Here’s what I’ve learned this week while copy editing hundreds of personal essays. Never use semicolons. Almost never use colons. If you’ve found a cliche that perfectly expresses what you mean, go with an imperfect way. Cliches have a soporific effect on the reader. Colons and semicolons are too hard. They’re like prose dams.
I propose a punctuation economy. Periods are free. Commas cost a nickel. Hyphens cost a nickel, too. Dashes cost ten cents. Contractions also cost ten cents. Semicolons used properly cost one dollar. By properly I mean “blah blah blah; however, yadda yadda yadda.” Semicolons used improperly cost five dollars. Colons used properly also cost five dollars. Just make another sentence--periods are free. Colons used improperly cost $100. NO REFUNDS!
Although I am a fussbudget, these guidelines aren’t about fussbudgetry; rather, they’re about making prose readable or at least less unreadable. Let the prose run free. Spare your reader the speed bumps and trust her. She’ll insert the pauses where they’re needed.