This month’s guest for Cuppa the Month is Jessica Klimesh. Jessica is a writer, editor, and proofreader with a passion for effective communication. She’s studied communication and writing both formally and informally for over twenty years. Jessica has an associate’s degree in mass communications, a bachelor’s degree in technical communication, and two master’s degrees—an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.
As you might imagine, a lot of my world revolves around writing-related activities! That’s been especially true during the pandemic with spending much more time at home.– Jessica Klimesh
A fun little question to get us started: Do you have a favorite word? This can be in any language. If so, why is this your favorite word?
I can’t really say that I have a favorite word, but I enjoy playing with language, and I love unexpected turns of phrases. So, while I don’t have a particular favorite word, in general, I’m intrigued by surprising language. I also love word play and puns, language that makes me laugh or makes me think. It’s something I strive for in my own writing.
So, Jessica, we both met when we were hired at the University of Iowa as English as a Second Language instructors. Tell me and the readers about your favorite teaching moment? What made it so memorable?
I can’t think of one particular teaching moment, but in general, my favorite teaching moments, whether in a formal classroom or in an informal setting, are when I can see the (figurative) lightbulb going on in someone’s head—a “lightbulb” moment as it were, that moment when everything suddenly makes sense, where someone is able to take an idea from X and apply it to Y.
Similarly, I always enjoyed when students turned in second (or third) drafts of an essay and it was clear that they had read my comments and feedback from an earlier draft and made changes accordingly. Feedback on one paper may be specific to that particular paper, but there’s almost always feedback that can be applied to future papers. And when I see students (or writers, in general) applying feedback from one paper to another, it’s heartening. I’ve seen so many writers improve tenfold that way. I believe the best way that one can improve as a writer is to get feedback from others and critically think about that feedback and apply it not just to a current project but to future projects as well.
Eventually you left the University of Iowa to start your own proofreading business. How did you get this idea? I mean, wasn’t it terrifying leaving a steady job to do it?
On one hand, it was a bit scary; but the more terrifying prospect was staying at a job that didn’t suit me. I had done freelance writing and editing as a side gig for a number of years before I started teaching at Iowa, and I had also been a writing consultant in my university’s writing center when I was a graduate student. It had long been my dream to do that kind writing/editing/consulting work full-time; I just didn’t know how to make it a career. But I took an online proofreading course that really helped build my confidence; the course—including the group of supportive and like-minded peers that came with it—was a game changer, helping me turn my passion into a career. I am connected to a number of people/mentors—many of whom are also small business owners—who have also helped me along the way. It’s definitely not a career change one can make without doing research first; you have to be prepared to step away from a steady job into the unknown. One thing I worried about was that I would miss the camaraderie of my colleagues, but even when you’re the only person in a company, you’re not alone. I have networked and connected with dozens of people, many of whom are also proofreaders and/or editors. I quickly discovered that you don’t actually work alone when you’re in business; surprisingly, I have just as many “colleagues” as I had when I was teaching.
What has been the most exciting thing about starting your own business?
The learning curve! I love to delve into new things—to learn new things—and starting your own business is all about learning new things. I built my website myself (with assistance and tutoring from a friend); that was the first big learning curve. Figuring out the administrative aspect—pricing, costs, contracts, legalities, etc.—was another one. Plus, as with any field, you have to keep up with trends (new editions of style guides, etc.). Like with many fields, there are conferences and opportunities for professional development, and these are very important; I’m learning all the time, and I love it!
The other exciting thing is the variety of work. Everything from resumes to admissions essays, dissertations to cover letters, picture book manuscripts to novels. The work is never dull…and never the same!
Something else I absolutely love about having my own business is the fact that I am actually using all of my degrees. I loved school and excelled in my classes, but it can be very difficult (for anyone!) to figure out how to take what you’ve learned and create a rewarding career from it. When I was teaching, I used a small portion of one degree, and I appreciated that, but I wasn’t able to make use of what I was most skilled at, and that got very frustrating.
