Friday, October 12, 2012
I’m thinking that folks writing books in this flowing stream-of-consciousness manner are either would-be, envious, behind-the-times Joycists or angry anti-Strunkists revolting against every red-inked correction they ever received from instructors whose job was to make their writing readable.
But, then, I’m an old lady, taught the conventional punctuation of the early 1900’s by Teacher Kuhnau, who was born in Germany and understood that rules are important.
And I went on to teach teenagers the same rules he taught me. We diagrammed in my classes. We rewrote essays until they were close to perfect. For years–until I began to realize that the red marks I was making on all those papers weren’t creating better writers, only better punctuationalists. Then I loosened up a little, wrote more Good!’s
and fewer Run-on!’s.
Only when I started writing full-time did I discover that my own writing was loosening up also. I used fewer commas, forgot what semi-colons were for, got in the habit of creating phrases instead of sets of words that could be diagrammed. Forgot how to diagram.
Felt good, this sense of freedom. Maybe overdid it sometimes. I still believed in quotation marks, though, and my paragraphs had places in them to breath.
Then, through an attempt to get Graffiti Grandma into a Publish on Demand format, I paid for the manuscript to be proofread. The novel came back with digital red marks (the way it’s done now) on every page. For a minute I thought Teacher Kuhnau was back. It took a number of hours and numerous pots of coffee to get through my reader’s corrections. I learned a lot: that dumpster is spelled with a D; that too many had’s are deadening; that incomplete sentences are okay, for emphasis; that commas and semi- colons create a rhythm; that M dashes sometimes work even better than commas– a little like my old German teacher taught me. I like the new look of Graffiti Grandma. I'm inspired to try to get it published again; it breathes so well now, with at least one hundred new commas.
So, I’ll never write two-page paragraphs with no commas unless I get inspired by too many cups of coffee and the event of rain outside my window after three months of yellow light and sweat when I walk the dog and try to find a cool place to read the latest novel by a post-modernist who is protesting the control he’s lived under for forty years and can finally throw off the chains of punctuation and write the way he’s always wanted to but no teacher would accept his premise that periods are a barrier to inspiration and no publisher would even read his dystopia novel until a courageous young MFA’s short un-perioded story was accepted by a cutting edge literary magazine and began the revolution that is causing havoc in much of the reading world as it tries to read and inhale at the same time and which has brought these novels to my desk on this rainy day.