Wednesday, 18 November 2009

Comma Again?……..(Do you see what I did there? I'm so cool)

Every hero needs a nemesis (and no matter what anybody says, I am a hero).

Superman has kryptonite. Jerry has Tom. Batman has the Joker.


Well, mine is the humble comma.

This small, harmless looking piece of punctuation has caused me no end of anguish and worry.

Now I don’t mean I walked home one night to find it lurking menacingly round the corner, along with a drugged up hyphen and a drunken semicolon, all of them brandishing switchblades and threatening me unless I handed over my wallet. But what I do mean is that every time I complete a piece of writing, I then have to play: Lets guess where the comma should go, and try and figure out all the punctuation mistakes I have made.

Now bearing in mind that I am borderline OCD, and also an unbearable control freak as well, I have to have perfection in all that I do. If I don’t, then there is a fairly strong chance that the world will end. That's right, you heard me, the world will end!

So this natural urge for perfection means that in every written piece I finish, I will then read it again for errors. Then again. Then again. And then I will pause, and then read it again. Then read it again…..Then….re…ad…it……agai.....n…………

Net result from the hours spent obsessing on this is that all the words form one giant splodge on the screen, and all the punctuation marks I have made leap out from my PC monitor, form up into a giant punctuation stick figure man on my desk in front of me, and then throws a flaming exclamation mark into my screaming face (that actually does happen).

You see, I did study at school. I studied hard. But I think I must have been off sick that day in infant school when we briefly went over correct punctuation and grammar. I have always struggled with it. I have mastered enough to make sure anything that I write doesn’t look like the collective works of a hundred monkeys locked in the room with just one typewriter, and that people still seem to be reading this is testament to the fact that it must be, in some form, legible, but the perfectionist in me hates it when I spot a poorly placed comma on past works. I actually go to my punishment room in my flat and whip myself relentlessly with a bamboo stick, shouting, “DO NOT FEAR THE COMMA! THE COMMA IS OUR FRIEND!”  Over and over again until my neighbours below start banging on their ceiling for me to shut up.

I think I have grasped the usage of most punctuation, but the simple placing of a single comma is one that causes me the most anguish. When I am writing, I can feel my tiny comma friend bouncing up and down with excitement beside me like an overexcited puppy.

I’m pretty sure I should go in there, it would tell me after I had completed a sentence.

“No, not yet, my small and eager chum.” I would reply (Yes, aloud. I live alone, I can do these things).

Ohhhhhh, put me in there. Right after that word, zombie, it would command me, positively squealing with pleasure, sure in the knowledge it would be used soon.

And then I would study the line I had just written, decide that my little comma friend was right, and then place it in. Then I would see that it was in fact wrong and my little comma friend was just lying to me, all it wanted to do was be placed on that clean, white page, and sit there gloating at my naivety. So I would then remove the comma, tell it that its mother was a alcoholic whore of an apostrophe, and banish it to the corner of my study, where it would sit there sulkily, throwing me dirty looks.

I have tried to brush up on my punctuation skills by reading various help yourself books. But as I am at the age of 31, my brain refuses to do any learning from books on the basis that school finished about 14 years ago, and there is no way we are going back to textbooks. As soon as I open to the first page, my brain sends me the message Hey buddy, let’s not read that boring old textbook. Let’s do something fun, huh? We could go over all your most embarrassing moments in life? Or how about we come up with a plan of how to survive a terrorist invasion in your apartment block like in Die Hard? Or we could simply analyse every aspect of your personality until you want to weep? Shall we do that? You wanna analyse every aspect of your personality? Right down to every obsessive detail? And I would nod my head dumbly in agreement and go find a quiet spot to do so.

So my way of getting round it is books. I love to read, so as well as getting a good story from the novel I am reading, I also study the use of punctuation as well. I look and see how the author has used his friendly little comma, how they have placed all the right bits, in all the right places. And I feel I am slowly getting there. I am much better than I was, say, this time last year?

Even so, the above has probably been proof read a thousand times, run through Word check double that, and will still probably contain a fair few mistakes. And the perfectionist in my will wince at every discovered error and still be editing it a week after it has been put up, just because simply it’s what I do.

But I will beat you comma.

Your day will come……….


Eva Gallant said...

You have my sympathy; I, too, am often uncertain as to where that comma should be placed. I guess it's just one of the trials and tribulations of being a writer.

AlpHa Buttonpusher said...

Geeeshh, you're, one, sick, puppy, lol.

Alice in Wonderland said...

Dan, A bit like you, I use it as a pause, like this, or just to cause an effect! There are many ways to use it, but I think that is up to the writer, or reader, or even both!
Sometimes I wonder if people ever read the same thing in the same way!

scarlethue said...

I am a grammar superstar, and I noticed not one single incorrect comma in that post. And believe me, I would notice. It's my job, literally.

