A few weeks ago, as I was making dinner, I listened to a story by Elif Shafak, a Turkish writer. It was part of The Moth podcast, which features people telling true stories to a live audience. Elif tells the story of working on one of her novels in a tiny apartment in Istanbul. You can listen to the podcast here, if you want. If you have fifteen minutes, listen to it first, because the story is most powerful when she tells it rather than a summary from me.
As Elif says,
"I looked at the manuscript in my hands, you know? All of the sudden it seemed so small, so trivial. What difference did it make if I finished this chapter, whether I found the twist in the plot? ...It was something like a loss of faith… "To this day, it was one of the toughest dilemmas in my work: to have the faith, the belief, that stories matter, that words make a difference and connect us across the boundaries. And the sneaky suspicion that all art in vain in the face of larger, darker world events. Between this optimism and pessimism, my heart is a pendulum."
At this point, I'd turned off the stove and was listening with all my attention. I found myself desperately frightened about what the answer could be, because what could one story do when so many people are suffering? How could the answer to this possibly be positive for writing and art?
Elif continues the story talking about how she comes through the earthquake, and starts her book again. Most importantly, she finds that not all changes from the earthquake have been negative, that some sense of closeness has developed between her and her neighbors that wasn't there before. At the very end, that connection between neighbors inspires her. And she says:
"And perhaps, at the end of the day, this is what we writers want to achieve with our stories:something to remain. A spontaneous bonding, a speck of empathy, and also, the possibility of change."
It makes me want to write.