It’s great to feel fulfilled from the work that you’re doing but also to know that if what you’re doing doesn’t meet your intellectual needs—if you don’t find the work rewarding—you can change your focus. So, I’m often informally assessing my situation, knowing I can make changes if needed. There’s a lot of flexibility in running a business; you are in control of your own destiny, so to speak. I don’t like to say that I’m my own boss. In some ways that’s true, but, really, my clients are my “bosses.” Even so, I can work on my own terms.
What has been the most difficult or challenging thing about starting a business?
Initially, marketing—finding ways to build my client base—was a challenge. Much of my work comes from word of mouth, and it took a good year before I had a steady client base. I spent a lot of time networking in that first year. About four months in, I started getting more consistent work, but it wasn’t until the end of that first year when things really took off.
Figuring out how to best use social media has also been challenging. There are aspects of social media that I probably don’t use to my full advantage, but my amount of work and client base has picked up to such an extent that social media has now become a lower priority. Still, I think social media (particularly LinkedIn) is important because it helps show or remind potential clients of what you do and who you are. Clients can come and go, so you always want to keep your options open.
Time might be one of my biggest struggles right now. I hate to turn down new clients, but sometimes there’s just not enough hours in the day to meet the demand! Editing is intense work, and you need to be able to focus; research is often required, too. Your brain has to be sharp, and some projects (especially ones that are highly technical) require regular breaks.
Overall, I’m generally good at time management, and meeting deadlines is a priority for me. I have to be good at prioritizing, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to do so. I care deeply about exceeding client expectations. I care about doing my absolute best and giving my clients quality work. As such, I don’t rush through projects, which can often mean turning down new projects/clients so that I can give my all to the current projects and clients in my queue.
Regarding JEK Proofreading and Editing, what different services do you offer, and how can someone get in contact with you/your business?
I offer both editing and proofreading services for technical writers, academic writers, and creative writers.
The best way to contact me is through my “Contact Me” page on my website. I am very responsive to messages and usually respond within a few hours. I’m always happy to answer questions and discuss whether I’m a good fit for a project or not.
I will “warn” that I tend to be booked with projects several months in advance. I try to work with writers regarding their deadlines and it certainly depends on the project size, etc., but if you have a project coming up that you might want an editor for, it’s best to reach out in advance so that I can pencil you in to my schedule.
I know you enjoy your fair share of travelling, so, to shift gears for a little bit, tell us about a trip that you took, domestic or international, and what made that particular trip so memorable.
Recently, my Facebook memories have been popping up from a trip to Alaska six years ago. It was a fabulous trip, amazing in so many ways. The first few days of the trip were spent at a writing conference in Homer, Alaska. We had perfect weather. It was also a neat trip because it took place right around the summer solstice, so it was daylight/twilight the whole time. On my last day in Alaska, I ran my first half-marathon (in Anchorage), which was a big accomplishment for me. It was a hilly route, and I saw a moose while I was running. Very memorable!
In relation to travelling, I know you did your MFA in a low-residency program that had an abroad residency program for a few weeks each summer. What was that like? Why did you choose this particular MFA program?
Yes! My MFA program was the Pan-European MFA program through Cedar Crest College. Because I was teaching at the time, I was looking for a low-residency program. My choice for such a program was also inspired by my time in Alaska, as many of the presenters of the writing conference were from the University of Alaska low-residency MFA program, another program I was considering. The lure of Cedar Crest’s program, though, was that the residencies took place in three different European locales, none of which I had been to before.
Cedar Crest’s program is a small program, and it was a perfect fit for me. We (the students) had different mentors on a one-on-one basis throughout the year. The residency itself was an intense two-week time of workshops, tutorials, etc. I valued this program for its individualized instruction. The mentors did not try to “mold” you into a certain kind of writer (as I’ve heard some MFA programs do); instead, they facilitate your growth as a writer by helping you develop your own voice, etc. How much you improve as a writer depends on how motivated you are—this was true of the program, but it’s also true, in general. I met several friends in the program who have also been influential in my writing development. Overall, the program helped me see writing in a fresh way, as something without bounds. I think the program was ideal for someone like me, who had already been through graduate school once and had some life/career/writing experience with which to build on.
