be many. I’ve always told my children, “With the lack of discipline in the competition, you will find it easier to rise to the top.”

    My post for Saturday 2/12/22 (Lincoln’s birthday) is basically “Writing the Abraham Lincoln Way” – the same focused, planned quest to overcome obstacles and become our very best. I was going to refer to your section on Self Study in How to Make a Living as a Writer. Now I will just refer to this post.

    Words to Live By! Have a great weekend. And I won’t say anything about the Bengals.

    • Wise words indeed, Steve. Ignore the critics. Listen only to those you trust and who want to help. You can’t truly prosper if you’re trying to get everyone to like you.

      Looking forward to your Abe post.

  3. Jim,
    I agree with everything you said about Tom Brady. He is the football goat. His poise under pressure on and off the field is amazing.
    In addition, without any display of envy or superiority, he encouraged and complimented other players on and off his team to do their best–something I think we can apply to being authors.

    • That’s so true, Truant. I think it was Truman who said, “It is amazing what you can accomplish if you do not care who gets the credit.” Brady exemplified that. He had the respect of his team, which is why when, on occasion, he had to get in someone’s grill, they’d listen.

  4. That Falcon game was unbelievable! We had so many great years with Brady, and it broke my heart when he left the Pats. But because of his humanity and skill, he continued to be an inspiration, on and off the field. Numerous parallels to writing exist, as you expertly pointed out, Jim. The top being perseverance. Brady never listened to the critics who listed all the reasons why he couldn’t get the job done. Their doubt fueled him to do better, learn more, reach higher. And he proved them all wrong. If we can walk away with only one lesson from the GOAT, it’s to believe in ourselves. Dreams really do come true…

    I see a lot of Brady in Mac Jones. It’ll be fun to watch him grow. ?

    • Right on, Sue. Believe in yourself. Trust yourself. Do the work, get feedback, but always believe.

      You enjoyed a lot of great years with Brady. Who knows about the new kid with the old coach (whom Rams fans affectionately call The Prince of Darkness)? And I hear there’s a kid up in Buffalo who might have something to say….

  5. This is great wisdom for writers, Jim. I agree with it all.

    Study (AKA “the Path of Craft”) has really helped me on my writing journey. The fact that there’s always something else to learn is actually very motivating.

    Discipline (AKA “Showing up every day”) has produced results. It isn’t just day to day, either, but week to week, and month to month. Is it easy, often not, but it’s worth it because we have stories to create and share. That matters.

    Coming back from a setback is one of the great things about being a writer, especially an indie—we never have to quit. We’re always in the game as long as we want, and we can play for life as writers. Personally, being found slumped over my keyboard at age 101 would be a good way to go.

    Control your messaging for sure. Consider what you want to represent and what really matters in connecting with strangers. Being angry, for instance, is the last thing I want to be on social media.

    I’d add the time honored wisdom to focus on what you can control rather than worry about what you can’t. You can control all of the above points, as well as what goes on between your ears. You can’t control how your work is received once you’ve released it. You can set up a good reception by doing your best, and also by working on marketing etc. But the outcomes of all of that are outside of your control. You only control the work you put into it.

    Thanks for a very motivating post! Time for me to suit up and hit the writing field for a short morning session. Have a great Sunday!

    • Thanks, Dale, for the reminder of the wisdom of the stoics. Really key to the mental game of writing.

      And I have a lot of writer friends who were escorted out of the Forbidden City who now have second and profitable writing lives as indies. It’s the greatest time on earth to be a writer!

  6. “Inherent talent is obviously a plus, but hard work and dedication will take whatever talent you have to its fullest expression.”

    Wise words, Jim. I’ve known many talented writers who wrote brilliantly but gave up and never published their wonderful stories. If only they’d hung on longer…

    Just saw AMERICAN UNDERDOG yesterday about QB Kurt Warner. A bit schmaltzy but it’s an uplifting story of staying power and overcoming obstacles.

    • Debbie, I too have seen some really talented writers go nowhere for lack of discipline and humility (i.e., not admitting they still had things to learn). Brady certainly never, ever thought that way.

      Ah, the Kurt Warner years were wonderful. “The Greatest Show on Turf” we called it. And truly an inspiring story of never giving up the dream.

    • Debbie, that’s a really good point about never giving up! I’ve also known some very talented writers who let the demons of self-doubt and inner criticism stop them. To quote Galaxy Quest, “Never give up, never surrender” 🙂

  7. My brief sidetrack to deal with audiobooks is over. Thanks for the shove to get back to the new book, although your examples have given me a severe case of Imposter Syndrome.
    Time to get the BandAids back on the fingers and hit the keyboard. I learn best by doing.

  8. “Study is an X factor.” So true. I was fortunate that one of the first two craft books I read when I began this journey was “Plot and Structure.” It convinced me that hard work and knowledge of the craft would enable me to be successful. (Thank you, JSB!)

    But avocado ice cream? Does Kroger carry that?

  9. Jim, I’ll say “no” to the avocado ice cream but “yes” to your other points. Thanks..

  10. After success and great reviews, a writer shouldn’t believe they are above what editors say because they often end up with bloated and self-aggrandizing books. In the words of kids today, they don’t think their poop stinks.

    They should not Monday-morning quarterback their earlier works in public. No, JK Rowling, we don’t want to know that Hermione should have married Harry. That just screws with our perception of your books and trust in you as a writer.

    And for the love of all that is sane, don’t spout off about your views on very sensitive topics unless you want to destroy your career.

  11. Jim, terrific post. I want to post sally Jenkins recent article about #TB12. Basically, he saw a shrink who got his head straight, then worked his butt off. His excellence was no accident.

    “On draft night, he sat for hours as team after team passed on him, and the insult and injury of it could still make his eyes well up years later. “I just remember thinking, whichever team picked me, I was going to make the other 31 regret it,” he once said on his TB12 website.”


  12. I’m not the biggest football fan, but I’ve admired Tom Brady for several years.
    I know a lot of good writers who wanted ‘to have written’. They never finished a book or even a novella because they never had the discipline to show up every day to write. And who never pushed themselves to get their word count when the words wanted to run the other way.

  13. I’m in mourning that the GOAT is gone, but he’s hardly forgotten. What a joy it was to watch him on the field. My son and grandson saw him play in Tampa over the Thanksgiving weekend. My son, who is not easily impressed, said TB took the field, a “presence,” son said. That’s what Tom said to me: Take over your craft and be present…..Thanks for the post. Love it.

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