I suffer from a disease that afflicts many good writers, who have not yet had it beat out of them by concerned critique partners. See?! Even with three published novels, I’m still sprinkling extraneous commas freely in sentences that have no need of them. Strike that comma!
It all goes back to the horrid English teacher I had in middle school who tried to teach us grammar by having us diagram sentences to improve our grammar usage. Just the thought of having to diagram my work put me off writing in general for years. I actually believed her rather than running in the opposite direction like any sane person would have done.
And yet… much as I now hate to admit this, she had a point. It is helpful to know how to properly place those prepositions, phrases, dependent clauses — and those pesky commas.
This poor woman, who shall remain nameless because she was probably actually a great teacher, (except for telling me things I didn’t want to hear) gave us a rule of thumb that you ought to place a comma where you take a naturally take a breath when reading. I internalized her words about commas. Not until I began attending a critique group did I realize I had a real problem. My work came back with red slashes through fully half of the punctuation liberally sprinkled throughout my pages.
Remember Teacher’s admonition to place a comma each time you take a breath?Writing excites me. Evidently it also literally takes my breath away. I had no idea that breathless anticipation wasn’t an asset when writing.
So I am here today to confess: I use too many commas in my work. Far, far, far, too, many, commas.
What to do about it? I did an internet search and came up with quite a few really good grammar sites. I signed up for daily grammar and spelling tips which arrive via e-mail. I read humorous essays by other writers about their own affliction with commatosis. And I found a couple of things that actually helped.
The best of these are the witty, well-written Grammar Girl podcasts. These tend to stick with me better than anything else I’ve found. I bought her book, but honestly, the podcasts are the next best thing to sliced bagels.
Oops! Another of my personal problems raises its ugly head — mixed metaphors.