Authors have a tendency to be myopic. For all the energy we place into writing imaginative prose, we generally don’t extend that imagination to our own careers. We think in terms of a three- to six-month book launch or perhaps, if we’re playing the long game, we give our newest release a year to find its following and gain traction. But recently two very different subjects came to my attention—the first a blog and the second a video—that caused me to rethink the life and purpose of a book—and you should, too.
The blog was from Richard Branson, billionaire founder of the Virgin set of companies. His question was simple: what is your business doing to change the world? An author’s business is their writing, so I turned the question around as I pondered it: what am I writing to change the world? I’ve written numerous times of authors whose books altered the course of history by bringing attention to the plights of those less fortunate, to shining light on injustices, leading to change. Science fiction authors have inspired countless inventors that have led to everything from robots to rockets to smart watches. Medical technology such as prosthetic legs was inspired by fiction. Questioning old belief systems often begins with reading.
When I watched a video about the Voynich Manuscript, it further cemented my philosophy that authors should not view their books as an extension of themselves but as something separate that could—in fact, should—take on a life of their own. The Voynich Manuscript, so named after the book dealer Wilfrid Voynich who purchased the book in 1912, is a handwritten, illustrated codex. Though countless code breakers, including the best and brightest from both World War I and World War II have studied it extensively, no one has been able to decipher it. It is believed to have been written between 1404 and 1438 and possibly in Northern Italy. A plethora of writers, both famous and obscure, have been pondered as the possible author but as of this writing, no one truly knows who wrote it and what it says.
What struck me is that approximately 600 years after a writer carefully crafted this manuscript by hand (using the skin of four cows to do so), the world was trying to determine who wrote it and what it says. Imagine if your manuscript was found in the year 2618. What would it tell that future generation? Would it peel back the layers of life in this time, providing information on how the average person functions without the futuristic gadgetry sure to be invented? Would it speak of animals and plant life long extinct? Would it provide lessons in history? Or would it be a timeless tale of romance, of adventure, of a life’s journey?
Anyone reading this article today will most likely have passed on by the year 2088 and some will be gone before the end of this decade. But our words live on. Your books will live on. Even if your books go out of print, they will survive in someone’s library, someone’s possession. Perhaps their children will read it or their children’s children or it will be passed on to someone else entirely. Each time it is picked up again, it begins a new chapter of its life, imparting its wisdom, its characters, its scenes, its backdrops, its plots into a different mind. That mind may remember your words and may be inspired to do something in their own life—from inventing to travelling to a myriad of other possibilities.
What messages do you want your book to take forward into future generations long after you have passed away?
I would love to know what books you have written or are writing and how they can alter a reader’s perception, change the world, or make the world a better place.
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