How do you convey importance in your writing? Typography - italics, bold, underline - can only do so much. Spacing helps, certainly. How do you convey who you are? Your sound, your voice, your tone: your personality. How do yo make these abstract concepts concrete?
So, my favorite creative writing professor from my grad school days at UCF, Jeanne Leiby, author of Downriver, a collection of short stories, and editor of The Southern Review, Louisiana State's quarterly literary publication and, earlier, editor of The Florida Review, University of Central Florida's quarterly literary publication, was a quintessential, cigarette smoking, call-it-like-you-see-it literary professor who inspired. You walked out of class and knew that you could do it. You could write it. Whatever "it" was. You knew that you were going to create something worthy. Something that would help others and speak a universal truth. You had confidence to read your work in front of strangers, or worse, people you knew.
A little more about Jeanne because she was freaking amazing, and she was taken too tragically and too soon in a car accident about eight years ago. And, well, this is my blog, and I want to tell you about her for a moment. From Detroit, Jeanne moved to the south and received her MFA at Alabama. She was a northerner who lived in the south and seemed to enjoy our culture, while maybe she didn't fully understand it. (Who can?) Snarky but always kind and professional, Jeanne was endearing. Once, she joked that after having moved to the deep south, she couldn't figure out why everyone kept trying to "bless her heart." Everywhere she went, her heart was blessed. "My heart is fine, thanks," she quipped. (How true is that? Why do we southerners always want to bless someone's heart, when in actuality, it's not a blessing, rather a "poor him or her; hope they make it." Where did that even come from? Sit back and sip your sweet tea or bourbon and ponder that one. Or google it.)
In Jeanne's classes, I more fully understood the art of exclaiming through language - through diction, tone, voice. I was fortunate enough to have had her as a professor twice. I'll never forget a rule she had: she allowed only three exclamation points per short story. That was all! Only three! What the heck?!
Let the language do the job of the punctuation. The punctuation can be a crutch and prevent you from choosing detailed language. Be selective. Write what you mean. Don't rely heavily on typography to show significance in your message.
So, can you picture Jeanne? What words would you give to describe her based on what I wrote? You should have a glimpse of her based on my word choice. You should have a hint of her personality as well as know what I thought of her based on what I wrote.
"Surely the only woman in the world who can write a letter in invisible italics. Dear Bessie." - Buddy Glass, Franny and Zooey by JD Salinger.
I imagine Bessie, mother of the infamous and genius Glass children in JD Salinger's fictional stories, had a strong ability to select the right words to convey the tone she meant to get across to each of her children. After all, those Glass kids got their genius from someplace, a combination of both vaudevillian parents.
And that's it. Selection. Word after word. Whatever you write, whether it's an article, essay, email, a blog post, or a letter: you have a sound. You have a personality, a sense of humor, a reason for writing, and that all comes out in your tone through each word you choose. Not necessarily more words, not more exclamation points, but the right words for your message.