What Can be Learned from a Wonderful Writer

By Jack Limpert


“Be clear,” Roger Angell says. “You can write long, but be clear.”

The cover story of the July 21 Sports Illustrated is about basketball player Lebron James but the wonderful surprise inside is a Tom Verducci story about Roger Angell, the writer.

Any writer has to appreciate the second graf:

“Writing well is hard. It requires constant thinking. The gears, flywheels and levers of the mind click and clatter non-stop. Writing is flying an airplane without instruments, almost always through the dark storms of doubt. It is new every time.”

Verducci goes on to spend time with Angell in Maine as the New Yorker writer gets ready to be honored at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown with the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, the highest honor given by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

Angell the reporter: “By then Angell, more comfortable in the baseball cocoon, was adding expert reportage to his observational skills. He sought out the good talkers and had the manners and skill to elicit their most honest thoughts.”

The young Angell, in Maine, watching his stepfather, E.B. White, write his weekly New Yorker column: “Every Monday, E.B. White, known as Andy to friends and family, would cordon himself in his North Brooklin office and suffer through all the whirring and clicking of the gears, flywheels and levers of focused thought. He would emerge briefly for a wordless lunch and then retreat again. Hours later he would reappear, this time with his weekly ‘Comment’ piece for The New Yorker ready to be mailed off, and harrumph, ‘It’s not any good.’ (I ask Roger is he is similarly demanding of himself, and he says, ‘Yes, Aren’t we [writers] all?’) Days later Roger would read his stepfather’s work and be amazed that such suffering produced something ‘so lighthearted and with such easy flow.'”

What Angell learned from White: “Be clear,” Angell says. “You can write long, but be clear. And remember you are speaking to the reader. It’s a letter to the reader.”

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