Nobody Likes Rejection

Last month I started the “query process” for the book I completed in January. “Querying” is when writers try to interest a literary agent to represent them when their manuscript is submitted to publishers. On the surface it’s quite simple: the author composes a one page cover letter that pitches the book and depending on the desired agent’s submission guidelines a number of sample pages and / or a synopsis may be necessary. This package is the “query” and it is usually emailed.

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(“Gosh, I sure hope nothing happens to this package containing all my hopes, dreams, and fragments of sanity.”)

I’ve wanted to make a post about this for weeks, but I held off, partly because it’s a gut-wrenching experience and mostly because I knew that agents would find this blog after receiving my query and doing a search for my name; I didn’t want them to come here to see what I was up to and find out I’m on the edge of my seat waiting for their reply. In short, I didn’t want them seeing the cards I was holding.

But I’ve been submitting for over a month now, leaving me a fair amount of time to not only experience the process but reflect on it as well. My conclusion so far?

It sucks. Really. That’s the simplest way I can sum it up for writers who both have and have not queried as well as outsiders who will never go through this awful process.

agents quickly rejecting query

(“Well, that’s not good.”)

I’ve been writing for almost a decade as of today’s post, and this is not the first manuscript I’ve submitted to agents for consideration. This isn’t my first rodeo. Going in I knew to brace myself for the inevitable rejections that would follow. This is because trying to get paid for a novel is less like applying for a job where you send out a storm of resumes to any and every employer hoping that the stars will align and you will get something (ANYTHING!) and more like a complex version of putting on the sorting hat from Harry Potter.

Except instead of being slotted into one of four choices by a third party that reads your mind, you have literally HUNDREDS of candidates with specific tastes that you yourself have to try and guesstimate after piecing together their profile on their website, their twitter, and interviews they’ve done on blogs. And the onus is completely on the writer to figure it out!

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(“Not a pretentious hipster. NOT a pretentious hipster. PLEASE.”)

What makes it more frustrating is that, across the board, agents are the definition of the word “cagey” towards submitting writers. If they’re not interested in your project, they (or their assistant) will send you and the hundred other hopefuls a form rejection letter, leaving no clues as to what the problem is. There are two reasons this exists: to save time and also because, again, you’re not applying for a job; you’re seeking a partner who will not only sell the book but help grow the author’s career.

Furthermore it is not an agent’s job to teach you how to write. When a writer queries an agent, they expect them to have not only a polished manuscript under wraps but also massive writing experience and expertise. But more often than not, this isn’t the case, and many rookie writers submit to agents, hoping for pointers at best and mentorship at worst. This is not an agent’s job. Both before and after the book has been sold to a publisher the responsibility for an excellent novel ALWAYS falls on the author.

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(“Be sure to sign AND initial the clause stating how you’ll do 95% of the work and we’ll get the majority of your royalties. We’re now required by law to mention that.”)

However, I’ve been lucky so far. I sent out 20 queries in February, spreading them out over the month, and even though I haven’t gotten any offers, I have gotten feedback. The type of feedback that communicates that not only have they read my materials with interest but the kind where I can tell that they’re passing not because of a lack of quality but because of a specific reason like the style of writing didn’t hook them or the story didn’t click with them personally.

Fine. But it still sucks.  Even though I know, intellectually, that every single book in the bookstore belongs to an author who had to weather this sorting process, the polite “thanks but no thanks” still stings. In fact, just one of these emails will cause me to be preoccupied the whole day with thoughts of doom and gloom. Recently, I got two rejections in one day. Ouch.

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(“NBD, guys! My balance always give out when a stranger tosses my work in the shredder. Don’t mind me!”)

I’ll end this post on a positive note. My editor, who’s very optimistic and excited about our completed work, gave me two great pieces of advice to prevent me from having a total breakdown over this harrowing process. First, he told me that this can be a long slog. Specifically that if I was to sign with an agent in August (aka 6 months) that would be considered FAST. So I should embrace that fact and, quote, “Take the action and let go of the result.”

