The Best Writer I Ever Edited—and Some Good Advice from Frank Deford

By Jack Limpert

I love this quote about skill because for an editor the hardest thing to watch is a writer with lots of natural talent not working at it and trying to get better. The most talented writer I ever edited came to us after a decade of success at a big newspaper—he wrote some very nice Washingtonian pieces but nothing you’d remember in a year or five years. One day I was going to his office and I heard him on the phone say, “Yeah, it’s going okay. I’m pretty much on cruise control.” Not long after I found this quote from sportswriter Frank Deford and put it on the editorial bulletin board where it stayed for many years.

“It is my experience, with ballplayers and all other human beings, that skill is a gift of God, but that great skill demands perseverance. It may, in fact, be a curse to be naturally too good at something, because then the possessor of that bounty tends to coast. Of course, precocity is fine and dandy, and we have Mozart and Alexander of Macedon to prove it, yet I suspect that most our larger talents are not so immediately evident but must be developed and honed. Otherwise, you are just pretty good at something, but never grow to beauty. No, the full measure of proficiency surely only flows at the confluence of what God gave and the person nurtured.”


  1. The Frank Deford link takes you to a Q and A he did with John Meroney for the Atlantic. Here’s Deford’s advice on dealing with writer’s block—he’s talking about Mark Kram, who did “the finest piece of sportswriting ever to appear in Sports Illustrated”:

    “…he couldn’t be happy. He worked himself to death, and at a certain point, he started fighting writing—it became his enemy. Once that happened, it was all over. I used to give him advice. I’d say, ‘You know, Mark, you’re like one of those pitchers who can throw a hundred miles an hour, but you have to aim every pitch. Don’t always aim. Sometimes just throw the sonuvabitch.'”

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