Pondering Punctuation

Pondering Punctuation

Pondering Punctuation

That paragraph—the one I have just written—is pristine. Perfect. Pedantically precise even. Or so I thought. My computer program disagrees, emphasizing its point of view with a bright, green underline. I right-click the mouse. The computer’s angst shouts at me, declaring in no uncertain terms that my carefully chosen words are but a mere

FRAGMENT! (consider revising).

Okay, so maybe I’m exaggerating with the exclamation mark. It exists only in my imagination—something my computer lacks. I don’t blame the computer. It is locked into a particular set of parameters. It obeys the rules of grammar, or rather, the rules of its programming. It cannot interpret the context. It cannot see the big picture; the one where I, the author, have chosen to shorten the sentence to a fragment.


A computer’s expertise extends to punctuation, not creativity. Don’t get me wrong. I’m a die-hard fan of perfect punctuation. It is the body language of the written page. What’s more, punctuation’s power to prevent cannibalism is unrivalled. For example:

‘Shall we eat Grandma?’


‘Shall we eat, Grandma?’

Pixabay Image by Sarah Richter Art

Here are a few punctuation marks I placed in a document this morning:

Let’s see my computer dispute that creation according to its programmed punctuation rules!

As I ponder the power of punctuation to clarify meaning or to create nuances that improve the way a story unfolds, I realize something: Our Creator punctuates our personal progress according to His intentional, creative plan.  And,

The divine Author of Life punctuates perfectly.

I, on the other hand, am inclined to operate like my unimaginative computer, getting frustrated when God shortens my plans with a divine ‘full-stop’.

I can be impatient with His semicolons too. I don’t want to look or wait for additional information. I want to know it all now! As for colons … oh boy! When faced with a list of several things He wants to complete in me before we move forward, I’d rather skip a few in my eagerness to embrace an exciting new ‘sentence’. I want a green light so I can race ahead. I’m all too inclined to frustrate my Author by flagging a green underline and whinging, ‘fragment (consider revising)’.

But here’s the thing. We don’t get to do life over. No edits. No second or third or sixteenth drafts. Our life stories sit on the universal page, the book of life, exactly as we throw them down. Which could mean absolute disaster if they were ‘published’ as they stand. How could my life story possibly bring honour and glory to the Author of Life? Or reveal His good news story as is?

Praise God! Hindsight reveals He has been actively editing my life’s story all along, adding essential punctuation marks to slow me down, make me pause, emphasize the important things, stop me blundering on into danger, extend me, talk to me, shout a warning, cause me to question my actions and ideas, make me ponder… and His grace has coerced and confined my foolish detours into parentheses, rendering them irrelevant. What a relief!

My mother told the story of a letter she had written to my father when they were courting. At the end, she had added a postscript which contained a row of punctuation marks and the words, ‘I’m not sure where the punctuation marks should go, so I’ve put them all here. You can put them in the right places for me.’

I think I’ll take a leaf out of her book and trust God to punctuate my life according to His big picture. How about you?

This blog (with comments) was originally published on Christian Writers Downunder, February 2015.

My Coach and I

My Coach and I

My Coach and I

‘Last piece of assessment—complete! Happy dance!’

Those words, posted as my Facebook status over eight years ago, marked the final strides of a marathon I began in 2011, when I enrolled in Tabor Adelaide’s creating writing program. For seven words that were so easy to type, winning the right to type them took much disciplined effort, many taxing training sessions, and even more unruly bouts with angst.

Writers constantly line up at the starting blocks. Sometimes we’re running a fast blog sprint or a 200-metre short story dash. Some jump hurdles by writing outside their comfort zone; others embark on a cross-country exploration of history or memoir. Long distance bravehearts pace themselves to finish that novel, or series. Some of us are crazy enough to try a literary decathlon.

One thing is certain—every race takes preparation, inspiration, dedication, commitment, and the support of others. We’re more like relay runners than individual athletes. We pick up the literary baton and run with it, producing the best text we can. Our fellow writers, friends and family members urge us on from the sidelines. Editing moves the text forward in an effective slipstream. Publishing increases its momentum through polished presentation and aggressive marketing. All this, just to get that important baton to—not the finishing line, but its starting position! It’s our readers who pick up our literary batons and run with them. Our task is to make sure they enjoy the run, making it a win-win experience for all.

To be honest, when I signed up for this creative writing gig, I envisaged more of a fun run than a marathon. I wanted to try tertiary study and creative writing seemed far more appealing than … well, just about everything else I could think of. Tabor offered external study options and dedicated, qualified lecturers. My choice to enrol seemed like a no-brainer—until that first day in February 2011, when I sat alone at my computer, sporting a stylish set of headphones as my new fashion accessory, poised to listen to the orientation lecture. As I positioned the mouse on the starting blocks, ready to click ‘play’, the enormity of the task ahead exploded like the shot of a starter’s gun. I was off and running, but did I have the wherewithal to reach the finish line? Maybe. Maybe not.

What I needed was a strong, central motivating factor, a personal coach if you like, to inspire me as I ran. In literary terms, I needed a strong chiasmus, a central point of intersection to connect the beginning of my study story with a successful conclusion. As I tackled my first assessment task, a chiastic poem, the perfect Chiasm offered to become my writing coach:

And after that study marathon? The practical application of all the wonderful things I’d learned beckoned me forward to the next starting line … and the next. Submission opportunities for poems, creative non-fiction, short fiction, devotions … blogs to encourage fellow writers … novel outlines called me to the starting blocks. Each new race would require renewed enthusiasm, more preparation, and stamina. Could I keep going?

So far, the answer to that question is yes—thanks to the consistent training and input I receive daily from my faithful, enduring Coach, who also has a passion for words, pictures, and the positive potential in people.

This post (and original comments) was published on the Christian Writers Downunder blog in February 2012.