To build on that, he added, “If it’s meant to happen, it will.” And while that might sound like a bunch of hippy-dippy mumbo-jumbo, I think there’s a deeper meaning behind it: never get too attached to an outcome. Pass or fail, you have to accept reality, and work with it to achieve your goals and find a solution to the situation.

Yeah. But rejection still sucks though.

That’s all for today. If you liked this post be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email and if you have any thoughts or experiences with this process feel free to share with a COMMENT below.

See you next time,

J. F. Seegitz

P.S. I know that my posting schedule has been infrequent, but rest assured, the blog is still alive. Just been busy. Thanks for the understanding.

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Thoughts on…The Force Awakens

Two whole months since I last updated this blog? How is that possible? Well, it MIGHT have something to do with the fact that I’m wrapping up my novel and that’s taken up the majority of my time, so there haven’t been too many chances to blog.

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(That and the 143 hours I spent getting this pup. Moving on…)

So…perhaps the biggest pop culture event during my two month break was the release of the latest STAR WARS film, The Force Awakens. It premiered a month ago today, and while I’m far from a hardcore fan (seen the movies but don’t own them or anything Star Wars related) I was seduced by the surrounding hype and decided to see it shortly after release day.

And I thought it was GREAT! At first, that is. When I saw it the first time, I loved the new characters and was on the edge of my seat waiting to see what was going to happen next. On my way out of the theater my initial review boiled down to one phrase:  “Epic as F***.”

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 (Until I received this bag on my doorstep.)

But then some time passed, and I thought about the movie a bit more critically, and soon realized that The Force Awakens is not a good film when you get right down to it. Why? Because to be frank, so much of it doesn’t MAKE SENSE and so much of the plot is just a bit too CONVENIENT for my tastes.

So I’m going to hold up the magnifying glasses and shed some light on the issues I had with the film. And in the interest of time, I’m going to ignore the fact that it leans heavily on nostalgia (as a non-Star Wars fan I don’t care) and dismiss the whole “everything will be made clear in episodes 8 and 9” nonsense, because it’s really a faith-based rebuttal.

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(You’ve been warned, ya filthy animals.)

I’ll start with Rey, because she’s my biggest gripe with the movie. Now this is nothing against the actress Daisy Ridley who portrays her; she played the role well and from the interviews I’ve watched she seems like a down-to-Earth and professional British girl.

But Rey is not. In the trailer for Force Awakens it opens with Maz Kanata asking “Who are you?” and Rey answering with “I’m no one.” And you know what? I couldn’t have characterized Rey any better myself. Rey has:

-No last name

-No backstory

-No friends or family

-No formal training / or a teacher

-No experience off her home planet of Jakku

And yet…she’s perfect at everything. Seriously.

Rey and finn running and Rey being a mary sue

(SERIOUSLY.)

Did I mention she’s a tenth degree black belt in the Force even though she hears about it for the first time like…30 minutes into the movie? Yup, she sure is. She goes on to do Jedi persuasion and Jedi telekinesis (stuff Luke Skywalker couldn’t do until Return of the Jedi) in just this film alone.

The only POSSIBLE explanation for this being legit is that Rey is secretly the love child of Luke Skywalker and Superwoman and by episode nine she realizes her heritage and can split atoms by snapping her fingers and blow up Star Destroyers with a flutter of her eyelashes!

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(Although I must admit that would be cool to watch.)

Next up is Finn, played by John Boyega. Again, no problems with Boyega’s performance (his American accent is flawless) and he seems like a super funny dude from what I’ve seen of his interviews. However, the character he portrays is a contradiction.

In the film, Finn leaves the First Order (the bad guys) because he was ordered to kill a bunch of people on his first time, and well…ya know…he just wasn’t feeling it. Fine. So he becomes a pacifist, right? He goes into the mountains of Tatooine and becomes a peaceful hermit, similar to Obi Wan Kenobi, right? RIGHT?

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(WRONG.)

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(GUESS AGAIN)

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(I’LL LEAVE YOU WITH THIS)

It just doesn’t make sense for Finn to leave the bad guys because he’s opposed to violence but has NO ISSUE slaughtering their Stormtroopers and ships left and right without a hint of remorse.

