On Writing

Weirdly Competitive

19 Feb , 2018  

I am weirdly competitive. I thought it was just me, but my friend Allie mentioned being “highly competitive when it doesn’t count” and I just burst out laughing. Now I find that my friend Mitch has a little streak of it; he rose to the challenge of writing a whole blog post without commas. 

Just to refute Derek Halpern, inventor of the “no comma rule,” one of the bestselling books of all time is The Bible. See Ephesians 1:3-14. Just sayin’…

Maybe Halpern has a point. It’s one thing to write in short sentences. The trick is to vary the cadence. Choppy sentences can come across as annoyingly sing-songy. He’s not wrong. It’s important to be clear. Sales copy is not a novel. Audiences vary in terms of education and comprehension. Never alienate readers by insisting that you “will not dumb down your writing.” Unrelenting use of a graduate level vocabulary can be exhausting and intimidating. The worst thing a writer can do is to put their own need to show off ahead of the reader’s need to understand.

But I’m not sure I believe any of what I just wrote. Unrelenting use of a graduate level vocabulary is fun for writers. This is why we do what we do. It’s impossible to show off with wordplay and dependent clauses in a world without commas. Terrible “rules” for writing make for bored readers. Can we find a balance? A happy medium between pretentious writing and overly simplistic writing would be good for readers and writers. Noodle on that a while.

Believe me when I say that the challenge Mitch proposed and the challenge that I’ve added for myself are painful when compounded in a single post. Every silly challenge has a purpose. Fun should be considered a purpose. Unbridled fun and hidden messages beat onerous chores and the doldrums of boredom. Never have I had so much fun since that time I wrote a Villanelle.

The poets reading this may recognize the sarcasm. Others may wish to try their hand at writing a villainous Villanelle. Don’t blame me if you end up walking in circles and muttering at walls. Onward and upward!

Silliness is a plus in tackling silly challenges. I’ve found that it is easier to approach a challenge with enthusiasm if it has a hefty dose of fun and silliness. Long and convoluted sentences are challenging to read. Leaving out all the commas doesn’t actually make it impossible to write them. Yesterday’s overblown and descriptive writing trends have fallen by the wayside. Blogging demands simplicity that does not obviously condescend to readers. Long-form writing has its place. Or does it? Go read a hundred blogs and find three without commas. Go read a hundred blogs and find three that sound like James Joyce. I ask you readers which you prefer? Now is the time for all good bloggers to come to the aid of their readers. Give it your best shot!

Commas are not evil. Heart emojis are not evil. And passive voice is not evil. Legitimate use cases exist for all of these things. Logic should prevail. Every rule of writing should be rooted in logic and common sense. No rule is utterly inviolable. Ghastly writing ensues from mindless adherence to mindless rules. Each rule is meant to be broken by a writer who understands and values the rule. Sensible writers and bloggers understand this but still tackle silly blogging challenges and impose unnecessary rules upon themselves and others.

If you’re paying close attention, I have seen Mitch’s challenge and raised him two. Any other weirdly competitive sorts out there care to pick the gauntlets and slap me back? 🙂 If you are not weirdly competitive, I hope you’ve at least gotten a chuckle from reading this!

Holly Jahangiri

Holly Jahangiri is the author of Trockle; A Puppy, Not a Guppy; and A New Leaf for Lyle. She draws inspiration from her family, from her own childhood adventures (some of which only happened in her overactive imagination), and from readers both young and young at heart. She lives in Houston, Texas, with her husband, J.J., whose love and encouragement make writing books twice the fun.

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28 Responses

  1. Anklebuster says:

    Chuckles are for the faint of heart. Thanks for giving me a new poetry form to try!

  2. Anklebuster says:

    Thanks to your clue, I found the diamond in the rough. It’s a beautiful bit of writing hiding almost in plain sight. I must say, it was a capital idea!

    Cheers,

    Mitch

  3. First, since your blog seems to dislike me in general I thought I’d switch to Chrome to see if it just hates Firefox or me across the board.

    Second, this was a piece of art; I commend you for it. If I’d had a better spirit I might have done a better job with it. But I didn’t! lol I did give it the ol’ college try though; I’m at least proud of the effort.

