OK, folks, here’s the story. I got involved with this writing group. On my first critique, within about fifteen minutes of having met me, one of the other members of the group pointed out the five places where I should have used a semi colon instead of a comma, as well as advising that I remove an apostrophe.
I succinctly explained why the apostrophe was correct. Then I acknowledged that in each place I could have used a semi colon. Sometimes when I am inwardly appalled, I get super polite. I think this comes from a combination of having grown up in the South and having worked in bookstores for many years. When you lose your shit in front of an irritating customer, it means that the customer has won.
And so I turned the question back at the group. I explained that, while technically there should be semi colons here, I was writing a litany. I was using commas for effect. The sentence was the last one in the section and said “We didn’t need A. We needed X, we needed Y, we needed Z.” (Rest assured, the sentence was a bit more interesting than that.) This is not a scientific article, it is a work of creative prose. Sound is important, and semi colons would have been clunky there.
I used to use semi colons in my poems until one of my poetry buddies (and my dear companion from my copyediting class back in the day—one of our favorite memories ever was sitting in the bar after class arguing about the serial comma) gently suggested that I didn’t need to be quite so rigorous in my creative work.
I’m trying to look at the issue as an editor. If I were editing creative work, would I let it go by? At first I thought no. But then I thought about the memoir I am editing. My author has sentence fragments that I don’t change. She is also writing for rhythm and voice. Putting a subject in the fragment would slow the rhythm down. And so, I will keep my commas.
And to my non-editor writer friends, I assure you I misuse commas all the fuck over the place when I am writing. And I quit the group. What are your writing dilemmas today?