I’m a movie buff, enjoying most genres and all eras, including silent movies and especially Buster Keaton films. One of them, Our Hospitality, set in 1830 Appalachia is a classic tale of boy meets girl, who only finds out too late that her family is set on killing his. Will love prevail or will their family feud end all chance for happiness?
Buster Keaton co-directed and starred in Our Hospitality. Released in 1923, the flick is ninety years old. That’s incredible.
Though I don’t know Buster’s motivation, I suspect he merely wanted to earn a living, using art to do so. I presume that creating something enduring—outlasting him and becoming his legacy—was not his goal, but just a happy outcome.
This gives me pause. Will my writing survive ninety years? Will people still read my words in nine decades? It’s a laughable thought, ridiculous as well as arrogant. While I do suspect some of my work might resonate more with the next generation than this one, lasting longer is unlikely.
Yet, I do want my writing to be my legacy, to outlive me and benefit future generations. While this isn’t something I can orchestrate, I can be intentional:
Avoid the Short Term: In my first blog, I’d often write about sports, politics, and the weather. These topics have a lifespan measured in days, not years. I want my writing to mean something in the future, so I’ve stopped covering current events, instead of writing about biblical spirituality.
Make it Meaningful For Today—and Tomorrow: I try to make my writing practice for now, as well as applicable for later. This means taking a long-term view. Although harder to do and time-consuming, the results are more likely to remain.
Focus on What Will Last: Even if I could pepper my prose with pop culture references and use trendy jargon, in ten years my words would emerge as nonsense, at best, and incomprehensible, at worst. I strive for relevance while avoiding words and references that will date my work and limit its long-term value.
Produce Your Best Stuff: Good art lives on; people dismiss mediocre output and forget average work. I strive to always do my best while working for continual improvement.
Know When to Push Boundaries: One reason Buster Keaton’s work prevails is that he did things no one else was doing and did so with brilliance. I marvel at his genius. Teachers instruct writers on what to do and how to do it, that opposing norms will doom our work. This is true, yet breaking away from the status quo may be what makes a work unique—and lasting. The key is discerning whether deviations from the expected are gimmick or genius. Often we won’t know until later.
It’s unlikely anyone will read my words, or even have access to them, in ninety years, but I work to do what I can to provide the potential for that to happen.
Peter Lyle DeHaan, PhD, is an author, blogger, and publisher with over 30 years of writing and publishing experience. Check out his book The Successful Author for insider tips and insights.