Editing by the Author

I used to believe that the only editing I, as an author, had to do was to scan each piece of text five times: check for typos, punctuation, spelling, and was it saying what I wanted to say

  1. When I had finished a sentence
  2. When I had finished a paragraph
  3. When I had finished writing for the day – usually 2-3 pages
  4. Re-read the entire chapter
  5. Re-read the entire novel

At the end of step five, I would turn the completed text over to a professional editor who would spot additional typos, spelling and punctuation errors, and who might also raise some questions about characters or events.


But with my latest novel, I find that these five steps are not enough.  After completing the final chapter and before step five, I have found it necessary to review each chapter, from the beginning, in detail, again.  Why is this necessary?  When I finished the last chapter, I had some concerns about what I had written before:

  • Was each character developed consistently, and in keeping with his/her role in the story?  For example, the credibility of one character depends on the reader believing that he has a high level of curiosity.  Was this curiosity trait well enough developed?
  • Was the setting described so that it was both clear and credible without being be-labored?  This was important because the entire novel (except for part of one chapter) is set in the Middle East, and all the characters speak Arabic as their mother tongue.  Would a Western reader lose sight of the setting, and therefore miss the cultural dimension of the story?
  • Were the events in the novel supportive of the themes – the messages – which I’m trying to convey?  I have to check both the events and the characters’ reactions to them to be sure that what was happening wasn’t superfluous and was leaving the reader with the right impression.

The way I am going about this chapter-by-chapter review is to begin with a critical re-read.  I’ve made mental notes to add a paragraph here to include a piece of history about a character, or to change an event so that it contributes more effectively to the message.  As I read, I find typos, and language that is too ordinary, or does not leave a clear unique impression.  I find unnecessary phrases and pieces of dialogue. I also find mistakes.  For example, in chapter 2, a peripheral character has three children, but in chapter twelve she has two.  I’ll go through each chapter at least three times before I have taken care of all the big issues and the little ‘niggles’ I’ve found.  As I re-read and re-write, I’m constantly asking: does this feel like the Middle East?  This detailed  review has to be done with all pride of authorship set aside.  I have to pretend that I am a very senior, experienced editor working with a red pencil on the work of a talented young author.  It is a time-consuming process, and it can take two or three days to complete a twelve page (single-spaced) chapter.  But it is also challenging, mostly enjoyable and ultimately satisfying.

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