Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Down with Shift-1

It was Lydia Netzer's idea, but I had to give it a try: boycott the exclamation point for an entire week.

Back in high school, my 12th grade English teacher stressed that writing should be accurate and correctly punctuated. She made a big deal out of overuse and by the time students left vonz's classroom, they knew how to write and punctuate effectively. In the twenty-four years (shudder) since graduating from JMHS, I've let myself slide. What did seven days without exclamation points teach me?

First, I use exclamation points too much. Most of what I typed that week was perfectly fine punctuated by the humble period.

Second, interjections have their place. Sometimes you're excited and you need to shout.

Third, I'm proud to say I even managed to keep my creative prose free of exclamation points during my experiment. There were a few times (usually when writing dialogue) that I was a little worried, but once I thought about it for a few seconds, I found effective choices that I actually liked better than my original instincts.

The biggest lesson for me was that email and social media like Facebook make overusing the exclamation point frightfully easy.

When the goal is to keep up with as many people as possible as regularly as possible, quality suffers. When we're celebrating or commiserating, we want the force of our emotions to come through so we tend to respond using short phrases and exclamation points. We're attempting to replace our body language and facial expressions, but there is no replacement.

Although I started out giving up exclamation points for one week, it wasn't like all those times I gave up chocolate for Lent; I didn't return to littering my text with exclamations the minute my week was up. Not everything my friends say requires an exclamatory response. Sometimes? Yes. Some people might think I'm being stingy with my emotions by withholding exclamation points, and perhaps I am. However, I choose to think that when everything is exciting, after a while nothing is.

PS: I deliberately used one exclamation point during my week-long hiatus: to express my excitement when Penelope's soccer team won the first game in their fall classic tournament. I stand by that choice because if I'd been there for the game I would have been cheering.