Insecure Writer’s Support Group – January 2017

I discovered the Insecure Writer’s Support Group today and had to post my answer to the question of the month (first Wednesday of every month) immediately. No waiting until next month.

January 4, 2017 Questions: What writing rule do you wish you’d never heard?

I really hate the comma after introductory phrases rule.

From the Chicago Manual of Style: “An introductory adverbial phrase is often set off by a comma but need not be unless misreading is likely. Shorter adverbial phrases are less likely to merit a comma than longer ones.”

That’s the version of the rule my editors use.

Before one of these gifted ladies explained this to me, I believed an introductory phrase always required a comma. Easy-peasy! My kind of rule. An always rule.

But it’s not an always rule. As Maeve Maddox at DailyWritingTips puts it, “Authoritative recommendations vary.”

For an insecure writer, the Chicago Manual of Style version of the rule requiring a determination of what is likely or less likely is problematic. Every time I’m editing a scene and I arrive at an introductory adverbial phrase, I must pause and consider the necessity of a comma. In writing this post I left off the comma after for an insecure writer in the first sentence of this paragraph. Word told me it needed the comma. But in the sentence beginning in writing this post, Word ignored the lack of comma. I really want to put a comma in that sentence.

Do I count the number of words in the phrase? I’ve tried that, and it didn’t always work. I think the ability to determine when to use the comma is a gift. You either have it or you don’t. I don’t. I want an always rule!

Visit the blogs of other members of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group to read their answers to this month’s question.


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