Does Your Work Stand The Test of Time?

I was reading a piece by novelist and travel writer Paul Theroux in the Los Angeles Times recently, and he was asked about writing that stands up over the years. He said, “A lot of books that you read as a youth don’t stand up. “A Catcher in the Rye” didn’t stand up. “On the Road” didn’t stand up. Henry Miller doesn’t stand up. But at the time [when you’re 18], you’re thinking, “God, this is great!” Even “The Stranger,” Albert Camus, didn’t stand up. But … you rereadMadame Bovary” and you think, “My God, this is a masterpiece. This is the most wonderful book.”

It started me thinking. Will my work last? Is the writing, directing, or producing quality of my work good enough that it will still be relevant 50 or more years from now? What about you? Does your work stand up?

Here’s my question:  What do you think are the qualities about creative work that make it stand the test of time? I’d love to know your thoughts. Give me a list….


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  1. A story has to be about universally relatable human truths for it to stand the test of time. Hence why Dickens, Shakespeare etc are still so popular.

    Personally I think Catcher in the Rye does stand the test of time pretty well.

    Another example: The Lord of the Rings. It isn’t really about orcs and elves, its about the universal human struggle between good and evil, and the struggle to overcome evil within oneself. It’s also about growing up and change, the end of an era, etc. Pretty relatable stuff.

    With film it becomes more complicated, because directorial or editing styles (and even acting styles) can go out of fashion. Jules et Jim was no doubt dazzling in the 60s but that whole French new wave thing looks far less remarkable today.

    Generally I think the more classical the approach, the more timeless the film could potentially become. Raiders of the Lost Ark is a good example – if anything it looks if anything even better today than it did in 1981 and puts most if not all of today’s so-called summer blockbusters in the shade.

    By contrast, I am sure in thirty years, those (mostly) terrible found footage films will look dated and embarrasing.

  2. Often it’s the idea, story or concept that stands the test of time, rather than the product.

    Eg: ‘A Princess of Mars’ by Edgar Rice Burroughs was a popular book in 1917, but by today’s standards it’s not very well written. – However the blockbuster film ‘John Carter’ was a hit.

  3. Do you think it’s a waste of time to write a book that ONLY speaks to this particular time? I am writing a humorous book looking at life (2013) through the eyes of a zombie. Twenty minutes from now, the current zombie craze will be over…. and those zombies alive today will be dead.

    1. JT – I think there can be focused creative work for a particular time. I remember books about “Preppies,” and you’re right about Zombies. Although I do wonder why you couldn’t write about Zombies in a way that was so transcendent that it will still be relevant 50 years from now?

  4. Creative work should inspire anyone at anytime, even decades down the line. Work that makes the reader (viewer, listener) examine his situation or perspective will also survive. Regarding your work, Phil (and hopefully mine), if it serves the Kingdom, it will stand the test of time, both on this side and in Eternity. The test of time on this side may be short or long, depending on how it plays in God’s grand scheme. But if it helps you to hear, “Well done, faithful servant”, then you know that it stood THE test of time.

    Sometimes I think that we are consumed with leaving a legacy. And I think that we should be. God gifted each of us in unique ways and I believe that part of our duty is to exploit that gift to the full to make an impact on others, now and in the future. So be creative and channel it as a force for good and for the Kingdom.

  5. Raw human emotion transcends all generations in any situation. Being as brutally or beautifully honest about a situation/story has the greatest impact.

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