Is it possible to teach yourself how to line edit and copy edit if you are the writer? I read others work, but the styles of a writer can be confusing. I need to learn how to edit to be a good writer.

  • 1
    What exact part of editing would you like to get tips on? You mentioned line editing but what part of line editing are you struggling to do? Jan 15, 2021 at 18:37
  • 2
    In my experience, just putting your work off and reading it after a while (a day, a week etc) can turn you into your own merciless editor.
    – Alexander
    Jan 15, 2021 at 22:11
  • I tend to have problems with my tenses and restatements. When going over my work I would like to recognize a misused word like "saw or see" as in tenses.
    – Anita
    Jan 16, 2021 at 8:15

4 Answers 4


Is it possible to teach yourself how to line edit and copy edit if you are the writer?

I'd say "yes" and "no".

It is of course possible that you can teach yourself to edit. It will probably be harder than if you found some school or teacher, but not impossible.

However, should you edit your own work?

Yes, as mentioned below, depending on what "edit" means, you should of course rewrite your text. But how about the final edit? For instance before self-publishing or submitting to a publisher or agent?

Sandra Wendel suggests that "...your brain plays funny tricks on you. It will fill in your words, and you’ll be completely shocked when a professional editor returns your edited manuscript." (She also compares line editing, copy editing, and proofreading. I recommend visiting the link!)

As a side note: Reading about line editing, I think, at least for me, it's obvious that I need to be able to go through my text to find factual errors. Mainly because it contains invented places, histories, conlangs, connames (?) and a bunch of things not even a line editor will be able to do more than go "huh?" about. I mean, proper conlang grammar? I'm pretty much alone on that one!

That said, I think there's a definitive advantage to someone else looking at your manuscript. If you can't afford a professional editor, maybe you can find someone else. Maybe someone whose work you can edit in return. Or a critique group?

However, it's only really if you intend to self-publish and want a good result you need a professional edit. Otherwise, the publisher that decides to publish your work will do it.

Your script needs to be in top shape (free from spelling errors, be original, and all that) or you'll give that bored/stressed/tired editor a chance to put it in the rejection bin.

And I believe that a good publisher that can survive in a competitive business should be able to see a good text even if it's not yet edited (maybe not the first publisher you send it to, or the 10th, but maybe the 12th?)

On the other hand, there are some editors out there that offer services for unpublished authors to give their manuscript an extra polish. And if everyone starts to do that, then that's what the competition will look like.

Or a smart publisher will still not fall for it and still only pick manuscripts with a sellable story even if they need editing.

After all, professional editors need to sell their business too... why not sell it to aspiring authors?

I need to learn how to edit to be a good writer.

This one is tricky.

Depending on what you mean by "edit" I think the answer can be both yes and no.

Yes, you need to learn how to take a draft and polish it into a text by rewriting, and yes, editing the text.

But no, you do not need to know how professional editors edit texts to be a good writer. After all, if that was required there wouldn't be any professional editors.

It's also essential that you can keep your editor's hat off while writing the first draft.

Otherwise, you might start editing a text that doesn't yet have a story, and/or your inner critic will wake up and start telling you how bad everything is and how you shouldn't write another word before you fixed everything.

You risk doing the job of subsequent (2nd, 3rd, 4th) drafts in the first.

I don't think you need to know all the ins and outs of the editing profession to be a good writer, but you do need to know how to improve your text with rewrites... or edits, if you so choose to call them.

I read others work, but the styles of a writer can be confusing.

Yes, some writers/texts are confusing. Sometimes that's because they just are. Sometimes it's because you haven't read so many books.

Becoming a good writer consists of both reading and writing.

Then the confusion may be replaced with understanding. Or, maybe that was just a genuinely confusing text...