But I couldn’t see past the hype and razzle dazzle of STAR WARS on my first Force Awakens viewing, so it didn’t hit me. Now it does. And part of that is because of this film’s PACE.

I always define pace as “the rate at which events unfold” and they do so QUICKLY in this film, leaving no time for the audience to think critically, because OH MY GOD THE FIRST ORDER HAS FOUND US (AGAIN) AND WE NEED TO RUN, RUN, RUN!

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(“Interested in how I got this lightsaber? Too bad it’s time to leave!”)

For a first viewing a fast pace is good because it sweeps you up in the action and leaving you breathless. But…this is Star Wars and they could have slowed it down a TAD to explain some stuff. Like who Rey is (see above) and where did the First Order come from?

But these are just a few of my gripes with a movie I DID enjoy, and even saw twice. There are a few other problems I’d like to explore but I’m out of time. And yes, it’s possible everything will be corrected in episodes 8 and 9, and I do hope so, but we’ll have to wait and see.

VERDICT: The Force Awakens, while a lot of fun at the movies, falls apart the instant you hold a magnifying glass to it.

That’s all for today. If you liked this post be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email and if you saw the Force Awakens feel free to share your feelings with a COMMENT below.

See you next time,

J. F. Seegitz

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Moving Right Along

Last weekend I really wanted to share my thoughts on college, but wouldn’t you know it, a load of work from my editor was DUMPED into my lap on November 2. I mean, a LOT of work you guys. At first I responded with a two sentence acknowledgment email, because I needed a week to come to terms with everything on my plate, allowing all of his nitpicks and plot-hole issues to seep into my brain. Then to come up with a game plan of how I was going to tackle everything.

The trickiest part was coming up with an ETA for when I’d hand the manuscript (MS) back to him so he could wrap everything up with a nice bow and we could begin the submissions process.  My exact words to him were, “TBH I can’t say when I’ll have the MS ready for you. A part of me is shooting for January 1, but my vision of the future is blocked by the mountain of work in front of me, so I can’t accurately guess. Maybe in another 2 weeks I’ll have a better forecast in mind.”

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(“Current forecast shows high levels of stress and low levels of free time.”)

But the silver lining to this episode, and the reason I’m posting it, is because for once I actually have the chance to QUANTIFY how much work this phase of book writing entails. See, for me I’ve always been frustrated when talking about this with lay people because so much work that goes into it is hard to quantify. Seriously. Like, if I were to bring up the fact that there’s one sentence I’m struggling to get just right, and it could be a couple of days of thinking about it and rehashing it, how do you put that into terms that people can grasp? Or on the days where I actually don’t write on the book itself, but instead take a pad of paper and sit in a quiet place, coming up with pages of illegible ideas?

You can’t. Most people will just view it as a waste of time. But—luckily for the sake of this post, that abstract process of coming up with ideas, of making something from nothing, doesn’t apply to the copy editing phase, where the editor looks not at a book’s plot, characters, or dialogue but instead the SENTENCES themselves. In other words, the readability of the book.

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(“You know what would make your book easier to read, mate? MARKERS.”)

So let’s do it, starting with what I call the “CTRL+F” words. As the editor read the manuscript, he noticed that certain words kept popping up, over and OVER again. So his simple advice was to use Microsoft Word’s find function (ie CTRL+F) to search for certain overused words, like “chuckle” and “shake” and  “white” (my favorite color, apparently).

At this point, you may be skeptical. “How long can it take find repeated words and delete them?” you wonder. “A few hours?”

Maybe if this were a 10 pen page college essay, it might. But when you’re dealing with a 350 page novel in the neighborhood of 98,000 words (yes, thousand with a “th”) the work piles up. What’s more is that 80% percent of the time the repetitive word simply can’t be deleted and also—you know what? How about I just post my progress sheet to help make my point?

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(The words Escape, Notice, Remind, Listen, Surprise, Discover, Whisper, Reveal, and Learn are written on the back of this same sheet.)