Being as you are a creative writer, is there any particular place that the readers can find some of your work (published or unpublished)? I know I’ve read a few of your experimental pieces, and I find them very interesting and fun to read!
Thank you, yes! My story “Whiskey Burns Faster” was originally published in The Mark Literary Review in 2019 and is due out in a slightly altered version in Farside Review later this summer as well. My creative work has also been published in Briefly Write, Backchannels, Star 82 Review, The Café Irreal, and is forthcoming in Flash Flood Journal (June 26th) and TIMBER. I’m particularly excited about the piece to be published in TIMBER. It’s one of my most experimental stories, originally written in 2018. I did a complete overhaul on it in 2019 as part of my MFA thesis.
Do you have any tips or advice for any of our readers that might be interested in pursuing creative writing? Do you know of any writing groups, online or in-person, that have helped facilitate your growth as a writer?
I think the best thing for a writer/aspiring writer to do is join a critique group or find a critique partner (or two). In my opinion (based on my own experience as a student and a teacher), it is absolutely imperative that writers—especially “beginning” writers—get critical feedback on their work and/or guided feedback (e.g., from teachers or professional consultants or editors).
I’ve been actively involved in critiquing since 2004, and I founded a local community critique group in 2008, so I have lots of experience in the process. One important aspect, though, is that you have to make sure your critique partner(s) are always pushing you to a higher level. This is what my mentors from my MFA program really helped me with. In reality, anyone can critique, and you learn as much from critiquing as you do from writing. A critique is really just a response to what you’ve read. But, from a craft perspective, it’s helpful to have critique partners who are well-versed in the craft of writing and who are always striving to learn more, to continue to improve. Writing is not unlike a sport. You have to train regularly; there’s always something to learn, something to practice. I continue to learn and refine my skills on a daily basis, trying to stretch myself and learn another aspect of craft (or dig deeper into one). I wrote about this recently in one of my blog posts: writing and reading outside of your comfort zone. I try to read books that challenge me, and I analyze them not just as a reader but as a writer. My writing is often influenced by what I’ve just read, and that’s actually ideal. It means I’m learning and stretching my writing voice. It means I’m continuing to develop as a writer.
My other piece of advice is to actually sit down and write—something that is—surprisingly—easily overlooked! In April 2020, I started an online group called Together Apart: A Virtual Write Night. It’s not a critique group, but it’s a useful group for any writer at any stage of their writing career. It’s a time each week that is set aside specifically for writing and writing-related activities. The group helped me get in a writing routine since, at the beginning of the pandemic, I was floundering (as I imagine many people were as well). It worked, and the last 14 months have probably been the most productive months of my creative writing life to date!
I think regularly interacting with other writers is important, too, which is another benefit of my weekly “write night.” I’ve participated in other virtual writing events throughout the pandemic as well; it’s been great to continue to interact with other writers even while staying home/social distancing. Because of what I’ve found has worked well for me during the pandemic, I’m playing with some ideas for other types of writing groups. The virtual world really opened up during the pandemic, and I’ve found that there are many ways to network with writers all over the country (and the world). I’d like to capitalize on this kind of momentum, even as things return to “normal.”
Finally, this series is called Cuppa the Month, so I have to know: What’s your favorite beverage? If you had to choose, caffeinated or not, what would be your favorite drink? Why? What makes it so delicious? How is it made?
I love coffee, the taste and smell of it, and I especially enjoy espresso-based drinks. My drink of choice is generally a decaf latte with skim milk. I tend to avoid caffeine, but if I need that extra lift, I will occasionally get a matcha latte. At home, I drink tea most of the time—herbal teas mostly.