Say what you will about the luxury of having time to write, but give me a deadline. Deadlines take some of the fear out of writing. Sure, give all those monkeys laptops and a Starbucks card and they’ll eventually come up with the works of Shakespeare. But what if you give them twenty minutes and then see what they’ve got? That was the idea behind the section of twenty-minute stories included in Issue 12 of McSweeney’s.
So I asked almost 100 writers to do exactly that—to write three twenty-minute stories. An hour of writing. Think about it first, if you must, but then go. At first, people recoiled in terror. Who could write a story in twenty minutes? But many of them gave it a try, exploring all sorts of crazy ideas and voices and approaches, and they wrote them in shopping malls and on subways, and anywhere they happened to be. The stories, as you’ll tell by the dates, were solicited more than a year ago. There wasn’t room in McSweeney’s for as many of them as they would have liked to print (even considering all the writers who wrote over the last year asking us to burn their contributions), so they are creating an archive here of some of the many twenty-minute stories we all loved and wanted to share.
I took away some lessons, of course: that constraints can spur creativity, that art flowers under the strangest circumstances, that even in twenty minutes you can immediately recognize and feel the voice of a great writer. I still don’t really like Speed Scrabble. Sure, it is nice to get the game moving, but usually when you take a second look at the board, you see a better word, the right word. But when isn’t that the case? I still find nothing scarier than a blank screen and no deadline; I like having written, as Gertrude Stein or Snoopy once said, more than writing. Is this some sort of new middle ground? Who knows. I’m just happy to share the stories, and hope you like them.