Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Longevity in Writing

Is longevity in your writing important to you? Do you want to write a novel that will blaze and then disappear after three months? Or do you want to write something that could be regarded as a classic in years to come? From the timeless words of Valeria from the 1982 film, Conan the Barbarian: “Do you want to live forever?”

The majority of books written today will disappear. I think the main reason for the lack of longevity is because they were written to a trend. Fashion is fickle. What is hip now is snigger-worthy tomorrow.

I recently pulled off old wallpaper in my tiny office only to find even worse wallpaper underneath. It was dark brown with bright orange flowers and green patches of grass. It was so painful, it was laughable. But at one time (probably the 70s) it was the height of fashion.

So, how do we achieve longevity?

--Ignore the current trends and write our own stories within the market of our choice.

--Steer away from the language of today because it won’t be the language of tomorrow. For example, any catch phrases, colloquialisms and clichéd expressions.

--Work with timeless themes. Romance and conflict will never date. Overcoming insurmountable odds will never date.

--Strive for quality. Strive to learn your craft, practice your craft and do your very best.

Does longevity matter to you? Can you think of other tricks to make your writing last?

42 comments:

  1. as much as I'd love to be a "trend" now- I'd rather have the longevity- because that's where my heart is...

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  2. I believe longevity is the characteristic of the work which was made to profoundly influence readers and the whole world. We remember only those books which helped many people or even humanity to make a step forward in becoming better.

    These trendy books don't do that. Your book needs to be larger than life to achieve that. Write about the truth, about the essence, about great messages and lessons, about great imagination. Do not follow trends, and do not force your writing.

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  3. Longevity would be a dream come true. I kind of feel that my writing at least at this point is more trendy than classic bound. I'm not forcing anything, just letting it flow. It's a great thing to think about!

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  4. I would love longevity. To hit as anything to begin would be great. If a flash in the pan makes me wealthy, I won't complain.

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  5. Summer - follow your heart. Trends are tempting, but if you think about how much work goes into writing a novel only for it disappear in 3 months...eek!

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  6. Dezmond, you nailed it. It's a big call to be able to achieve all the things you listed, but that's why there are only a small percentage of books that become classics.

    Do you think that every 'classic' has to be well written to "profoundly influence" readers? Or is it mere popularity that gives some books long life?

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  7. Michelle, same here. My writing doesn't break any barriers, it doesn't stand out as something entirely new (which is getting harder these days anyway)... but I hope it engages people because it's strong on story and characters. Even a trendy story can stand out if it's quality (imo).

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  8. M Pax, you made me laugh..but it's true too. Even if we don't always want to admit it. Wealth from our writing is a kind of validation that at least we are getting SOMEthing right.

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  9. well, there are a lot of classics which I've never liked or respected, so they don't have a profound influence on me personally :( but I guess they were innovative in certain way and thus they moved literature a step forward. But they were original in something and that's also what counts even if I don't like them personally.

    Another problem is the massive number of books and writers we have today - it was easier making a classic before when there wasn't a mass production which swallows up pearls and gems.

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  10. I would love to be one of those amazing writers who goes down in history as the originator of the trend. Until that happens, I'll be working my butt off, learning everything I can.

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  11. Dezmond - yes. I'm not a huge fan of many classics. I've been slowly slogging through Moby Dick but some days I want to stab my eyes out with a fork (not literally) because it is so slow. But, at the same time, I can appreciate the quality in the book.

    Yep, you make an excellent point. Mass production makes everything harder. I think the modern mentality also has changed. Society wants things quick. We are less likely to stop and appreciate all the aspects of a good book. Instead, we go looking for the next good thing.

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  12. Emily, Is it something you aim for? You have a great approach though. Hard work pays off in more ways than can be imagined.

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  13. The older I get, the more I yearn for longevity. :o)

    But yes, I want to be in it for the long haul.

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  14. I think that is the dream of every writer but I know for me it won't happen until I write a ton more books and then the chances are slim.

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  15. Some days I want my word to live forever and some days, I want to be able to afford a cup of coffee. Although I want to write for longevity. I sometimes think that being able to support myself is important to. Now, if I could just combine the both somehow.

    CD

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  16. As much as I would like to live forever, sparkles and all, for now I think it would be cool to catch the eye of an agent. Truth be told only a handful of books really last forever. In the past 30 years Tuck Everlasting is the only book in the Middle Grade genre that I would consider to be long standing, but hundreds of books are published a year.

    Will Grayson Will Grayson is VERY timely, which is why it was so fresh to read, will it last the test of time? Probably not.

    There was a point to all of this but I forgot it.

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  17. Easier said than done, unfortunately. But I've never been one to follow trends (in fact, I dislike most of them, ie Twilight) and will always write what I feel can make a lasting impression on someone. Yeah, there are plenty of squeamish people out there who balk at violence and so forth and only want to read what'll make them "happy," but that's never been my own intention.

    I try to write what is real and that which can affect something profound in the reader.

    So I guess the ultimate secret to longevity is desiring to make a difference. You do that by looking into yourself, not following the LAZY path of most other authors, who will be remembered for their sales and "cool" plots, and only that.

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  18. My heart aches to write a picture book that tells a story that means something to the world. One that will be considered timeless and will hold a special place in the hearts of it's readers, just like some of the ones in my personal library....

    Boy, do I feel exposed now....

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  19. i don't know, i just write what i like... i've never been trendy (at all). i never really thought about longevity.
    right now i'm just trying to learn to write the best i can. who knows if my story will resonate with anyone but me? i think i would just be happy with other people simply enjoying my work for any amount of time.

