Friday, February 24, 2017

The Comma Section

The book I've been working on is done, or rather, it's out of my hands and in the hands of my editor.  It will be back on my desk soon enough.  Now I'm excited to clean my study, putting away the books I used and generally re-organizing life with a bit less writing in it.  I have stacks of reference books — Ancient Christian Commentaries on the Scriptures, Rahner's sermons, Tillich — and a small heap of commas that were sieved out of the text.

The commas got pulled after Crash did a read through, along with some light editing, noting: "General comment: You use a LOT of commas in the reflections and sometimes, as here, they obscure rather than clarify your sentence structure."  He's right.  I tend to use commas to help me pace the reading of the text, rather than as the framework on which I am hanging phrases.  This is fine when I am the sole user of the text, otherwise, it obfuscates.

I don't know how many commas I took out (though I could know), but I do know there are 1528 still left in the text, one every 13 words.

Prompted by Ben Blatt's recent short piece in the Atlantic about the number of exclamation points great writers use, I counted those up, too.  They range over two orders of magnitude; a low of 50 per hundred thousand words for Hemingway to 1000 for James Joyce. As it turns out, in this instantiation of my writing, I'm more in line with Hemingway than Joyce: 78 ! per hundred thousand words.

I've been resisting writing the code to produce a version of these cool images of punctuation patterns by Adam Calhoun.