  • 1
    +1, but I disagree that editing doesn't make you a better writer. Without the clarity to explain your work cleanly (even to an editor) it's going to turn out hard to decipher. It aids in the thinking about the importance of each word as you type it and how it flows.
    – DWKraus
    Jan 15, 2021 at 23:32
  • @DWKraus, my text may need some editing (hah!) but I thought I said it could go either way? But that editing is not needed to be a good writer...
    – Erk
    Jan 16, 2021 at 1:53
  • Or it's just a difference in writing style, how much editorial skill you feel you need for the first draft ... maybe...
    – Erk
    Jan 16, 2021 at 1:59
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    @DM_with_secrets, I think it depends on what you mean by "learn how to edit". If that means educating yourself to the level of a professional editor. Then I mean you do not need that (there are professional editors for that). If it means "learn how to improve your text" on the other hand, then, yeah, obviously you can always get better at that. I may have misunderstood the OP, but I got the feeling they were talking about learning the editing profession.
    – Erk
    Jan 17, 2021 at 17:54
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    And you do have a point. I've edited the text ;o)
    – Erk
    Jan 17, 2021 at 18:27

Line editing; TBH, I didn't know what this meant and had to do a quick google search to figure out what you meant. So I'm probably a bit off, but I think I'm close enough to still be of some help. Line editing is mainly making sure you are using your words to their maximum potential, and can be very impactful on your works. This is probably going to be one of the most important factors in your story, and could be the difference between publishing and just sitting in your drawer.

I'd recommend starting with a short story of yours, then go through with a thesaurus and make it as good as you can, switching out all the words you think would be better with a substitute. As you're doing this, also rearrange as needed to make everything flow and sound beautiful. With practice, you should be able to drop the thesaurus and just know what to change when writing.

Copy editing; This one should be easy, just read through it after each line edit to make sure everything is grammatically correct. Most writing programs(Word and Google Docs) have a spellchecker built in which will catch most of these, but you still need to read through at least once to make sure it got everything. This will also depend a bit on your location, mainly in the cases of gray vs grey, story vs storey, and a few other cases where America spells things differently than the rest of the world and is pointlessly complicated for some reason(no offense to any Americans). 1-2 Beta-readers can usually take care of all this, and it's mostly where I focus my efforts when Beta-ing. Publishers aren't gonna struggle through a typo-riddled manuscript, they'll just toss it aside and move onto the next.

On a side note, don't expect everything to come out perfectly the first time around, even if you are really good at editing. All stories are going to need several rounds of editing, betas, and redoes, no matter how good the first draft is. Don't beat yourself up about it not being good enough right away, it'll get there.

  • @Anita After re-writing for plot, I would probably say this is the FIRST step for editing. I think it's all spot-on, but not really a substitute for editing by someone who can look at what you're writing and say "Huh? I don't get it. And this is clunky." I think most people are blind to their own flaws. Going through an edit with someone else CAN be a great way to improve your writing, though, and you need editing less and less the more you go through it. Great beta readers are hard to find, and won't put in the effort OR won't be mean because they like you.
    – DWKraus
    Jan 15, 2021 at 23:26
  • America spells things differently than the rest of the world and is pointlessly complicated for some reason That's because we broke off from the British Empire 200-odd years ago and never looked back. ;-)
    – RobJarvis
    Jan 18, 2021 at 17:10

Possible? Yes.

Likely? No.

Most people can NOT edit their own work very well. I would imagine that some professional writers who are also English professors might have that capability.

But the issue is not SPAG (Spelling, punctuation, and grammar) or education, it is psychological as it is too easy to keep overlooking the same mistake that was made when you wrote it and reread it during the total writing process.

Editing is the only thing that you really need to pay for help if you write and publish.


As both an editor and aspiring writer myself, I've found the best method (for me) is to read the passages in question aloud. Now, it's not perfect, but it can certainly help to clue you into something being wrong, which allows you to take a closer look.

The problem (again, for myself) arises when reading something you've written recently. Often times you can read right over a mistake because your brain knows and remembers what it was you intended to write.

As for being an editor making you a better writer, I can only answer from my own experience that yes, it did help me quite a bit. Be aware, though, that editing is way more involved than many people think. Can you teach yourself? Sure, but it will take longer and be more frustrating that having an actual class/course where you have structured learning and a teacher/professor to ask questions to.

My advice is to read aloud and do as @Alexander suggested above, wait a day or so to try and edit anything you've written yourself.

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