Feedback on a controversial comma – 10 April 2019

‘I don’t think I’m up to it. I can’t write.’ That’s what I should have said.

That would have been a good thing for me to say, all true and straightforward, like I’m supposed to be. But, you know how some people are really good at thinking fast and talking good and getting things to go their way and some people, well, just aren’t – I’m one of them, the some-people who just aren’t. I couldn’t think quick enough, didn’t have a ready-reply (unlike my fellow Group One’ers (now my role-models) who had their, Ive-Done-One-Befores, off pat). So here I am, blogging. And I don’t even Facebook.

But, hey, a deal’s a deal – I’ll tell you what happened that night.

For me it was Week Four as a fully-fledged, sit at the back, say nowt, newcomer. The nice little member’s card described it as a Feedback/Readaround meeting. Could have been anything I supposed. So I just turned up, the same as the other weeks – with my shiny notebook, stripey pencil, and an odd pound for the coffee.

Straight through the door I knew something was different. All the tables had gone, the chairs were skew-whiff, higgledy-piggledy. Groups. Small groups. Of four. That was to be us. I might have brought a few extra pounds for a downstairs wine, pre-gig, if I’d have known it was a social. Too late now.

‘Pick a number from the hat,’ Linda said (it was a lovely cotton drawstring bag really, but I too am all for the casual). And just like that, I was tombola’d into Group One.

So this is what we had to do – read three people’s anonymous submissions and, as a group, answer the following questions –

What did we like about the piece?

What did we think could improve the piece?

What other comments would we like to make?

We had one hour. Tricky. So we sort of winged it – we all had a bit of a say on this and that, and the scribe translated it into something sensible and positive. I liked that.

There was one work we read, a young adult fantasy it was, full of delicious character names – like Scratchum and Spookles – completely joyful, telling a tale of underground caves sprinkled with rat-man marketeers selling knitted shoe socks.

But, and I don’t really like to repeat what I said to the group, but, go on, I will. I said, the first paragraph – too many commas. 

And that is definitely saying something because nobody, but nobody, loves putting a comma in there, more than me. They are just everything about writing. Want to get your work to read really fast and take the reader to the end of the sentence in a bit of a rush – don’t put commas in. Want to get it to be, what, somewhat thoughtful, a bit ponderous, meaningful. Scatter those commas right the way through. I think them’s the rules.

But, listen to this, on our read-outs (second hour), Scribe Number Two didn’t mention anything at all about the commas – distilled it, said the writer might need to have a quick look at “the grammar and punctuation” in the first paragraph.

Ahh, I get it – code. Critiquing Code. Crits-Code. Nice. Kind. Easy on the ears, gentle on the ego. And lovely.

And so it went. Group after group being generous, helpful, coding-up when need be.

Just a few of the critiques I heard –

So good there’s really nothing to say about it. Very well written, great pace. I’d buy the book.

Good imagery of show, not tell. Might consider starting with the hook of the third paragraph.

We appreciated the description. Maybe needs more editing.

Could be improved by using piglets instead of pigs.

An interesting piece. It seems personal, like a memoir, just wondering about confidentiality.

Many people can relate to the sandwiched-generation, good characterisation, good imagery.

Started and ended with the same line, a good technique.

The scenes of the riverbank, the nature descriptions, are very good.

Pacy, descriptive, a good female feisty lead.

The beginning and the middle were enjoyable.

Experimentation with different styles throughout.

A 93 year old man, living in a cottage, coming to the end of his life.

Maggie’s in the departure lounge, waiting for a bus – she just doesn’t know which one.

Lovely poem, referencing dependency in relationships. Much strength in it. Many layers.

All good stuff.

So, if I ever do find the courage to put a few lines in on one of these nights – go ahead, code-me-right-up. Tell me it’s pleasant; read me back that one line you liked; say it needs just a little trimming. Anything, tell me anything. And I’ll interpret it all, take it on board, and humbly thank you for it. Then I’ll try to improve.

Just don’t, please, whatever you do, tell me I’ve misplaced a, comma.

Jeanette D


  1. Suzie Turner

    Excellent! What a pity, you did so well, commas included, you realise, you will never get out of writing, another blog! (All misplaced commas, intentional!)

  2. Graeme St Clair

    Great blog. Fancy a permanent job? Well done. Graeme.

  3. Alan Haughey

    Excellent, Jeanette.

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