Last week, as I was driving home from my day job, I set my iPod to shuffle and settled into the flow of traffic. The Moody Blues “Forever Afternoon” was perfect for unwinding, a melodic story within the context of the album and still fresh after 43 years. The next song was BU2B by Rush, a song so new it’s not even on a disk yet by a band that’s been around 43 years. Wow.
I had one of those moments where a snatch of conversation from earlier in the day, the two songs playing adjacent and my own quest to find a place for my writing exploded into one word: relevance. What is the magic elixir that made classic musicians like the Moody Blues, Zeppelin and the Beatles survive the wearing away cynicism of time? How about Rush? Their music catalog is full of timeless songs and still their new music is fresh and …. well, relevant. Trust me; I too feel some days “I’m ahead of the wheel and the next it’s rolling over me”. Really, “It’s just the kind of day to leave myself behind”. See what I mean?
Certain emotions and human experiences remain the same no matter the year or generation. Tapping into that crosses time. Being original, being a leader at what you do will set you apart and make it hard to date your work. Techno pop had its day, but it sure sounds retro these days when I hear A Flock of Seagulls on the radio. The best compliment you get is how great your writing is, not how much your book is like so and so the famous author.
Keep in mind this is hard work. You have to dig deep to be original. However, as you pull in collective human experience, your plot and characters are becoming real, breathing elements for your readers. Your story will take on new turns and layered dimensions. Relevance cements the connection between you and your reader and in ten or twenty years you will still have a connection.
I’m now looking at my current work and thinking about how well I’ve layered my themes and character motivations. Will it be relevant in ten years? Have I created a unique voice for them?
I’m not sure if I could name one book that has stood the test of time for me, there are so many that I love still and go back to on occasion to reread a passage. My favorite passage? That’s easy: Henry David Thoreau’s Walden. “I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”