I recently read Clive Thompson’s article on what he learnt about his writing by seeing only the punctuation. He also created a website for anyone to paste their writing into and see just the punctuation for their own analysis. You’ll even get a graphic similar to the one above. So that’s exactly what I did.
Seeing just the punctuation of your work — aside from looking pretty — is a useful tool for analysing your writing quirks. Here’s what Thompson realised about his own writing after seeing just his use of punctuation:
I use a lot of parenthetical statements. I also write very long ones. Looking at that graphic, I can see about seven parenthetical statements, one of which contains a hefty fourteen pieces of punctuation, including an internal colon: ( “ ‘ — “ . — . , ‘ , : , , . ). That’s a really long, complex parenthetical.
So what’s going on here? It made me realize I cram my writing with lots of digressions; which is probably related to my thirsty desire to seem so very smart and clever; which itself stems from some intellectual neediness I am able to keep partially — but not entirely — in check; and which also likely explains why I often chain many many phrases together with semicolons, as if I were some Victorian dude peering through his steampunk monocle while cranking out pay-per-word pieces for The Strand. (But I digress.)
To get a graphic as lengthy as the one above, you need to post around 6,000 words. So I took four lengthy pieces I’ve written between 2014 and now to see what I might learn from my own writing. I also wanted to know how much would have changed.