Ah…that’s better. Ok, here’s the breakdown of each line. In blue ink I’ve written the word and its original word count. In pencil, I would then write the final number to the left of the word, and then the page numbers that word appears on. For example, the first word “Gray” originally appears in the manuscript 27 times. After using the CTRL+F function I whittled all my “Grays” down to a mere three, and ONLY on pages 3, 17, and 218. Page numbers are important, because the words can’t be clustered together; in fact, better for a word to appear 30 times across a 350 page novel than that same word eight times on one page. Make sense?

So that one wasn’t so bad. But if you look at the list, there are some real heavy-hitters. I mean the word “_just_” appears a whopping 235 times from beginning to end, and to reduce it to 77 took almost 4 hours. That’s me going through all 235 entries and deciding if I can delete the word, substitute a synonym, rewrite the passage it appears in to make the sentiment clearer, or simply deciding that the word MUST be there. TWICE. That’s right. I went through each appearance of the word whittled as much as I could, got to the end of the book, and then went to the start of the book, making absolutely SURE that I’ve whittled as much as I could.

(“And when you’re done playing around, I got some ACTUAL wood whittling for ya!”)

But wait, there’s more. Sometimes when substituting words, you discover that the substitute you had in mind can’t be used because it’s used excessively too. DAMMIT! An example of this is the word “small.” My editor pointed it out, and when I tallied it up, I had 51 entries on my hand. My knee-jerk reaction was to substitute it with the word “little” but “little” appears 46 times! So not only can’t I use it, I now have another word to whittle down!

But in time, I was able to make it work. The majority of the words weren’t that bad, but the two words with stars next to them, “realize” and “nod” were especially tough. And since I’m working alone, that star was my way of complaining. To myself. But I’m getting off-topic, so it’s probably best to stop blogging and get back to work.

And with that I’ll wrap things up for today. If you liked this post be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email and if you were a bit surprised by some of the behind-the-scenes work involved in creating a book be sure to COMMENT below.

See you next week,

J. F. Seegitz

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Can Goblin

Every once in a while I’ll get caught up in a situation that I didn’t see coming, won’t get out of (although I easily could), and when it’s over look back and ask myself “How do I get myself into these situations?”

There’s been more than few of these situations in my life, but today, we’re going to focus on the most recent, because it started a few months back when I moved in with my dad and ended just recently.

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(“Set aside that crossbow, son. It’s time for a steak break!”)

At first everything seemed fine at my new residence: calm, peaceful, drama-free, and a bunch of other adjectives that mean I didn’t have to worry about anything unexpected happening. But then I noticed something that bothered me. Something concerning waste disposal.

I know, I know. At this point, followers of the blog are scratching their heads (or shaking them) and saying, “Just because you live in Staten Island doesn’t mean you have to mention trash all the time!” And that’s fair. I hear you. But let me explain.

In the bin I noticed that my dad and brother were tossing in plastic bottles, cardboard milk cartons, and cardboard packaging without a second thought.

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(How quickly they’ve forgotten the Twilight saga’s most important lessons.)

And that was fine. After all, there were only two of them, so how much recycling could they possibly generate? So while I didn’t care enough to speak up, that didn’t stop me from taking responsibility for MY OWN recycling. So what did I do?

Well first I tried to take whatever cardboard products (like empty waffle boxes, pop-tart boxes, etc.) fold them so they’re nice and flat, and put them in a shopping bag, planning to place them in someone else’s recycling bin.

So that was taken care of. But the plastic was much worse. See, at my old place I had a Brita water filter and would simply filter my NYC tap water (among the tastiest in the country, in my opinion) and drink several glasses of that a day. But, while my dad also has a water filter, he buys these 24 packs of Dasani water bottles and stacks them in his kitchen, free for anyone to take.

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(Fortunately there aren’t any judgmental hippies around.)

And take I did, drinking about two or three a day, leading to a growing problem: unwilling to toss them in the trash, I put them in plastic shopping bags, one of which was a GIANT Toys R’Us bag (don’t ask how I got it) taking up considerable real estate in my already small bedroom. When that bag was overflowing I put the other bottles in a bunch of smaller shopping bags, and as weeks passed the bottles would spill out, littering the carpeted floor.

I’m sure you’ve got a pretty good mental picture of my sleeping situation at this point, so of course my brother would walk by and, before commenting, look from my face to the mess and give me a weird look.

