We have started planning writing projects on a timeframe of several years. This simply means that we have a list of projects that we arrange on a timescale, and at any time we juggle two or three projects in different phases. We might be revising a final draft on project A, while we write first draft of project B, and do research on project C. This approach has several advantages, more closely described here.

But this summer everything changed here in Norway. Terror struck in the form of a right-wing extremist attack on Oslo and the Labour Youth camp at Utøya. 77 people were killed, and our little country stood still for a couple of weeks. We all emerged to a new political and ethical reality. From now on everything here is before or after 22.7. (July 22). Politics have changed. Public debate has changed. And art must change.

We had lined up plans for a writing project under the working title Operasjon Oslo. The story was to center on a terrorist attack against Oslo — but while everyone in our story world was expecting the strike to come from islamic extremists, the real threat came from a right-wing agenda.

We obviously can’t go ahead as planned now. Reality has already proved itself to be more shocking and absurd than any fiction can be in this case. But the question remains: Do we abandon the entire project? Or should we try to rework it to give ourselves the opportunity to say something meaningful about this tragedy?

For us, writing is much more than just telling stories to escape the tedium of everyday life. Writing is an opportunity to make a difference, to stand up for what you believe is right, to parttake in your present instead of just being an observer. There is a kernel of truth in the old saying that instruct writers «not to preach». But essentially it’s a coward’s mantra, an excuse to chew popcorn and guzzle soda while injustice and violence rages outside your window.

The right way to understand the advice about not preaching when you write, is that telling stories that matter is harder than just telling fairy tales. If you fail, you won’t have parlour tricks and spectacle to fall back on, and the reader will be left with just your message. And the message alone is not a story. At best it’s an op-ed or an essay.

But many writers takes the advice of not preaching to mean that artists should stay away from politics. That it isn’t their job to criticise the way societies malfunction, how greed and power corrupts, how religion poisons minds.

This is misguided and cowardly.

I’m not saying that we don’t need to be entertained. It’s not all-or-nothing here. But it’s only valid to have light entertainment and spectacle as long as we also have political content and dissent in art. Entertainment is the dessert. If we only eat chocolate pudding, we get malnourished. And we have a name for societies that suppress political writings and art. Totalitarian.

Norway may be one of the most liberal and advanced societies that ever existed throughout the history of mankind. We’re so comfortable that we fly into a rage when we have to wait in line at the coffee shop, or if the bus is ten minutes late. So when someone bombs our government and massacres our youths, we have no way to react. We don’t know true terror. We have never felt the injustice that billions of people in the third world live under every day.

We are the most privileged humans that have ever lived.

With that perspective in mind I feel a strong sense of obligation. Not to preach. But to not be a coward. I won’t choose to draw the blinds on the outside world, and lock myself inside a safe world where my only worries are paying my mortgage and what’s on TV.

It’s hard to protest when you’re locked away for life in Iran, or starving in Ethiopia, or raped and abused i Afghanistan. Eloquence belongs to the conquerors. But we have the opportunity to listen to them, and to tell their stories. That is the least we can do with our wealth and abundance. Make art that matters. Tell the stories that define your time.
It’s okay to tell the simple stories, for laughs or for thrills. As long as you realize your responsibility, and pitch in once in a while.

And now it’s definitely time for us to write one of the hard stories. So we won’t abandon Operasjon Oslo. We just need to work out a way to tell the story that needs to be told.

PS. If this post is rich on pathos and big words, I apologize. No, wait. I don’t.