How One Freelance Writer Earned More With Better English

Carol Tice

Freelance writer improves her incomeBy Jovell Alingod

“Am I good enough?”

I don’t know how many times this question has run through my head since the day I decided to become a freelance writer. This self-doubt stems from the fact that English is my second language and my first writing jobs mostly involved article spinning and rewriting.

But my desire to make a living writing was greater than this limiting belief.

I realized I had to make a choice. I could be happy with the kind of writing projects coming my way — mostly, original articles for $5. Or I could improve my English writing skills and earn more.

I chose the latter. Even though I knew it wouldn’t be easy.

Turns out that’s been one of the best decisions I’ve made for my career.

My results include:

Here’s how you can do it, too.

Go back to basics

This may sound boring, but the fact remains that the basics our English teachers taught us — grammar, proper word usage, vocabulary improvement, and spelling — are the first technical elements of good English writing.

For starters, review your grammar books. If you don’t have them anymore, I recommend “The Elements of Style” by William Strunk, Jr., and E.B. White.

To improve your vocabulary, spelling, and word usage, you can learn A.W.A.D (a word a day). If you do this, you’ll have 365 more English words added to your personal word bank!

Have eagle eyes and bat ears

Another way to improve your English language skills is by closely examining it. You can keep tabs by reading and listening to how native speakers talk. If you get the chance to interact with them in person, do so. If not, take the time to watch English movies and TV shows.

If you can get an editor’s feedback about your work, then listen to their advice. Most of them have read and revised hundreds of articles, and they know what works and what doesn’t.

You might have heard this before, but I’ll say it again — read widely in English. Take note of expressions or unfamiliar phrases and find out their meanings.

You need to be sharp to notice the nuances in the English language.

Think in English

Becoming a good writer takes practice. And a great way to take your practice further is to think in English. This way your brain gets accustomed to using the language more.

My English isn’t perfect, but it’s much better now. One client was so happy with the content I wrote for him, he gave me a position with a four-fold pay increase!

I haven’t stopped learning yet, though, because there’s still so much to learn about writing.

How have you improved your writing skills? Tell us in the comments.

Jovell Alingod is a freelance writer helping businesses create helpful content for the web.

Related: How to make money writing



  1. Liesha

    Even though I’m in a doctoral program and writing all the time, I still make stupid grammar mistakes. I make more mistakes when I switch from academic to informal writing. I don’t expect perfection, but try to learn from each mistake.

    And although I hate working with editors, it really does improve whatever I’m writing. So I bite the bullet and listen to what they have to say.


    • Carol Tice

      Same here on the editors, Liesha!

      I’m actually a college dropout and I still think I don’t always put commas in the right places. There’s always more we can learn. I like the newer book How to Not Write Bad by Ben Yagoda — had him on a Den meeting call, and he had great tips on most common grammar problems and how to correct them.

    • Jovell

      Me too Liesha. Working with editors is nerve-wracking. There were times I cried after getting their feedback. But I put on my big girl panties, take their feedback to heart, and do the revisions as per their guidelines. And it just feels great when you get to nail their article requirements in the head.

  2. Mai Bantog

    Hi again, Jovell! Yup, I absolutely agree with you. Great English is our weapon in the freelance writing world, and if we have that it wouldn’t matter if we’re not native English speakers.

    I don’t regularly speak English at home, but I grew up with it at school. I also watch tons of Hollywood movies and American TV series and read novels and poems written in English. Because of that, I’m actually a lot better writing in English than in my native tongue, haha. Constant exposure and practice can significantly improve our English proficiency.

    And of course, I listen to my editors. Sometimes their comments sting, but I learn from them anyway.

    • Jovell

      “Sometimes their comments sting…,” you’ve hit the home run here Mai. 🙂

      And I’ve noticed the same with the more proficient ESL writers. Those who constantly hear and use English daily are better with their prose. We’re not aiming for perfection but improvement because as you said, if we are armed with better English writing skills and are open to working with editors, then we’ll definitely thrive in this business.

  3. Nabila

    Really great post, it’s nice to see that you can make a living as writer in English, when English is not your first language. Your tips are very helpful, but I’ve been obsessed with English since forever, so they’re not so very new to me ;). I’m just writing to let you know, how pleased I’m for you, you overcame your self-doubts and made it Jovell.


    Your blog is so lovely, even though I’ve no ambition to become freelance writer, I always come back and read your posts. Your style is down-to-earth and charming.I bet you are a gorgeous human being, inside and out.