“I think I’m going to recycle all these bottles,” I said. “Five cents apiece should really add up.”

“You should do it sooner than later,” he said. “Let me know how much you get.”

Then I look again at the mess and chuckled. “It’s like I’m living in a trash heap!”

He shook his head. “Literally.”

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(“Actually, this amount would make a very nice couple of bicycles.”)

Not too long after that I loaded all the bags in my trunk and started the first of several trips to Waldbaum’s to cash in the bottles. I say “first of several” because problems came up: first it was that I was too late to the machines, as they operate from 8am to 8pm. Then another time the machine that takes plastic was broken. And when I DID get there at the right time I learned two more important things.

  • The bottles MUST have a barcode on them.
  • Only certain brands are accepted by the store. Dasani was fine, but brands like Poland Spring and Snapple are a no go.

Now while I’m sure you pencil’s tip just broke from scribbling down all this fascinating information, don’t bother re-sharpening it, as I didn’t walk away with a lot of money from this time-consuming and embarrassing endeavor.

After several trips, I approached the customer service counter with four tickets to cash in. The kid behind the counter (also named Joe) was either new or unused to people cashing in bottles that he had to consult a nearby manual for assistance.

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(“Look, I’ve seen Rock Bottom many a time in the mirror, so please just GO.”)

He cashed the tickets and handed me back two crisp singles and a shiny nickel. Yup, a measly two bucks for all that trouble. I kind of expected that, to be honest. I wasn’t exactly envisioning a bright future where I raided garbage cans by day (aka a Can Goblin) and cashed out hundreds of dollars by night, but I was expecting just a BIT more. Oh well.

The lesson I walked away from this experience (along with the consolation prize of a clean bedroom floor) was that I should just stick to filtering my water and forget about worrying about properly disposing of plastic bottles. While it IS important to recycle your plastic, cardboard, and aluminum, it’s even BETTER to reduce the amount produced in the first place.

So I’ll end on that note.

For more life-changing posts like these, be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email, and if you have any information or tips to contribute, you are formally invited to post a COMMENT below.

See you next week,

J. F. Seegitz

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State of the Blog 2015

Good day and thank you to all my fellow blog readers. Today marks the one year anniversary of this blog, and as such I would like to take the time to review where this blog has been, where it’s at now, and where it’s going.

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(Please be seated.)

Many long time readers of this blog are under the impression that I started it to document my disastrous and short-lived experience teaching English in Korea, but that is not entirely true.

The original reason I purchased a domain name and started a blog was because I had visions of serializing the chapters of my fiction; in other words, posting a chapter of an ongoing story every week with readers being able to comment on it, funneling in traffic from a very popular website called wattpad.com to build a base readership and then self-publishing chapter collections on amazon.com.

While it sounded like a good idea at the time, I eventually gave up on it and never published a single chapter. But I still had the website and domain name. So, what to do with it?

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(“There’s always money in GAH-bage! Why not blog about trash, ya mutt?”)

For a while I just held onto the domain name and empty blog, but then one day I visited the Strand Bookstore in Manhattan for the first time, and liked it so much that I gushed about it to a friend over the phone. After we hung up, I realized that everything I said would make an excellent blog post, so my very first post 8 Tips for Anyone’s First Trip to the Strand Bookstore was born.

At my core, I’m someone who enjoys making things. There’s something about visualizing something in my mind and bringing a polished version of it into reality that’s really fulfilling to me personally. That’s why one of my favorite jobs was my first: decorating cakes in my father’s bakery. Even though the cakes were sold and consumed, never to be seen again, there was a pride in seeing a customer’s reaction upon seeing my handiwork.

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(One of my favorite cartoons to draw was a macaw, but since I don’t have pictures of the cakes I did, just look at this realistic one and imagine it in cake form.)

And the same applied to blogging. This March 2nd will be NINE years I’ve been writing fiction, which is nice, but a year ago today I had far less experience writing non-fiction, ie blogging and essays, so it was a totally different change of pace for me. Especially since it was just me experimenting with pictures and words and captions for the public to see.

But I enjoyed the creative process, kicking off with that first blog post, so I stuck with it, and latched onto the most prominent issue in my then life, which was preparing for my trip to teach in another country.