    As to the challenges… nope, I’m not seeing them. Maybe the Villanelle is a challenge but even after looking up the definition I have no idea what it is. Tercet, quatrain… what is this madness? I’m a lyricist, not a poet!

    • Wait, I thought it was Chrome that was the problem?? Or was that just the “enable Javascript” issue? And okay, I’ll drop you another hint in Twitterdom.

      • Chrome is the problem when people are leaving comments on my blog; Firefox seems to be the problem when I’m trying to leave a comment on yours.

        I still don’t get notifications though lol

      • I’ve always used Chrome on your blog; only problem I ever seem to have is your silly rules about posting links, and remembering how to get around them. 😉

      • I take that back – there have been those few random times when your blog seems terribly hungry (maybe it didn’t get enough spam that week) and it EATS my comment and tries to whistle and feign innocence until I ask you to go find and fish out the bones from the dumpster. But that doesn’t happen often and I’m not even sure it can be blamed on Chrome.

      • The only reason I blame it on Chrome is because I’ve asked people about it when their comments end up in the trash or spam filter and it’s always been people who commented from Chrome. These are things I don’t understand and have no idea how to overcome it, and research has failed me… which is irksome as all get out!

      • Well, Chrome IS the most popular browser out there, by far. That makes it very likely that people who have that problem are using it, but doesn’t necessarily mean it’s because of Chrome, either.

  4. Akshata Ram says:

    A blog post without commas thats something. I tend to write long sentences and keep the language simple. I have heard “wont it dumb it down” from various writers but personally as a reader I do not prefer many jargons and word which I need to look up in the dictionary.

    • As a writer, and maybe more importantly, as the mother of readers, I have NO problem with driving you to a standard dictionary. I agree with you, wholeheartedly, when it comes to jargon and slang – the point of which has always been to identify the in-crowd and exclude the outsiders. I’m all about inclusion. But I’m also all about having faith in my readers’ ability to look up words and increase their vocabularies if needed. (Blame my parents – they used to point to the big unabridged dictionary on a tall wooden stand in the living room, and say, “We never guess, we look it up.” (Dad, if you’re reading this, chime in and vouch for me! 😀 )

      • Dad says:

        Yes, I am “partly” responsible for the need to never guess, look it up! But it does work all the time!

      • It comes under the heading of, “Give a man a fish, feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish, feed him for a lifetime.” It works, and it’s a springboard for other research.

    • Also, there’s Google. It’s just ridiculously easy these days to type into the browser’s address bar something like: “unknownword” definition

    • Did you find the hidden challenges?

  5. Shirley Corder says:

    Well done, Holly! Good post which was easy to follow despite the lack of commas! And yes, I spotted the hidden challenges.

  6. Alana says:

    Silly me! It took me a paragraph or two to figure out you weren’t using commas, and I never did find the hidden challenges. I need fun and silliness right now. There’s just too much grimness out there.

    • One’s not really hidden; the other is more of a hidden message – and a cross between poetic forms and blog posts might be a broad hint.

      Mitch A. gives one away in the comments section of a different post (don’t read the comments on this post unless you’re ready to throw in the towel).

      And I couldn’t agree with you more. I don’t want this blog to be grim. (I don’t promise I won’t have my moments, but I’d rather take those out on Twitter than here!)

  7. Arlee Bird says:

    Nicely done! Didn’t miss commas at all. But I’m still not likely to do this unless I get some kind of burst of energy. I’ve been lucky of late to get just plain old blog posts written.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

    • Thank you Arlee Bird! 🙂 Like I said, elsewhere, you don’t have to tackle this challenge if it doesn’t tickle your fancy. (See Alana’s comment and my reply for a key to why I like silly challenges with no real stakes.) I’ve also been struggling to blog more often; seems Facebook broke me of two GOOD habits: reading and writing. Well, 😛 to Facebook – I’ve mostly broken myself of IT and now I’m back to reading and writing more. It’s a good thing. Ahh, see – maybe that’s where I stole the minutes it took to write this!

  8. Sumit says:

    Superb. Keep going great sharing more inspiring post with us on your great blog. I hope you will like Punjab Style Phirni. Recipe is available at my blog

  9. I am always chuckling at your posts, Holly.

    You do have a comma in the opening sentence, but I suppose that was the preamble.

    As for the other things, heck if I know.

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