    • Carol Tice

      Can you come to my house and tell my family that? 😉

      Glad you enjoy the blog. You know, top copywriter Ed Gandia also learned English as a second language. So it definitely can be done.

      • Taheerah

        @Carol – Wow, I didn’t know that about Ed, and I’m subscribed to his blog, lol. Of course, I immediately did a Google search and found a very candid post that he wrote about emigrating to the US –

        @Jovell – Excellent post, proof once again that perseverance is the key to winning. Getting a Netflix account and accessing the US catalog is a really good way for writers to bone up on the subtle nuances of English, like idioms and pop cultural references, which are also important when writing for US-based clients.

        • Carol Tice

          Yeah, he’s totally up front about it — and I was completely gobsmacked when I learned it.

        • Jovell

          @Taheerah thanks for the additional tips. I’ll definitely look that up. I’m currently writing more for Australian audiences. Good thing we have cable so I get to watch their news and local TV shows.

      • Nabila

        Lol, I’d tell that your family with great pleasure. I’ll pencil in a visit to Chicago, should I ever come to the States 🙂
        Thanks for telling me Gandia, I’ll look him up a soon as I’ve a bit free time.

    • Jovell

      Thank you Nabila. I still have a lot of limiting beliefs but I do my best to overcome them everyday. 🙂

  4. Pankaj

    Hi Jovell,

    I certainly agree with you point, there is not age limit to learn and improve your skills. In English keep digging deeper and you would become more professional writer who can come up with great content at demand.

    • Jovell

      Hi Pankaj. Yes, age certainly doesn’t matter. It’s not even a question clients ask from freelance writers. One of my fun motto is “As long as you’re alive, there’s hope.” and it all starts in deciding to become better. Thanks for reading my article. 🙂

  5. Nadia McDonald

    I absolutely love this article! Writing effectively is very important not only for a freelancer, but all faucets of writing. I agree that one should master the skill of good grammar, word usage, vocabulary and style/tone. I wrote from a child, but as I became an adolescent I engrossed into freewriting, and indulged in reading countless books. There are many styles of writing, but the proper style should apply to the writing activity.
    Writing is a skill that can be learnt. I developed my skills from reading ELEMENTS OF WRITING. My vocabulary skills came from reading books, in which I wrote words in a book and defined their meaning from the text.
    Freelancing is a career, and writers have to adapt to learning new techniques to their writing style. This can play a pivotal role in one’s content and freelancing career.

    • Jovell

      You’re absolutely right Nadia. And thank you for sharing your own tips. So far, the best improvement method I’ve found is getting feedback about my articles. Having a fresh pair of eyes (skilled friends or better, editors) read over the article texts have made me see better what’s off in what I wrote. 🙂

  6. Peter D. Mallett

    Hi Jovell (and Carol),
    I haven’t been reading this blog as much in the last month and I am catching up on posts. I had to leave a comment because this post was so encouraging.

    I’ve seen posts where the English is not correct in a few places. It may be in only 4 or 5 places in an entire post that is well done otherwise. It does stick out though. I hesitate sometimes to share a post with good information, but several mistakes I wonder if someone will think I didn’t notice them.

    I admire your desire to improve. And also for being willing to write about your experiences to encourage others.

    • Jovell

      Thank you Peter. And your comment means a lot to me. Appreciation is one thing that’s not that abundant in the freelance industry so receiving even a tiny bit is a cause for celebration.

  7. Tanya

    Its so important to keep learning new things. Grammar included! I could use some help in that area myself 🙂

    • Jovell

      Learning new things is addictive.Good thing great resources are easier to access now because of the internet. Try out the book I mentioned in the post Tanya. 🙂

  8. Crissie

    Hi, Carol:

    You have an indisputably valid point that concise statements in correct grammatical format will probably never become “dead letter” English language.

    However, as the Neilson-Norman Group research report link below reveals, some modification is indicated for Web-based English text. See:

    “Break Grammar Rules on Websites for Clarity”

    by HOA LORANGER on March 23, 2014

    Summary: Web writing differs from print writing to emphasize scannability. Some grammar rules are worth breaking if they improve fast comprehension.

    What’s your “take” on the new scoop about this emergent school of English literary thought?

    • Carol Tice

      Crissie, blogging more resembles copywriting, which breaks grammar rules. Hope that clarifies.


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