I hope you enjoy the soup. After posting I thought about trying it with red potatoes, probably more starchy that way. With cheese. Yes, cheese...

thatgalkiki said...

I have OCD and think you are a hero. Carry on.

Susan at Stony River said...

Aaaww, poor misunderstood comma.

All yours look fine to me however.

plainolebob said...

my readers would never have any thing to read, iffen i did all thet, hell, i can barely type as it is.
good read

UberGrumpy said...

I can sympathise. I have constant problems with my colon

Rebecca S. said...

I confess an addiction to dashes - used somewhat like commas - just to avoid using commas.

In the words of Boy George -or is he way before your time - "Comma, comma, comma cameleon"

Your blog is F-U-N.

JenJen said...

Semicolons get me. Effers.

jules said...

You are laugh out loud funny today! (That exclamation point was yanking on my sleeve demanding I put him on the page so you would know just how much I mean that too!) (Oh dear, he did it again.) But seriously, I feel your pain and I struggle not only with the comma dilemma, but exclamation usage.

Midnitefyrfly said...

I have given you an award... please come by my blog and get it :)

Miss OverThinker said...

Thanks for stopping by my blog..
Noticed now that I am "publicly" following you.. I was silently following you for a few days - I tend to do that when it's professional writers' bloggers..I guess I don't want them to find out about my blog since I am not a writer by any stretch of the imagination and I don't want to expose my juvenile writing to them.. but then since you stopped by anyways, I decided to come out of the closet - so to speak..
as for overuse of comma, I do it all - comma overuse, the dots, the dashes, everything.. I even use them while speaking.. haha.. I re-read my posts to eliminate all of the extra junk but hardly ever succeed.. oh well, at least people still understand what I write..

JennyMac said...

Alpha buttonpusher stole my brilliant idea of a comma laced comment.

hope said...

The only time commas ever scared the crap out of me was in a certain professor's English class. She loathed the "comma splice", which she defined as too lazy to make a statement into two separate sentences, therefore using the comma to do the work. {"Run on sentences", as you can well imagine, were also a crime}.

I still find myself sticking to the general rule of, "If you need to take a breath while reading out loud, let the comma do the work."

So think of your commas as a bench to rest upon. And quit proofreading so much. You're making the rest of us look lazy. ;)

WhisperingWriter said...

I never quite know where commas though.

And I speak aloud too but I do live with other people. I think everyone is used to it now. No one asks me who I'm talking to anymore because they already know I'm talking to, well, myself.

Dan. said...

Eva- But from what I read, you write really well Eva. I never see any punctuation mistakes 9but seeing as I'm useless at it, perhaps I am not the best judge?)

Alpha- Bite me x2

Alice- Thats the teaching I Use it to pause in a sentence. I still struggle though.

Scarlethue- I am going to give the soup a crack this week. Will let you know how it goes. And I will now be sending any writing I do to you for proof reading. Thanks for volunteering.

Thatgirlkiki- See! I am a hero!

Bob- You sell yourself too short my chum. Your writing is very, very good. You wouldn't have all those readers if you weren’t?

Ubergrumpy- Come on, you got that out of last year’s Christmas cracker?

Rebecca S- Damn, I knew I missed a trick with the post title. That’s what i should have called it! Thanks for stopping by matey.

JenJen- Word spots them pretty well I find.

Jules- The world needs more exclamation marks. Imagine a world without eyebrows? How would we express surprise?

MFF- Popped over. I'm honoured.

Miss Over Thinker- You seem to be mixing up the words "Writer" and "professional", both of which when applied to me are very amusing. And you shouldn't be embarrassed about anything you write (have to look through by back catalogue to see what I mean). But thanks for sticking around.

JM- Nimble little minx, ain't she?

Hope- I am a perfectionist Hope. I have to have everything inch perfect. If I don't, then it freaks me out, man. IT FREAKS ME OUT!

WW- I talk to my cat a lot. The day I'm dreading is when it answers back. That’s when I know things have gone really wrong.

hope said...

I am a reformed perfectionist. Figured I'd rather write than cultivate ulcers.

And if I make this a true confession, I'll admit there's a little editor in my head that, as I type, likes to whisper "comma" when I need to use one. Have no idea where it came from but I can't kill it. :)

Lorenza said...

Dan I agree... The small comma is the naughty child of the Punctuation Family. The father is Mr. Exclamation Mark, the mother is Mrs. Question mark, then all the siblings.... They are noisy neighbors , a pain in the neck...

William said...

I thought I had it battened down ~ I can remember the teacher explaining "use the comma as you would use a breath in a sentence, a 'pause'" Simple! Then I went to University - now I have the same complex; "'commaphobia'; An irrational fear of bold coloured circles on submitted or public written pieces proclaming error in punctuation". Note the use of hyphens instead of get's to us all - it even affects my spelling (except after c, except after c, except after c...),.