“My Best Advice to New Writers” Blogfest: Punctuation

15 Jul

I’ve finally caved to the lure of the blogfest. I thought this one was a good place to start because I don’t have to put myself on the line really.

My Best Advice to New Writers Blogfest is run by Peevesh Penman. Pop on over and read other people’s posts.

So, advice to new writers, or all writers really, because I think it’s an important thing to remember.

Use your punctuation.

I had an amazing poetry lecturer, Bryan Walpert, who put it something like this: Writers have very little to work with. We have words, which come with their denotations and connotations. We have structure: how we choose to lay these words on the page. And we have punctuation.

Some people believe poetry is awesome because you don’t have to use punctuation. There was a girl in one of my classes that wrote a prose style poem with no capital letters despite there being sentences, names, etc that would ordinarily require them. Upon enquiry it turned out she didn’t do it for a purpose, she did it because she didn’t like capital letters. Needless to say, it was bloody hard to read.

This kind of mindset is detrimental to your craft, and not just for poetry. I was told by a different lecturer, about prose fiction, don’t use semi-colons, they draw attention to themselves. That’s just dumb. It’s punctuation; if it’s used right noone even notices it, and if you do notice every semi-colon I must assume it is because it’s unfamiliar punctuation to you.

So, my advice, get cosy with punctuation: get to know semi-colons and colons; become buddies with the dash, em-dash, ellipses, parentheses, square brackets; go for BFFs with full-stops (periods), commas and apostrophes.

Don’t be afraid of punctuation. Yes, it’s very powerful, but it also just wants to be your friend.

If you know when you should or could use punctuation then you can intentionally misuse it for effect. I’ve seen it well done, and have written an essay on Patricia Grace’s “Mirrors” in which I concluded (with evidence) that you could twist grammer rules to great effect if you knew what you were doing.

If you don’t know the rules, well… lets just say you are limiting your audience to those who also don’t know them.

Please don’t count the ways I’ve misused puncutation accidently in this post, I haven’t really proofed it. Ahh, the irony.


Posted by on 15/07/2010 in Blogfest, Writing


Tags: , , ,

12 responses to ““My Best Advice to New Writers” Blogfest: Punctuation

  1. Iapetus999

    15/07/2010 at 1:26 pm

    Yes, they’re are glaring punctuation errors in you’re post, but I wont tell if you don’t on me πŸ˜‰

    Anyways, the other thing I thought was interested was that in my piece of advice I tell people to ignore punctuation.

  2. redfox

    15/07/2010 at 2:22 pm

    yeah, sleep deprivation + baby needing attention = punctuation thrown about wildly.

    There’s certainly places where I’d say ignore punctuation. Freewriting, NaNo/SoCNoC, and to an extent first drafts and even blogs πŸ˜‰
    but I think you should know exactly what it is you’re ignoring, and when you get it wrong you should have a niggling feeling that it’s wrong.

  3. J.E. Johaneman

    15/07/2010 at 2:26 pm

    Words are the transportation, and punctuation are the street signs. πŸ™‚ I can’t imagine how difficult it was to write or read in the days prior to punctuation. I can read some Ancient Greek, and I usually have to read each passage multiple times before I get the meaning due to the lack of punctuation.

  4. redfox

    15/07/2010 at 4:12 pm

    Very well put πŸ™‚
    Thanks for reading & commenting πŸ˜€

  5. WritersBlockNZ

    15/07/2010 at 8:01 pm

    Welcome to the blogfestivities πŸ™‚ Ugh, punctuation. Not my favourite thing to have to look at while editing. Your point could be taken further in that punctuation goes hand in hand with sentence structure. A period/full-stop can be a powerful thing when combined with a short three-word(ish) sentence. How a writer uses punctuation (when used well) hints to their style as well. We use different punctuation for diary-style writing (eg lots of brackets) in comparison to formal writing. Nice post πŸ™‚

  6. Hadassah Fey

    16/07/2010 at 12:12 am

    Great post and advice for any writer. I think the secret is to proofread, proofread, proofread. And then have someone else proofread for you, no matter how well you think you know the rules. As a prose writer, I am very strict with my punctuation, striving for perfection as I revise and eliminate my numerous comma splices. I’m also a poet, though, and as you said, it’s only because I know the rules that I can break and bend them effectively.

  7. stu

    16/07/2010 at 12:56 am

    Beware! Beware the ampersand!

    Ahem… sorry. I can’t think what came over me there.

  8. Jamie D. (@JamieDeBree)

    16/07/2010 at 5:18 am

    Punctuation is good. According to most editors, commas are bad. LOL Beware the commas (which I always have to go back and pare down). πŸ™‚

  9. Jan Rider Newman

    16/07/2010 at 7:52 am

    I hadn’t thought of punctuation that way, but you’re right. When used correctly, it’s usually invisible and should only call attention to itself on purpose. Nice post.

  10. Carrie Bailey

    16/07/2010 at 12:35 pm

    Thanks for standing up for punctuation in the age of text. Especially for the poor little semi-colon. I agree with you. I can’t see him when he’s used correctly, but that might be because I know how to use him.

    In college, my main professor would have “the talk” with each of her students. No, not about the wild partying, but the semi-colon. She gave me the talk twice, but I learned and I’m glad I know what he’s about and how to use him.

    Great entry! Thanks so much for participating in the blogfest :).

  11. Dawn Maria

    16/07/2010 at 12:44 pm

    Punctuation is just another tool at our disposal. The more we practice with it, the better our work gets.

  12. Icy Sedgwick

    17/07/2010 at 1:00 pm

    I get cross beyond all measure when people misuse the comma, the apostrophe, and the semi-colon. People say “Oh they don’t matter” but when you take away the structure of words, what do we have? ANARCHY!!!!

    In all seriousness, good post. Punctuation is usually neglected!


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