Writing exercise

I’ve just been reading Issa Dioume’s post, one of Ursula K. Le Guin’s writing exercises. This one is to write a short piece (paragraph to a page) without using punctuation of any kind. I’ve taken two scenes from the novels I’m rewriting and used them for these pieces without punctuation.

What comes over, I think, is that it’s possible with careful word choice and structure to just about get away with lack of punctuation in a straight description, but much more difficult (maybe a really good writer can manage it) with an action piece. See what you think.

Ever since he was a child hiding in the cupboard underneath the stairs where the sanitation workers stored their buckets and mops for keeping the stairs and hallways clean Quirino had felt at home in dark enclosed spaces the kind of places that hid him from his father the man with the hard heavy fists who dealt with Quirino’s mother in a way that was painful and definitive leaving Quirino at the tender age of ten years with no alternative but to deal with his father in the only logical way possible by making him the first criminal he reported to the Pure Ones building his own road following the light of duty around this turning point to a future that was so different and so much more rewarding than that of metalworker for which his birth had destined him and creating from the dust of the workshop floor a sharpened, polished instrument of the Wise God’s justice.


The car swung into the avenue treeless and completely straight like all of Providence’s arteries and the driver aimed it like a missile at the couple hurrying ahead towards the wasteland swearing quietly when they disappeared up a side road accelerating taking the turn on two wheels even then not in time to see where they’d gone doorway perhaps but nobody would let them in nobody ever did especially not when they heard the squeal of car tyres where then there was nowhere else he thought casting about left right rear view mirror and caught a flutter of fabric pale instantly gone whipped out of sight he grinned and swung the car around slamming it back down the empty street braking hard at the suspect entrance of a dilapidated building and saw all he needed to know the door with a broken panel and obviously a broken lock he slipped his pistol from its holster and leapt from the car.


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Jane Dougherty

I used to do lots of things I didn't much enjoy. Now I am officially a writer. It's what I always wanted to be.

61 thoughts on “Writing exercise”

      1. Maybe because you don’t have a one track practicality. Can you make things, mend things, rewire a plug socket, replace a broken window pane, mend a burst water pipe? I think I’m reasonably practical, but practical people laugh at my suggestions because I don’t actually know how things work. My practicality is a plumber’s fairy story.

  1. I absolutely see what you mean about the action – punctuation is so important in conveying pace, the breathless feeling of the chase, that the passage doesn’t work as well as it would with punctuation. As for the description, you’re right it works better but I still had to pause a couple of times to work out the meaning. Perhaps this is good for literary works where the writer might want to make people stop and think about what they’ve read. For genre fiction it would have to be in small doses I think. Interesting exercise though

    1. I’m still not certain what point she’s trying to make with this exercise. Is it for writers who don’t know how to use punctuation? Is it possible to write coherently without using punctuation as long as you’re good enough? I’m confused about the point of it to be honest.

  2. I understand it as an exercise, but I think it’s annoying to read work that does not use punctuation. I guess it’s the editing I do. 🙂 You did leave one comma in in the top paragraph (at the end).

    1. Oops. Commas slip in automatically 🙂 No, I don’t get it either. I think we all know that we need staccato punctuation for action scenes, and normal sort of punctuation for all the rest. So….? Maybe really great writers can make sense without it, but the rest of can’t.

  3. I found both pieces really interesting and would love to read more of both! Call me old-fashioned but though it did not detract at all from the narrative I found my self out of breath. Probably because, punctuation was drummed into me at school. 💜

    1. Leaving out punctuation does have that effect. I suppose that’s how it could work in a very action-packed piece, but it has to be crystal clear. Can’t hold up the pace while the reader works out what’s happening!

  4. Reading it is tedious, at first, but it requires the reader to give greater consideration to the words. As for writing this way, I think I’d find it difficult, as I’m trying to sort my thoughts as I write.

  5. Wow! I am really fascinated of your exercise. As one who doesnt really know a lot of punctuation in the English language. Its really a mysterium to me. 🙂 Thank you Jane! Have a nice evening, and dont fear the hare. 😉 Michael

    1. I don’t fear the hare, or the frogs. Just the hunters 🙂 Punctuation matters. Which is why I don’t get the point of this exercise. I’m sure there is one though, which is infuriating.

      1. I think you are very good (the best) in writing and puntuation too. Yes, it matters, (but) i never learned it. I have to do, because my language skill are not the best too. 😉 Michael

      2. Thank you Jane! You are sooooo kind. 🙂 I should have better knowlege in it, but in highschool i only had to learn Greek, Latin an later Hebrew. Best for law and theology, but a little bit crazy for communication. 🙂

      3. Here in this region?? ;-( No chance, but i read a lot in the languages, and i am since years encouraged too not to forget the essentials of these old languages. Here is only German the first (and only) language. Before it was the need to come back into this village, i never realized what community based happend from 1933 – 1945 in Germany. Now i know. You can believe me.

      4. That sounds ominous. There is a capacity for all communities to slip into bestiality, and most of them have done it at one time or another. Germany takes the biscuit in modern times though. German organisation perhaps? Or is that a myth?

      5. Hi Jane! Yes, I would like to see that too. In a country like Germany, with such a past, not only three percent of the population should have more than 90% of the assets. In my opinion, again its a part of the aristocracy that still exists here. In my meaning they were responsible for two world wars. If you are interested in at archive.org you will find some information about Richard v. Coudenhove. He is considered to be the founder of the European idea.

      6. Thanks for the link, Michael. Some of the greatest modern heroes were Germans. Speaking out against the Nazis required so much courage. Yes, there is usually an economic reason behind every atrocity. Poor people lash out at the easiest target and the rich laugh up their sleeves.

      7. We’ve started our fair share of wars and destroyed enough of our own people in the course of them. Nobody except arms manufacturers and politicians running out of steam needs another one.

    1. It does and I can see the point of choosing each word carefully, but it would still be a lot easier to read with punctuation. The idea is apparently for it to be read aloud. I maybe don’t have the patience for exercises in style.

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