It started with an email from a new writer last week remarking on my use of commas in blog posts and asking for some advice about comma usage.
After I stopped inspecting the email to see if it had been sent by mistake, I responded by saying I’m hardly a comma expert. Yes, I’m the daughter of two teachers (one of whom taught middle school English for 30 years), and yes, I do have a degree in English Lit.
I’ve made my living as writer my whole adult life – first as a journalist, then in marketing/communications, and currently as a published author – and the only thing I can tell you about commas is that no one really knows all the rules.
Sourcebooks gave me two different copy editors for Believe it or Not and Making Waves. I recently worked with a third editor for a top secret new project I’m not allowed to tell you about yet.
Not one of them edited my comma usage in quite the same way.
So while I do my best with commas, and I like to think I have a decent grasp of where they go, I operate mostly on instinct. And you know what? Unless your use of punctuation is truly, truly abysmal, the odds are slim it’s the sort of thing that will preclude you from getting an agent or a book deal.
I see a lot of new writers stressing about nitpicky details like this – comma usage or manuscript formatting or font choice. Trust me when I say there are better places to focus your energy when it comes to writing. Like, I don’t know…WRITING?!
Do you feel like you have a good grasp of comma usage? Are there areas where you feel less sure of your skills? Got any recommendations for good punctuation guides? Please share!
For now, I’ll leave you with two comma-related graphics that made me smile on Facebook this week: