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Saturday, May 14, 2011

Author in Training, Part 2: Revising – How much is enough?

I am in the process of translating my novel “Love of a Stonemason” into German. Having been away from the text for several months—I published it independently back in 2010—I look at it with fresh eyes and I’m beginning to see things I haven’t noticed before. When you translate a text, you pay close attention to every word and you notice details that escape you even with careful editing.

I have translated several books by other authors before, not novels but books on topics of Jungian psychology, which had been traditionally published by reputable American and Canadian publishers. I remember catching not just the occasional typos but inconsistencies in content that escaped the scrutiny of the author as well as the editors. Just goes to show: a text is never perfect.

However, that shouldn’t discourage us from trying to make it perfect, and one way to do that is to hire a good editor AND a proofreader. I had my novel edited twice. What I didn’t do is hire a separate proofreader and although my editor caught many of the spelling errors, he didn’t catch all of them and I may have added some as I was making the final revision. A few of my friends read the manuscript before I published it and discovered a few inconsistencies and typos. But even now, after its publication, a fellow author as well as a friend of mine are reading the book and are finding typos and other blunders. Although I cringe and hang my head in shame every time someone discovers a mistake, I am of course very grateful to all these people who contribute to the fact that one day, my novel will be (almost) perfect!

The wonderful thing about ebooks is that you can upload new and improved versions easily. With printed books it is a little more difficult but it can be done as well.

However, as I go through my book again, I also find not just typos but stylistic things that could be improved: two choppy sentences that could be merged into one, sentences which could be eliminated to make the text a little tighter, and so on.

The question I’m asking myself now: Do I leave the book the way it is (with the exception of typos, etc.) and use what I learned in my future novels? Or do I revise further? How much is too much? When becomes the desire to make it better an obsession?

Any thoughts on this? Authors: How much do you revise? When is enough enough?

PS: I’m going to talk about my experiences with writing and independent publishing for the next few weeks, so if you’re interested, click the Follow button on the right.

Happy reading and writing. And leave a comment, if you feel like it!


  1. I'd like to correct all typos, of course, but smoothing and tightening and polishing could go on forever. I expect that I could read my writing 100 times and still find something I would like to change. So, there does have to be a point where you say, "Enough!"

    When I keep fiddling, a friend of mine always asks, "Are you really improving it or just making it different?" Maybe that's standard.

  2. Hi Linda, there is definitely that danger of "the never ending story...."

  3. I'm polishing one old mss that has already been edited (by Scott), doing a massive rewrite of another that was also mostly edited and still need to finish another with plans to upload all three of those to ebooks, buuuuuuut, I'm very tired of rewriting and polishing old mss and rereading old stories. At some point, I think a writer very much needs to move on to something new. I have a couple of "new" mss that I barely started several months ago, and I've been missing being inside a new story. It's hard to let go, but I'm thinking every sentence you're "fixing" on an old story is taking you away from an exciting new story.

  4. Brenda, I know what you mean. I will definitely focus on finishing my new novel. Perhaps once I run out of ideas and have writer's block, I may revisit Love of Stonemason. And, as Linda's friend mentioned, changes may not "improve" the novel but rather make it different.