to comma(,?) or not to comma

I gotta tell you: when I first started working as a professional editor I was so confused about commas.

It seemed like between high school and college I’d been told a lot of conflicting things about those nasty buggers and when to use them. Things got even more perplexing whenever I started a new project at work because, immediately after telling us to follow a certain style manual, the client would hand us 20 pages of notes detailing how their preferences differed from that style manual.

Ugh. So many rules and exceptions to those rules. I hated them all.

So in an effort to dispel comma hatred, here are some misconceptions I had that I found out weren’t legit.

Pause = comma. If you’ve ever attended an English class, you’ve probably been told to read your writing aloud and insert a comma whenever you pause. And that can be helpful. Reading your work aloud is always a good way to hear the natural breaks between thoughts. Except nothing made me more doubtful of my natural pauses than when I was reading my own words out loud. Did I just pause there? Would a normal person pause there? I’m not sure; let me read it again. Also, not all pauses warrant a comma. Was that a comma pause, a period pause, or a just-taking-a-breath pause? I found it easier to scrap that rule all together and brush up on my comma usage using a web site, such as this one.

Run-ons. At some point during my education, I thought a run-on sentence just had too many dang words in it (like any TV show written by Aaron Sorkin). Turns out they are independent clauses that aren’t separated by either a semicolon; or a comma and one of the following words: and, but, for, or, nor, so, and yet. 

Here’s an example:

I have a doctor’s appointment tonight I have to leave work early. (That’s a run-on. Put a slash between the words tonight and I, and you have two independent sentences.)

You can correct it two different ways:

  1. I have a doctor’s appointment tonight; I have to leave work early.
  2. I have a doctor’s appointment tonight, so I have to leave work early.

Got more questions about commas? Ask me here or in the coffeehouse.

Speaking of style guides, please remember to read the submission guidelines before you press post or hit send. Have a favorite yeah writer or two? Why not ask them to be your writing partner? Everyone needs another set of eyes to point out the typos, word repetitions, content errors, and ungainly phraseologies in our posts.

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Prompt Up!

Prompt Up is our optional weekly writing prompt for the fiction|poetry challenge! Here’s how it works: we choose a sentence prompt from last week’s winning nonfiction post and announce it in the kickoff. It’s your job to use that prompt in your poem or story. The prompt is just a springboard: feel free to use it as your first sentence, move it, change it, or float down it to other territories.

Uma’s essay, Awaiting Colours of Change, discussed the surprising things children can learn away from home. This week’s prompt up taken from her essay is: “I had to rush. The bus was here.”

Yeah write #303 fiction|poetry writing challenge is open for submissions!

Basic yeah write guidelines: 750 word limit; your entry can be dated no earlier than this past Sunday; fiction or poetry only.

How to submit and fully participate in the challenge:

  1. In the sidebar of this week’s post, please grab the code beneath the challenge grid badge and paste it into the HTML view of your entry
  2. Follow the InLinkz instructions after clicking “add your link” to upload your entry to this week’s challenge grid
  3. Your entry should appear immediately on the grid if you don’t receive an error message
  4. Please make the rounds to read all the entries in this week’s challenge
  5. Consider turning off moderated comments and CAPTCHA on your own blog

Submissions for this week’s challenges will close on Wednesday at 10pm ET. Voting will then open immediately thereafter and close on Thursday at 10pm ET. The winners, as always, will be celebrated on Friday.

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