So, where can I put a comma?

The comma is quite an expressive punctuation mark and is governed by a set of fairly complicated rules or guidelines. One of the most accessible descriptions of its use can be found in Perfect Punctuation by Stephen Curtis.

The comma acts as both a linker and a separator.

Commas are used to link the items in lists of words. phrases and clauses of the same type, usually replacing and. If the comma cannot be replaced by and, it is in the wrong place.

There are two systems for using commas in lists: A, B and C and A, B, and C. The final comma in the second system is called the ‘serial comma’.

Commas also link subordinate clauses to main clauses.

Commas acting as separators generally work in pairs, except when they are placed at the beginning or end of a sentence.

They also mark off sentence adverbs.

Commas are not used with defining relative clauses ( those in which the subject of the clause is one of a number of people or things of the same type).

Commas are used with non-defining relative clauses (where the subject has already been identified and the clause gives additional information).

Commas are used when you put the name of the person or people you are speaking to into your sentence.

It is easy to misuse commas but just as easy to use them effectively to get your exact meaning across.

 As usual this list of guidelines can seem a little confusing but in practical terms the comma is usually used to ensure clarity of meaning. It is possible to use very few commas in short sentences, if the meaning is still clear. In these situations it is grammatically correct to use the comma but not necessary; you have a choice. Punctuation and phrasing choices are part of what give a writer his unique style. The purpose of punctuation, in all cases, is to signpost meaning. It is up to the writer to decide how to construct his work.
If you find the grammar a little confusing then I suggest a look at Perfect Punctuation (Stephen Curtis,Random House). He gives clear examples of each punctuation mark and the places where you may use them if you choose.
Happy Punctuating.

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Why is Writing so Difficult?

Once you have mastered the alphabet, grasped the grammar and practised punctuation; listened, learned, read and re-read, writing should be easy, shouldn’t it?  As a writer you have the tools, you have the texts and you have the time, and yet writing is difficult. It is elusive, sometimes you catch it and sometimes you don’t, that elusive Muse. 

Let me reassure you that you are far from crazy, and everyone who has ever attempted to write anything longer than a limerick has shared your experience. Sometimes we have all the skills and we don’t know what to say. The Muse is elusive. That is why it is incredibly important to be ready for it. Have paper or a keyboard, have a pen or pencil, have a working knowledge of your language or several, know what constitutes the correct form for articles, essays, novels, blog posts; be prepared.

Be prepared for the Wrestle, because make no mistake there will be a battle between the Muse and the You. Sometimes the Muse will want to inspire us and the You will refuse to comply because, well people may not like what we do. On the other hand they might like what we do, and want another one, and we may not be able to produce another one because the muse is elusive. We really get in our own way when things are worthwhile.

Let me tell you a truth that holds for every writer this planet has ever produced.

There is never a wasted word.

Nothing you produce is ever wasted, even if it is poor in quality. How do you think writers get to the good stuff? We keep creating the words until we make some with merit and even those we polish.

Be prepared. Show up. Keep creating.

And when You pronounce yourself, not good enough, not correct, not worth listening to, channel your inner sulky teenager with a hearty

“Yeah, Whatever.”

and

Be prepared. Show up. Keep creating.

Writing is Difficult. The Muse is elusive, but we all know the answer to that don’t we?

Be….