I spent years having lots of disdain for exclamation points and the people who used them.

No joke — I put lots of time and energy into being annoyed by exclamation points.

As a “real” writer, I felt that my my words had a responsibility and that the addition of the !!!! simply meant that the words were weak and needed that extra “boost.”

And if someone needed to use that extra boost, then their words or their writing, well, they were just not that strong or important…or so I would think. I would even tell the writers I hired that they were next-to-forbidden to use exclamation marks.

Whether or not the !! represented sub-par writing, I think my strong feelings were really masking something else.

And that “something else” (actually “something elses” in plural) was:

My fear of being bold.

My fear of declaring something on paper/in writing potentially for all to see.

My fear of exposing how I really felt inside.

My fear of venturing into the unknown.

My fear of giving up control (or the illusion of it).

My fear of being stuck forever.

My strength.

My power.

My truth

My voice.

Yea….those “minor” things. No biggie, right? Just the whole friggin’ essence of who I was/am/will be.

Is it too much to say that a totally innocent punctuation mark represented all of this for me?

Not really.

Keeping it in was a big part of who I was (or who I acted like). So using too many !!!!!! was way too bold and showy for that girl.

And bold and showy…well, those were ways I wasn’t “supposed” to be.

Supposed to.

Not supposed to.

Should have.

Should be.

Should not have.

Should not be.

Yea, whatever.

That stuff is really tiring.

Like Cat Stevens says, “If you want to sing out, sing out. And if you want to be free, be free.”

Just do it.

Use exclamation points.

Bold it all.

Make it 16-point type.

Red, green, whatever.

I really don’t care. Just make sure it’s what you really want. And that it makes you happy. And that it is, at its core, really you.

Wanna know how I figured all this out….finally?

It was in July, in Cape Cod, in a cute little gift store.

The greeting card was staring me right in the face.

It was a cartoony drawing of a woman, arms outstretched, with long flowing hair, face tilted up and mouth wide open as if declaring something to all who will listen.

And on the card it said:

She spoke in exclamations

now that she found her voice.

Yes, she had found her voice.

And now this card sits in a hot pink frame right on my nighttable, next to my bed, where I look at it every morning and every evening.