“Hi, I’m Holly. I’m a writer, and I have an unhealthy addiction to ellipses.” I see a number of familiar faces in the audience, and I’m inspired to be a more decisive writer, a better leader. I pull a handful of dithering dots from my pocket, careful to hang onto the few loner-types willing to serve as periods, and I lay them down on the podium. It’s hard to let go, particularly when they arrange themselves like eyes below two cock-eyed commas and above a lazy right parenthesis. I smile back reluctantly.
My sponsor coaxes me to return to my seat, but I am tempted to scream, “It’s all a mistake!” and shove the innocent little dots back into my pocket with my fountain pen and a ball of carpet fuzz. “It’s okay,” she assures me. “They’ll be fine.”
My friend Roy looks proud at me for coming clean, especially after I spent the morning urging him to “Murder his darlings,” and spouting other revolutionary writing advice I had no intention of following. I can quit any time, I thought to myself, smiling smugly as I advised him to edit once, edit twice, and edit once again.
They won’t be fine. I don’t know how I know, but I know. They will vanish into the abyss of lost and crumpled drafts, that black hole euphemistically known as the “circular file.” It seems so final…
The other writers, sensing the awkwardness and pain of the moment, burst into song.
I pull myself decisively from the podium, straighten my spine, and leave the imperiled punctuation marks to be swept away pitilessly by the punctilious janitor. That, or he’ll pocket the insidious things and join our meeting next month.
There’s some literature at the back of the room, and we shove it into our bags before grabbing punch and cookies.
- Ellipses – an ex-addict’s guide to the proper use of dots
- What the …Why everyone and your mother started using ellipses … everywhere. – maybe it’s not so ba…er, never mind.
A Parenthetical Phase
Sure enough, the janitor attends the next meeting. We don’t judge him for the pilfered punctuation. He fancies himself a writer, now. Having had his first painful editing session, he is in elliptical rehab. You can tell he’s still suffering withdrawal: Now and then he brushes at the pages of his manuscript, muttering, “Shoo! Out, out, damned dots!”
This is why we don’t serve Dippin’ Dots at meetings or toss confetti on special occasions.
A month ago, I would have nestled that last sentence (or maybe some part of it, like “or toss confetti”) between parentheses like rounded bookends. I am learning to let go, to grow phrases and asides into full-fledged sentences, and then to let them stand unadorned.
When we cover this topic, we like to invite programmers to speak on using parentheses in search queries or other code. They shake their heads at our illogical use – the way we’ll just pull bits of sentences, terminal punctuation and all, together with fragments to create some mid-paragraph mash-up of a disordered thought process.
It’s a phase. And it’s about as treatable as toenail fungus, which is to say that it requires a great deal of time, effort, and patient diligence.
(Next time you’re tempted to abuse parentheses, remember that they even look a little bit like infected toenails, and remind yourself to stop it before you have to dip your mind in bleach.)
Your Air Quotes Don’t Belong on Paper!
Oh, he’s back. You know that annoying guy who shows up at every meeting and makes little hooked-finger gestures by his ears as if to say, “I’m not really saying what’s coming out of my mouth right now, I’m just sort of saying I’m saying it, if you get my drift”?
If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, could we writers try not to mock this character by recreating him on paper? You know, actual “paper” as opposed to, like, pixels on a screen, or something? Oh, never mind – let’s give him a pass, there, too.
There are other groups for this disease. They meet down the street every other Monday, and include small business owners, advertisers, and MarCom folks. (Usually.) I picked up some of their literature last time I ducked in (you know, just to get out of the rain [because lame excuses are always a good thing to include in your writing]), and you may find these handouts useful:
I hear they even hand out free red and black Sharpie markers when you “graduate.” (Because…you know…you never really graduate. It’s a lifelong battle, these writerly addictions.)