I read the perfect explanation McSweeney’s for why I hide out writing non-fiction instead of finishing those abandoned short-stories that litter my notebook.
Cos’ fiction is harder.
In Issue 30 of McSweeney’s the “forge-ahead/throwback issue”, writer Wells Tower produces a story, Retreat, which is a reworking of a story of his, entitled Retreat, that McSweeney’s had published in issue 23.
They let Tower explain it himself, in the frontspiece notes.
“One thing that was screwing me up was all the long-form nonfiction work I’d been doing. Nonfiction – even literary nonfiction – calls for tools and processes that are pretty much useless when it comes to making short stories. in metalworking, they have this term, “cold connection”, which is when you take two pieces of metal and a rivet. A few smart bashes, and you’ve got a bracelet with lots of nice bangles on it, and you’ve spared yourself the hot, tedious business of soldering and sweating joints. In a pinch, nonfiction can squeak by on cold connections. You go out and witness things, and if you’ve got at least a few compelling scenes, you can fuse them together with the cold rivets of journalistic writing – the transition, the fraudulent hardware of arc and angle. Nine times out of ten, the reader won’t feel gypped, never mind that there’s no real heart thumping in the thorax of your tin man.
Fiction can’t be approached in such calculated fashion; at least I can’t approach it that way and feel good about myself in the morning. But I’d been given a firm deadline for the story, so I started cold-connecting a bunch of spare parts I had laying around.”
Wells confesses his sins.
“One question a smart teacher of mine liked to ask in fiction workshops is, ‘Was this written in good faith?’ I took this to mean: did the writer make himself as vulnerable to the story’s possibilities as he wishes his readers to be? Or more simply put: does the writer believe in what he wrote?”
So he sought atonement. And rewrote the story.