Ben Dolnick in the New York Times:
When I was a teenager, newly fixated on becoming a writer, I came across a piece of advice from Kurt Vonnegut that affected me like an ice cube down the back of my shirt.
“Do not use semicolons,” he said. “They are transvestite hermaphrodites representing absolutely nothing. All they do is show you’ve been to college.”
At the time I was less struck by the cranky, casual bigotry of the statement (a great deal of Vonnegut’s advice sounds as if it was rasped between grandfatherly coughing fits) than by the thrilling starkness of the prohibition. A writer was simply not to use semicolons. Ever.
At that point I’d written a number of not very good short stories over which I’d sprinkled semicolons (along with inapt adjectives and “symbolic” character names) like the wishful seasonings of an amateur cook. Now I would have, if it had been physically possible, scrubbed the accursed symbol from my keyboard and never thought about semicolons again, except to harrumph cruelly when I witnessed other, lesser writers succumbing to this particular form of misguidedness.
Advice from Vonnegut was not, to me, just any advice. To say that he was my literary hero doesn’t quite capture the intensity of the worship and obsession I heaped upon him.