Being a Writer: “Our larger talents are not so immediately evident but must be developed and honed.”

By Jack Limpert


Frank Deford: “Sometimes just throw the sonuvabitch.”

“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.”

—Frank Deford
A reminder from a great writer that God-given talent needs nurturing and perseverance. In my 40 years at the Washingtonian, the best natural writer I worked with did very well early on but once financially comfortable he mailed it in.

I never could figure out how to get more out of him—what he did was good but he could have been great. He finally tired of being pressed for something better and went on to radio and television where it’s even easier to coast.

There’s a moral to this story but I’m not sure what it is.
For more on Frank Deford and writing, here’s a link to a wonderful interview he did in 2012 with John Meroney for the Atlantic. A sample of the Q and A:

Q. You say that the finest piece of writing to ever appear in Sports Illustrated is a 1975 story entitled “Lawdy Lawdy He’s Great” written by the late Mark Kram. The piece is about the fight between Muhammad Ali and Joe Frazier in Manila.

A. It’s an absolutely magnificent piece. Mark was the closest thing to a genius—and he reached greatness a couple of times, such as with that story. However, like Olbermann, 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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