Freelance Writer Files: Those Pesky Commas

In summer, my grandmother’s front yard was always bedecked with various interesting flowers and plants: spider plants, bleeding hearts, daisies, and elephant ears sprouted everywhere, with no apparent order imposed on them. That was because my grandmother wasn’t a planter, but a sprinkler. She would stand on the front porch and throw out handfuls of seeds, and the ones that sprouted became her garden that year.

I’ve noticed, as a writer/proofreader, that there are plenty of writers who use my grandmother’s method of seed-planting to disperse commas. My guess is that not knowing how to plant commas where they’re needed, they sprinkle them around randomly, hoping one or two will land in the right spots.

Well, that’s one way to do it. Not the right way, but it is a way.

There are pages and pages of rules about the use of commas, and it’s useful to read them. But it seems to me you could do middling well, comma-wise, by simply reading aloud what you’ve written, then placing a comma every place you paused for breath or emphasis. Because that’s why commas are there. In the music of prose, commas are the beats and rests between the notes that give the melody shape and purpose.

Too esoteric? If you really want to learn the rules of comma usage, there are plenty of resources online. Here’s one I use when I’m unsure.

Sometimes, it’s necessary to break the rules for the sake of clarity, but it’s useful to know the rules, so you’ll know when you can break them.

Freelance Writer Files: Thank you from a pleased client

I proofread documents for several departments of a national financial services company. When they’re pleased, I’m pleased. Here’s a note I received yesterday:

Thank you, Liz, for the quick turnaround and for the edits you made. Excellent changes!