Jay Lake (jaylake) wrote,
Jay Lake


I'm sitting here in the coffee house Not Writing a Story (a condition which I assure you will soon be cured), and thinking about an IM chat I had this morning with another writer. We were talking about legacies, what you leave behind when you die. Perhaps not coincidentally, scalzi had an interesting take on this a day or two ago.

I disagree somewhat with the eminent Mr. S. He said:

My work is meant to be read now. If it survives and is enjoyable 20 or 40 years in the future, excellent; I'll be happy to enjoy the royalties and the low-to-moderate notability it provides. But I don't worry about writing for the ages; the ages will decide what they want to read by themselves, and I won't be around to care either way.

Call me egotistical, but I do want to write enduring prose. I don't think that makes me pretentious, or in any real danger of disappearing up my own existenz, but I have an eye on the Long Now.

Here's how I see it...I have a series of footprints in this life. Carbon footprint, information footprint, financial footprint, etc. Virtually all of those will crumble at my death, perhaps walking home from the coffee house this evening, perhaps in a pressurization accident aboard an orbiting hotel shortly after my 113th birthday. I figure I'll leave three things of substance behind me1:

  • the_child
  • The memories of me in the minds of my family and friends
  • My writing

No one else is going to care where I went or what I did or how many press releases I wrote at work or what my cats' names were. Those things are ephemeral, however important they might be to me in the moment.

But my writing might reach beyond me. I mean this both in the current sense, as Scalzi talks about -- entertaining people and helping pay my mortgage -- but also in the sense of posterity. I can't help it, it's how I'm wired in my contemplation of mortality. I don't write for the ages, I write to tell a story. But one of my fond and secret hopes is that some or another of those stories will have staying power, beyond the footprint that I carry with me through life.

Is this egotistical? Probably. But the very act of writing for publication is profoundly egotistical. Every time I write a story or a book, I make the over-the-top assumption that people want to hear what I have to say. The fact that anyone does is a continuing source of amazement and pleasure to me. Frankly, I hope I never lose that private sense of wonder.

Is this foolish? Most likely. So what? It gets me to the keyboard and keeps me there. It makes me happy. And hell, I might be right. Somebody's got to win the lottery, after all.

In the end, I have chosen to be a producer as well as a consumer. If I have a legacy that endures beyond my immediate circle of family and friends, it will be through my acts as that producer. I've been lucky enough to discover that this is deeply important to me, and more to the point discover it at a time in my life when I could do something about it. This is the gift the world has given to me.

Do you hear the wind from the future when you write? What dust lands in the corner of your eye from time to time?

1. Well, three things of substance, plus my credit card bills.
Tags: personal, process, writing

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