Zinsser and sportswriting

I read “Enjoyment, Fear and Confidence” this morning. Chapter 21 of William Zinsser’s On Writing Well tells us about Fred Smith, columnist for the New York Herald Tribune, the paper Zinsser dreamed of writing for and the place he got a job when he returned from WWII. Here are Zinsser’s words on Fred Smith:

One of the reasons I admired Fred Smith was that he wrote about sports for 55 years, with grace and humor, without succumbing to the pressure, which was the ruin of many sportswriters, that he ought to be writing about something “serious.” He found in sportswriting what he wanted to do and what he loved doing, and because it was right for him he said more important things about American values than many writers who wrote about serious subjects — so seriously that nobody could read them.

Zinsser’s description reminds me of Frank Deford’s weekly Sweetness and Light commentaries on NPR’s “Morning Edition.” Deford’s stuff is the only sports-related commentary I ever listen to. He gets me thinking, and while I’m occasionally unsure how I stand with some of his points, he makes sports intriguing. Deford’s big voice, strong opinions, great sense of humor, and powerful arguments weave into a writing that’s worth paying attention to.

I love Zinsser’s book. One of my favorite chapters is “Bits and Pieces.” Here’s a bit and a piece from it:

The reader plays a major role in the act of writing and must be given room to play it. Don’t annoy your readers by over-explaining — by telling them something they already know or can figure out. Try not to use words like “surprisingly,” “predictably,” and “of course,” which put a value on a fact before the reader encounters the fact. Trust your material.

And then this: “No subject is too specialized or too quirky if you make an honest connection with it when you write about it.”


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