Photo by Ellen Blum Barish
“At its core, writing is about cutting beneath every social expectation to get to the voice you have when no one is listening. It’s about finding something true, the voice that lies beneath all words. But the paradox of writing is that everyone at her desk finds that the stunning passage written in the morning seems flat three hours later, and by the time it’s rewritten, the original version will look dazzling again. Our moods, our beings are as changeable as the sky (long hours at any writing project teach us), so we can no longer trust any one voice as definitive or lasting”
Pico Iyer, from his New York Times Book Review essay, “Voices Inside Their Heads,” April 14, 2013
In his essay “In Praise of the Humble Comma” Pico Iyer writers “The gods, they say, give breath, and they take it away. But the same could be said – could it not – of the humble comma.”
Punctuation is like sheet music, he writes, “telling us where to rest, or when to raise our voices; it acknowledges that the meaning of our discourse, as of any symphonic composition, lies not in the units but in the pauses, the pacing and the phrasing.”
I love this! Punctuation is to words as notation is to music, adding accent to notes, indicating where the crescendo should go, inserting a cheerful allegro non troppo, a slow-paced adiago, a strong fortissimo or a pulsing vibrato.
You get the idea.
The humble comma the most used – and misused – mark of punctuation. Read Iyer’s piece for a better idea of how to access its superpowers. It has the potential to turn our writing into song.