All creative artists want their work to be embraced by a loving public, even long after they are dead. They want to leave a legacy and to be appreciated by others. It doesn’t matter if it’s art, film, books, architecture, or other forms of creation—the desire and drive of all creators is the same.
Sure, some are ego-driven, money-hungry, fame-seekers, but all, at the heart of their efforts, want to see their work valued and to know it has inspired, enlightened, entertained, and informed others. They want to know they sparked a dialogue, provoked action, stimulated thought, and led to a change in society or impacted lives. Writers want to think that they created something not just for today or for a generation, but something everlasting and permanent.
The truth is it doesn’t work that way. Not at all.
The other day, I was in a public library helping my eight-year-old son do research for a school report he was writing for his second-grade class. While we looked for books about the Blue Iguana of the Cayman Islands (we found none), I happened upon a volume titled “Colonial History to 1877.” As I flipped through the pages of the book, I realized how much has happened in our nation’s history of nearly 237 years, and I said to my son: “You know, there will come a time when all of the history you will spend your school years learning will be taught in a day.”
Eventually, there will be little difference between 1813, 1913, or 2013, because so much history will have taken place over the years. Here’s what may happen:
- The more recent history of the present era will seem more significant and important than the distant past.
- So many more significant things will happen in the centuries to come that by the time it is 2513, to reflect on the quaint times of today will seem insignificant.
- As time goes by, the time dedicated to studying history will be replaced, in part, to be used to learn new skills that future technologies will bring about.
Our ability to record news, find facts, publish analysis, and share information will overwhelm the education system and forbid it to properly give students enough time to discuss any specific event or subject in great detail.
Every year that goes by, the amount of classroom time spent learning about history generally remains the same but the amount of time put to any one event or person shrinks because more history is created and has to be covered. History books have three decades of history and five more presidents to write about since I graduated high school in 1984.
How much longer will the school year need to be in order to properly cover future history? I calculated I spent about an hour per day in class on history—some 2,160 school hours (an hour per school day, 180 days per year, 12 years). That is about 10 hours dedicated per every year of this nation’s history. That means another 290 hours of instruction would be needed just to cover the last 29 years. What will that come to in 100 years? 1,000 years? 10,000 years?
So, I come back to my opening remarks about the lifespan of a creative artist’s work, especially books. We still read old books—the Bible, works of Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and some ancient texts, but compared to all that has been written and published, how many books are read well beyond an author’s lifetime? Most books expire. They have a shelf-life even if they can exist forever online. Relevance, discoverability, language—all of these things doom most books.
But it does not stop us from writing as if our words will last forever. Heck, before we can think about our works being read and enjoyed a century from now, we struggle to find readers today. But we can strive to write today and hope the words live another day.
The odds of being read today are much greater than they will be even next week, when, at least 7,000 more books will have been published by traditional publishers. Write as if you’ll be read tomorrow, but hope to be read today.
Remember these words, for chances are they won’t live beyond your lifetime: Create because you reflect the truth. Create because you need an alternative to the truth. Create because you don’t know the truth. Create, to inspire greater truths.
History will tell us what really was true, if only history were complete, unbiased, and accurate. Who knows how long your words will exist, so make them count right now. If your words do their job to inspire greatness, change, and more creativity, then they will become useless and unneeded with time. They will have led a revolution that will render them obsolete. Perhaps being made obsolete is the honor to strive for.
Will your words stand the test of time?
Brian Feinblum is the chief marketing officer of Planned Television Arts (rebranded as Media Connect), the nation’s largest and oldest book promotions firm. Brian has worked in the promoting industry since 1989 and has worked with clients of varied professions such as magician David Copperfield and best-selling author Og Mandino.