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Sunday, September 27, 2015

Read and reflect on your writing heroes

“My writing improved the more I wrote - and the more I read good writing, from Shakespeare on down.” – Dick Schaap

And, the famed writer added, “I was also in love with the English language.”

Born on this date in 1934, sportswriter, broadcaster and author Schaap was one of my early writing heroes.   I always thought it would be cool to write sports stories like he did and that he must have been a natural at it from the get-go.

But Schaap said he struggled to learn the profession just like the rest of us, even though, unlike the “rest” of us, he began his career at the ripe old age of 14 at the New York City-based Nassau Daily Review-Star, while working for famed writer and editor Jimmy Breslin.  He would later follow Breslin to the Long Island Press and New York Herald Tribune.

After earning degrees from Cornell and the Columbia School of Journalism, he was assistant sports editor for Newsweek, and then moved to television, doing both news and sports for NBC, ABC and ESPN and earning 5 Emmys in the process.  In between he broke into the book world co-authoring the wonderful Instant Replay with Green Bay Packer all-pro guard Jerry Kramer (one of my all-time favorite sports books that came out just as I was finally getting into sports writing myself).  

Dick Schaap, shortly before his untimely death
from complications in hip surgery in 2001

As a young sportswriter, I had the chance attend a talk by Schaap and afterward ask him for advice on how to write good sports story leads and about writing style in general.   

“Read and reflect on writers you admire,” he told me.  “And then model your writing after theirs.  If writing captures your attention, then don’t you want to write that way yourself?”  It’s hard to fail if you follow advice like that.

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