Advice from the Masters: Jimmy Cannon

Oct 26, 2016 | Better Writing

Before Ernest Hemingway was my writing role model, there was Jimmy Cannon. He was writing a column in the New York Journal-American when I was a boy and I read every one. Cannon was a sportswriter, but he managed to fit an awful lot under that heading. You could learn a lot just by reading.

Cannon grew up in Greenwich Village, back when it was all tenements stuffed with Irish immigrants. The toilet was in the hall. You bathed in a washtub near the coal stove in the winter. That was in one of the columns. You found out more in a column about Notre Dame.

“We were flattered because they were called ‘The Fighting Irish’ and we exempted them from the contempt we had for college boys.”

Cannon himself never made it to college. He never graduated from high school. He started at the Daily News as a copyboy. He worked up to writing about sports and took a break from that to be the Stars and Stripes correspondent with Patton’s Third Army during World War II. By the time I started reading his columns, in the 1950s, he had mastered the craft.

That doesn’t mean he was always good. Columnists have good days and not-so-good days, but Jimmy Cannon’s best writing was among the best I’ve ever read. Period.

The following quote isn’t about writing, though. I found it when I was dipping into my worn copy of a collection of Jimmy Cannon’s writing titled Nobody Asked Me, But … It’s about baseball players but it could also apply to today’s crop of published authors or maybe any day’s crop of published authors.

“The trouble with the big leagues is that there aren’t enough big leaguers.”

Want more? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts

If you want even more writing advice from writers, check out Jon Winokur’s blog, “AdvicetoWriters.”

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