Use Oxford Commas

Posted by on Apr 14, 2016 in Poetry | 0 comments

For no particular reason yesterday, I thought about this poem and wondered why there wasn’t a version of it for fledgling writers. Resolved to confront this great injustice in the universe, I took it upon myself to create one.

I present for your amusement a parody of Wear Sunscreen originally published by Mary Schmich in the Chicago Tribune in June 1997.



Use Oxford commas.

If I could offer you only one tip for the future, Oxford commas would be it.

The long term benefits of Oxford commas have been proven by grammarists, whereas the rest of my advice has no basis more reliable than my own meandering experience…

I will dispense this advice now.

Enjoy the power and beauty of your writing; oh never mind; you will not understand the power and beauty of your writing until it has escaped you.

But trust me, in a million words you’ll look back at your old notebooks and recall in a way you can’t grasp now how much possibility lay before you and how fabulous you really wrote…

You are not as talentless as you imagine.

Don’t worry about the adverbs; or worry, but know that worrying is as effective as trying to solve plot holes by covering them with bubblegum.

The real troubles in your writing are apt to be things that never crossed your worried mind.

The kind that blindside you on page 105 with a car crash that kills your hero.

Write one thing every day that scares you.


Don’t be reckless with your character’s hearts, don’t put up with characters who are reckless with yours.


Don’t waste your time on jealousy;

Sometimes you get a sale,

Sometimes you get a rejection.

The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.

Remember the fan mail you receive, forget the bad reviews;

If you succeed in doing this, tell me how.

Keep your old outlines, throw away your old critiques.


Don’t feel guilty if you don’t know how you want to end that novel.

The most interesting stories I know didn’t know halfway through how they wanted to end, some of the most interesting finished stories still don’t.

Put away the thesaurus.

Be kind to your semicolons, you’ll miss them when they’re gone.

Maybe you’ll make the NYT Bestseller List, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll write a sequel, maybe you won’t, maybe you’ll throw this novel out at word 20,000, maybe you’ll write The End after 100,000 gorgeous words.

Whatever you do, don’t congratulate yourself too much or berate yourself either.

Your stories are half chance, and so are everybody else’s.

Enjoy your writer brain, use it every way you can… Don’t be afraid of it, or what other people think of it,

It’s the greatest instrument you’ll ever own.

Read your stories out loud, even if you have nowhere to do it but in your own living room.

Read the critiques, even if you don’t agree with them.

Do NOT read the comments, they will only make you feel ugly.

Get to know your fellow writers, you never know when they’ll be gone for good.

Be nice to others in your workshops;

They are the best way to improve your writing and the people most likely to stick with you in the future.

Understand that conventions come and go, but for the friends you make that you should hold on to.

Work hard to bridge gaps in sense and syntax because the more experienced you get, the more you need people to tell you that you’re wrong.

Write Science Fiction, but stop before it makes you wistful for a future you won’t have;

Write Fantasy, but stop before it makes you gloss over everything with a wave of your hand.


Accept certain inalienable truths, conflict will resolve, characters will fail, you too will finish this novel, and when you do you’ll fantasize that when you were at the beginning conflicts were higher and characters were stronger, and writers respected their inspiration.

Respect your inspiration.

Don’t expect anyone else to love your work as much as you do.

Maybe you have some fans, maybe you have crazed fanatics; but you never know when either one might run out.

Don’t mess too much with your prose, or by the time you get to page 50, it will feel like page 300.

Be careful whose writing advice you buy, but be patient with those who supply it. Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of finding those old words you cut, wiping them off, painting over the ugly parts, and recycling them for more than they were worth the first time around.

But trust me on the Oxford comma…

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