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March 8, 2014

“Audience, Purpose, Thesis: if you can’t define these elements you’re not ready to start writing.”

So spake Ms. Jacqueline Arante, my college English professor, in a rare moment of direct instruction. Most classes consisted of story time; she expected her students to study their lessons at home so she could use the class as a personal soapbox. She had a lot to say and she’d found a captive audience. Truth was, she had a purpose as well. And every one of her stories served to reinforce her thesis.

Ms. Arante was a walking example of her own system, a living case-in-point. She wanted to help writers find their voice – and she didn’t believe it was possible through the traditional collegiate model. If your audience was limited to professors who were looking for the same thing from every student in the class, you were going to end up writing Engfish: “A feel-nothing, say-nothing language, dead like Latin, devoid of the rhythms of contemporary speech.”

That I resonated with Arante’s message of individuality should come as little shock to those who know me well. That I dropped out of college the next semester was entirely coincidental.

Now, nine years later, I am finally digesting the rest of her message. Last week I ordered a copy of Glimmer Train, the prestigious fiction publication I’ve been sending stories for the past two years. It’s blatantly obvious I’ve been targeting the wrong audience. Glimmer Train is literature. Its stories are polished to perfection, the authors have found their voices. They’re apt.

Nothing about me is polished. Not my fashion sense and not my grammar. I’m a lumberjack in a world of firefighters, pleading for my job. I’m the unfinished ending of Kafka’s Castle. I’m Dickinson’s lost archive.

I’m not sending any more stories to Glimmer Train.

My purpose isn’t to entertain nor is it a sophomoric need for approval. I’m trying to channel the wealth of ideas that’s been flowing through me since I committed to this course. I’m growing into my voice. A certain amount of polish comes with that growth, but I’m not writing literature. I’m writing high-concept semi-philosophic adventure stories set somewhere between yesterday and tomorrow.

Hopefully there’s still an audience for that.

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