Once again I had a grand vision: a weekly blog featuring my thoughts on teaching and living in a VERY different country along with exotic pictures, so I started blogging about the process, such as obtaining a visa and being interviewed for the position, all leading up to my departure.

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(And of course, visions of quality time with the locals.)

But what awaited me on the opposite side of the world was a living nightmare: a falling apart school with no training program whatsoever, an insensitive and racist staff, and a harrowing environment that forced me to flee the country.

For many months afterwards I had flashbacks of the horrors I had escaped, and believe me when I say that it was an experience that gave me a lot of perspective. Although incredibly painful, my failed trip changed me at a fundamental level—permanently.

And then I was back home, which not everyone in my life was thrilled about. See, people in Staten Island work hard, and they take a lot of pride in working hard. So when I arrived back after only two weeks abroad (and after so much build-up!) there were a handful who were dismissive, wondering why I wasn’t doing my part by being a contributing member of society.

Not that I’m calling Korea society.

Anyway. So I was back, my bank account sore after having been pillaged by the swashbuckling pirates of CIEE, the agency that brokered my teaching employment, only to deliver NONE of the services they promised and not bothering to recover any of the wages I EARNED during my two weeks at the Korean school. While that wound was indeed tender, I now had to deal with the anxiety of finding a job, kind of like a POW who escaped back to civilian life.

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(“Joseph-teacher, come back to us! You left without finishing your seaweed-flavored Kit Kat bars! And your Jolly Pong cereal is getting soggy, too!”)

Okay, maybe that’s a bit of a stretch, but either way I was 27 years old and in a difficult position. Back in the land of the free, but still in a difficult position. Luckily, I landed a temp job through a relative, in Staten Island, working long hours, and switched the blog to a bi-weekly schedule.

This changed the nature of the blog, shifting away from updates on my teaching adventure to topical essays, ranging from working in Staten Island to going into a mental autopilot mode to book reviews. But the side effect of this new format was length. Posts were now taking days to write and edit on top of the HOURS spent searching the internet for the right pictures to insert into posts.

Compounding this was all the time I was pouring into my currently unpublished novel so when I started a steadier full-time job, I was so over scheduled that I put the blog on hold for the summer, choosing instead to focus on completing the best novel I could, which my editor is quite pleased with so far.

So the summer came and went, and I debated where the blog should head from now on. I enjoyed doing it, and still do, but how do I go about it? How long should the posts be? Should there still be pictures with silly captions? What should my main goal be?

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(I kept going until the questions got weird.)

Somewhere on the Internet I found an article saying that, while a weekly post is ideal, more than an hour or so a day is overkill. The point resonated with me: a little content weekly is better than no content ever or a MASSIVE post every once in a while. After all, the word “blog” is a combo of the words “web log” and that’s what it’s supposed to be: a log of your doings on the web.

That’s all!

So with a year of experimentation is behind me, I look to the future, as I always have, so now I will briefly lay out some of what to expect in the next year, and I’ll employ another list in the interest of brevity.

  • A chronicle of my manuscript’s journey. Whether I wind up getting my novel published or not, I will be sure to document the experience and lessons learned.
  • My escape from New York. I’ve wanted to leave Staten Island ever since I was 17, and it was only in the last year or so that I realized that what I really want is to leave the state for the West. More to come on that. And finally:
  • The blog itself. Sometime in 2016 I plan on improving / streamlining seegitzwrites.com, hiring a professional for help. What changes those will be, I don’t know yet, but I see lots of cool things that other blogs do that I’d like to incorporate, but simply don’t know how and am not ready to yet; for now, I’m keeping the blog simple.

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(Who knows what the future will hold…)

Thank you for your time my fellow readers, and God Bless the United States of America.

And Canada. I get a lot of Canadian traffic so God Bless Canada too.

J. F. Seegitz

P.S. Be sure to SUBSCRIBE by email if you haven’t already and leave a COMMENT below if you’ve got any ideas for the blog in the coming year. Or if you just feel like saying hello. It’s up to you.

Posted in Announcements, Korea, Teaching English | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment