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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21 thoughts on “The First Step Is Admitting I Have A Problem

  1. lusciouswords says:

    You are not alone in your comma addiction. I find there are times when I believe a sentence needs one, while the writer does not. Of course, if you delve into the land of fan fiction, you’ll find many denizens there do not understand any punctuation, much less commas. 🙂


    • Karen says:

      Oh, boy, I don’t think I’m brave enough to venture over into fan-fic territory.

      I think a lot of my problem is that I’m a talker and I always hear what I’m writing in my head, the way I would deliver it to an audience. I’m also very aware of the effect of comic timing in humor, so I often stick in unnecessary commas to create a pause before a punch line.

      Anyway, yeah. Commas. 🙂


      • lusciouswords says:

        That fanfic territory can be dicey at best and downright horrifying at worst. I’ve seen characters I love speak with poor grammar that makes me cringe. I’ve seen stories that have no punctuation except quotation marks, and even those are misplaced. I’ve seen stories with no punctuation at all and lumped in one very long, tedious paragraph. Scary!

        I do the same thing with my writing, and I feel that is a way to add your individual voice to the writing. As rossmurray1 commented, the examples you offered seemed just fine to me, and I would have offered the same correction. 🙂


  2. rossmurray1 says:

    I think you need that comma after “everywhere.” And most of your commas are handy pauses, not gasps for breath. The one exception is here:
    “I remember a friend in sixth grade explaining French kissing to me, and thinking there was no way she could be right about this.” They both have the same subject (“I) so no comma necessary. If they were different subjects (making it a compound sentence), then yes. (i.e. …French kissing to me, and she told me…”)
    That said, this stuff can make you crazy. But you’re taking the right approach: write first; de-comma later.


    • Karen says:

      Now if I were to rewrite that menstruation and French-kissing paragraph today, I think I’d take out every freaking comma that’s in there.

      But I confess at this point I’m not sure when a comma should be used any more. I should pull out my copy of the Elements of Style to get the definitive answer but I’m lazy. And I like to whine.

      Or maybe I’ll just start writing in the style of ee cummings.


  3. Trent Lewin says:

    Hey, great stuff on hitting 50,000! By the way, I like that first sentence better with the comma in. I think commas are elegant. It’s the semi-colon that is the true culprit of the grammatical world.

    I once wrote a story about the history of the period. I mean, like the punctuation mark. It was filled with sex, violence, gratuitious nudity and more sex, and some freaky animals. I’m pretty sure I was drinking at the time.

    By the way, I’m glad you’re posting regularly again.


    • Karen says:

      Oh, we’re all just dopey after NaNoWriMo. It’s like when we used to go out all night drinking and imagine we had the best bunch of friends that ever existed, just because they would hold our hair back when we puked.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. lynseywhite says:

    So there I am thinking I’m alone in being a sex and comma writing nut… and here you are with your sex and your commas. Turns out the internet really does have its uses.


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