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  20. Great post as always Lynda. I absolutely want to write a story that will stand the test of time. However, the story that stormed into my head most recently is pretty trendy. I tried to infuse it with some timeless elements, (I mean really timeless, like they Odyssey) and I tried to keep the contemporary language to those phrases that have stood the test of time. But I can't say this will feel fresh/contemporary 20 years from now.

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  21. Longevity does matter to me. I also want my book on the shelves in the Library of Congress- it would be there a long time!

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  22. Maria, yep, I hear you ;)

    Terri, you never know. You could just write THAT book. I know from your blog you are writing from your heart, so it's a good start.

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  23. Clarissa, you don't think the two could go together? Oh wait, Meville's success only happened after his lifetime I think.

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  24. Erinn, lol.. I think your point was that it doesn't seem to happen anymore. But it's hard to make predictions about the books of the now because we are still in the now. I do think our mentality may have changed. Everything moves so much faster these days and we are always looking forward to the NEXT big thing.

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  25. Amanda, I think those who write what they feel in their hearts, what is real, avoiding current trends, have a greater chance of gaining longevity. People respond to honesty because so few are willing to go that direction. We feel a need to fit in.

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  26. Sharon, It's not easy, but I hope your dream comes true.

    Aspiring, aspiring to be your best is one of the greatest things you can do. i don't think any of the classic writers set out to become a "classic writer". It happened because they worked hard and gave their best.

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  27. Melissa, not even the classics feel fresh anymore, but we can appreciate what they are. We still respond to their words and stories. It does help to take out the contemporary language though.

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  28. Stephanie, now that would be awesome! As an aside: In so many scifi movies of the future that library so often still remains regardless of the ruins around it ;)

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  29. When you first start writing, you're just writing. Something, the story or the characters or something, compels you to write. You're probably not thinking so much about longevity. And I don't know that everyone writes for that.

    I think universal emotions are part of that longevity formula.

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  30. Lynda..I would love it if my books achieve longevity. That would be a dream come true. We should be true to ourselves, write stories that we feel passionate about instead of blindly following trends.

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  31. I must disagree with Dezmond that we remember only the books that made humanity better. There are plenty of books that did not do that, but still made an important mark--opened a discussion, debate, and even argument. Take The Da Vinci Code, for example. I wouldn't argue that made us better, except for informing some about pieces of the art world.

    When I write, I don't want to create something that will be a whisper barely heard or quickly forgotten, but I also don't think it's possible to intend to write a classic. That would be pompous.

    Great question!

    Michele
    Emily Dickinson biographer on SouthernCityMysteries

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  32. I would knock having written a trendy piece of work that made me a good chunk of money. Making a living at writing is one of my goals after all. But at the same time writing something that would be read and appreciated for years to come would be very nice. I think to do this one must have universal, timeless themes; memorable characters; and allusions that will be recognized for years to come. Writing hip and in the now will be dated in years to come.

    Lee
    Tossing It Out

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  33. Helen, yes definitely. We will always be driven by the same emotions, no matter how much society changes.

    Rachna, yep, sometimes we put our passion aside in the hope of getting published, but it only hurts our chances, I think... And, of course, it damages the longevity factor.

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  34. Michele, that's the big question of quality versus popularity. Many of the popular books of today are not necessarily written well or have anything grand to say. But they hang around anyway. Story is a big factor. We love a good story and sometimes we don't want to think too much. We just want a good, fun read. It's unlikely these books will be called classics in years to come -- but then again, they might.

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  35. Arlee, I'd have to agree: making a living from writing would be a great thing. Sometimes trendy writing can do that, sometimes classic style writing can do that also.

    Writing memorable characters is a good tip. We should really be doing that anyway whether we write to a trend or not.

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  36. Well, I believe that longevity does matter to me. I want to be remembered for the greatness of my works and my originality and I cannot do that by following fads and trends that other authors do. I want to be read a hundred years later and still have an effect on all my readers. To touch a person's heart and mind with my words, that is my only goal and if I can achieve that with my stories and my characters even in the future, then that is my ultimate goal.

    Write on and do it for yourself, not for trends!

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  37. Vatche, In 100 years no one will be reading. They'll have stories inserted directly into their brains. Hopefully yours will be one of them. You certainly have the passion for it. :)

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  38. Some great thoughts on this post and in the comments. I would like to strive for longevity. I don't know if I can. But I'll try in my own way!

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  39. Lydia, Trying is the best we can do. To try "in our own way" is probably the answer (as opposed to trying in someone else's way).

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  40. I want to have longevity, but I think I, and other artists, can do that without necessarily needing to be timeless(not necessarily period-specific like the 70s wallpaper). I think it would be just as grand to have written something that said something about a specific time, about certain attitudes and states of civilization that will have changed either for better or worse.

    Also, it's not terribly important for me to be known and appreciated after I'm gone artistically speaking. I do hope what I write helps people, though, and I hope that continues long after I'm gone.

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  41. Hi all, I am a newly published children's author. I really feel out of my depth with the whole concept of blogging. At my publisher's recommendation I started a blog but I am sure I am not using it to my best advantage. The trouble is I just don't know enough about it to know where to start. Please I am begging for help with this as I really need some exposure for my work. I would be eternally grateful for any help you can give me.

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  42. Hi Marnie, blogging can be daunting to start with. Feel free to email me with any questions you have. I'm more than happy to share some tips with you :)

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