In high school I was taught this rule: Put a comma where there would be a natural pause in speech. Maybe I write unusually long sentences or pause uncommonly often when I talk because apparently I use too many commas.
My first semester of grad school I struggled with feelings of inadequacy next to the other MBA candidates. I was sure they'd made a mistake in letting me in to the program. Sure, I had been a manager for a number of years already but I didn't know how to balance a budget, I hated speaking in front of people, I had nil spreadsheet skills and a major math phobia. But, I thought, at least I could write. I might struggle with the quantitative classes, but I'd nail the essay assignments.
But when I got back my first essay I had only scored a B-. I am not a B student. I don't get Bs. Maybe occasionally in math classes but not in writing classes. I was devastated. When I finally got up the courage to read the instructor's feedback, I discovered that it was not the writing that I had been dinged on but the punctuation. I had used too many commas. So before turning in the next essay assignment I edited out half of the commas after I wrote it. That one got an A.
I recently found a blog article outlining proper usage of commas. It was really helpful to read, though I think I already correctly use commas in most of the cases she outlines. Where I struggle with them is in the middle of sentences. Not to set off clauses - I can do that - but where I want to let the reader take a pause. I want my readers to meander through my words. Stop and smell the roses. Take a rest and ponder that last bit. Let it settle before moving on to the rest of the sentence. Apparently. Because I put commas everywhere. I've already gone back through this post and removed more than half of them but I'm sure I still have a few incorrect commas littering these paragraphs like sticky cherry blossom petals after a spring rain. Once they fall, they are so hard to collect. See, there's one right there.