In his book Perennial Seller: The Art of Making and Marketing Work that Lasts, author Ryan Holiday discusses British literary critic Cyril Connolly and his unlikely ability to remain relevant. Connolly wrote Enemies of Promise in 1938, where he inquires about the questions artists ask each other and themselves.
His unusual book existed outside of mainstream culture and never became a trendy topic of discussion. Yet, it has endured political revolutions, wars, new technologies, fads, and more.
Here’s what Holiday wrote about the subject:
Connolly managed to do what few artists can do: He made something that stood the test of time. His words still hold up and are still read. Cyril was quotable in his day and he’s quoted today. The book has far outlived him and almost everything else published around the same time, retaining for Connolly a cult following decades after his death. And most impressively, given the subject matter, this success wasn’t some accident.
Holiday goes on to discuss other perennial phenomenons like Zildjian and Fiskars, two companies that have been around for centuries. He questions why Shakespeare and other deceased playwrights and philosophers have their content available for free online, but somehow still sell hundreds of thousands of copies every year.
What is it about Connolly's theories on the creative process that have remained relevant?
Why do companies like Zildjian or Fiskars stand the test of time, when so many around them fail?
Is there a pattern of obtaining lasting success that every creative person can follow?
How do we create something that not only transcends the test of time, but grows stronger everyday?
There must be a reason that certain pieces of work endure — and will continue to do so.
The Key Lies Between Patience and Opportunity
A majority of artists will say they desire to create something in the name of longevity, but there benchmarks for success are incredibly shortsighted. We have a tendency to measure popularity in likes and followers, bestseller lists, and external “buzz”, like featured blog posts or podcasts.
This mindset has lead us in the wrong direction.
To exist in the tier of untouchables, who have managed to stand the test of time, your goal cannot exist in the now. It must be bigger than that.
As Holiday mentions, it is not a coincidence that Connolly remained relevant. He intentionally sought this outcome. He developed the lasting success that myself and many others only dream of. A piece of work that will be consumed and sold years after its creation, that makes money while I sleep, and remains profitable even after I’ve moved on to other endeavors.
There has to be a reason why only certain things stick. Why a movie can flop on opening day at the box office and then grow a niche audience of fanatics ten years later. Why kids born in the 21st century still listen to the Beatles and Rolling Stones.
Honestly, it comes down to a rather simple conclusion.
Why Most People Will Probably Fail
An average entrepreneur, author, artist, musician, blogger, or actor will focus on the moment; whatever is cool and profitable. They desire an immediate payoff. These people may taste momentary success, but will ultimately fall short.
A timeless Creative will focus on longevity. There goal isn’t to sell 2,000 copies on the first day. They want to sell 1 copy everyday for the next 2,000 years.
“Success is a journey, not a destination.”
We fail because we want to make money now, rather than creating a stable business model for the future. Our values are placed in instant gratification.
Shifting this mindset is not an easy task.
You must understand that the metrics we use to determine modern success are incredibly flawed. Having 20,000 Instagram followers doesn’t mean people will care who you are tomorrow.
Our society is built on the premise of “get rich quick schemes”and “overnight success stories”. Content is thrown at us from business leaders and entrepreneurial experts who pretend that they can give us the shortcuts to achieve immense levels of prosperity.
The problem is that we desire impact, before putting in the necessary cogs to make it sustainable.
When you finally learn to immerse yourself in a model of perennial ambition, your work will position itself to flourish beyond the present audience.
It will develop a platform that outlasts cultural change.
It will exist outside future marketing channels.
It will stand the test of time.
That needs to be every creators driving force- to last as long as possible. It is more powerful than money or fame, because those eventually fade. Only recognition lasts forever.
How can an artist make something that lasts for 10 years? It starts with a complete and total commitment to great work. If what you’re producing is average, it will never matter to anyone else.
“A great writer creates a world of his own and his readers are proud to live in it. A lesser writer may entice them in for a moment, but soon he will watch them filing out.”- Cyril Connolly
Your creative process must be top-notch, your dedication to the craft unwavering, and your finished product a work of brilliance. You must believe in your idea and yourself more than anything else.
Just remember that an idea isn’t enough- everyone has one. To stand the test of time, you have to actually create.
To thrive in a world that pushes short-term fame, and ultimately achieve longevity as a creator, you must determine your priorities.
If you want to remain ordinary, and fade into existence, then the path is easy.
If you want to be extraordinary, the path is much more difficult. But if you succeed, your work will live forever. Wouldn’t that be something?
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How Does An Artist Create Something That Lasts For 10 Years? was originally published in The Ascent on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.