The First Step Is Admitting I Have A Problem

She was able to quit the pipe, but could never give up the comma.

She was able to quit the crack cocaine, but could never give up the comma.

Some people smoke dope. Other people pickle their livers in alcohol. Still others have casual sex with sketchy partners.

My drug of choice is the comma.

I can’t help myself. I compulsively stick commas everywhere, whether they’re needed or not.

See right there? What kept me from writing that last sentence without the comma?

I compulsively stick commas everywhere whether they’re needed or not.

That sentence doesn’t need a comma. It’s perfectly good without the comma. And still my middle finger wants to reach down on my keyboard and stick a comma right there after the “everywhere” and before the “whether.”

Like an alcoholic in the early stages of recovery, I realize I have a problem. And I’ve gotten better. If you scroll back through the archives of this blog, you’ll find torturous passages like this one from Sex Really Is Disgusting After All, Just Like Your Mother Told You.

Other than menstruation, my sexual education came from girlfriends, who generally knew less than I did.  Then, when I started dating, I learned a bit more from boys, who generally had more experience than I did.  I remember a friend in sixth grade explaining French kissing to me, and thinking there was no way she could be right about this.

Good grief, what was I thinking with all those commas everywhere? My writing reads like it’s being spoken by a three-pack-a-day smoker who just sprinted up a flight of stairs.

Vector parchment with a pen and ink. Icon for records

50,000 words and they’re all separated by commas!

As I said, I’ve gotten better. The comma key on my current laptop is not as well worn as the previous one. In fact, I felt I had mostly quit my comma habit until I got caught in the whirlwind of NaNoWriMo. In the rush to push out 50,000 words in 30 days (I actually did reach the goal Monday morning), commas flew everywhere. It’s almost as if I thought punctuation counted towards my word goal (it didn’t, unfortunately).

In college, I had a professor who wrote this comment in the margin of one of my papers.

While technically correct, your sentences are clunky.

More than a decade later, my sentences are still clunky. And now I’ve got 50,000 words, and 1,278 commas, in a manuscript that needs to be un-clunked.


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