My Bibliography

Friday, 30 December 2011

Comma or not, pause for thought

Now, its been said about my work that it's highly polished, but I’m starting to realise that that might not actually be a good thing, perhaps it’s actually only a polite way of saying ‘too polished’. 

One of the things I’ve noticed with other new writers who perhaps can’t afford a professional editor, or just aren’t there yet, is that readers seem to have an issue with where they’ve placed their commas; commonly commenting on that in their reviews– and certainly that’s been true of my own work too.  In fact so much so that I’ve seen many writers get pissed off about the mention of them; saying things like ‘lets just agree to disagree’ when what they're really saying is 'just piss off will ya?'

It’s always a great idea to go over your manuscript after you’ve left it for a while, I feel; seeing it with fresh eyes; reading as anyone else would, for sometimes when you’re slogging away at it to make it the best it can be, you can’t actually see the wood for the trees as you can when you're pontificating about other people's usage of them.

Over the last few months I’ve been editing the final chapters of Prickly Scots Pt II (a massive task given that these particular chapters have never actually been edited due to the size of the book which was initially completely overwritten, unlike the many chapters that came before them over the years, and that were changed here and there as my writing skills evolved; always getting tired of it before I reached that point) however, now that I have no choice, what with people waiting on it, I have to say that this entire exercise has been excellent for my editing skills; seeing, among many other things, when you consider that I’m editing my amateur self from six years ago, commas misused all over the place.  

But yesterday, someone was reading my work in front of me, a bit mortifying really, me feeling like a wannabe auditioning for Simon Cowell.  They were discussing chapter one – a chapter that I especially have gone over many, many times, the last time earlier in this year, and the mention of commas was made; the person saying that despite the use of them, I, as the author, hadn’t seemed to pause for a breath myself, technically correct, but they interfered with the flow of words for their reading experience.  She did mention that other, newer works of mine seems to have dealt with this propensity though.  And so it made me want to rush home to look at chapter one of Prickly Scots.  I couldn’t believe it; I remember painstakingly considering those commas at the time, even trusting in Microsoft Word to tell me where to put them (don’t) and I saw exactly what she meant.  And whilst I only wanted to change a couple of little things on this latest read, which I was surprised at for I usually always want to change everything, I found myself removing about twenty commas in this long chapter.

The good thing is though, that I don’t think that’ll be an issue throughout the book, over exuberant perhaps in trying to make the best initial impression in this chapter one.  I believe though that it's no longer a problem for me, for like other things on this writing journey, the more I do it, more lights switch on with certain things, or at least, if not entirely floodlit, I won't be quite as over-exuberant in the future.

I could have written many, many new novels in the time that I’ve been editing Prickly Scots, and so I simply cannot wait to get it finished – I’m nearly there thank God - but I do now know when to recognise and pause for thought as to whether a comma is appropriate or not – and that usually means not.

Given that Prickly Scots was downloaded over the Christmas period hundreds of times (and my books well over 1000 in total) I just wish/hope that the latest edit, minus these commas in chapter one, will be updated on peoples' Kindles... if not, and you're reading this, let me just take pause to say... sowwy!


  1. I am just editing now so will watch out for commas. I think I put in far too many too. I was told to have shorter sentences and that stops the commas a bit! I tried to download Prickly Scots a couple of days ago and my stupid computer kept crashing!

  2. Claire, I wonder if it’s old school British, for certainly the rules I was taught are what I applied; where I wanted to take a breath, or make a point, then they were used. But I tend to agree myself now that that rule of thumb may be old fashioned, and certainly not the best for me. I simply now look and see how long a sentence can go without being run on and if reads well without, then it goes without. If I need to make a point in-between, then so be it; they’ll be used. When it boils down to it though, if I have to question one, then I must think I don't actually need it.

    Sentences should be a mix of lengths, certainly, for a better reading experience, and while some hate it; I like the semicolon - can't believe I actually understand the proper use of these now. But you do have to be careful; sometimes a separate sentence is more appropriate. Thanks, and good luck editing. Too bad about Pricklys, but just think when you do eventually read it, you’ll get the one minus all the commas in the first chapter.


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