Allegory of the Successful Author
There are several possible interpretations of The Republic by Plato. This is one interpretation by a modern outlaw writer.
Inspiration to create comes in endless forms. It pops up whenever it chooses, whether you’re prepared to capture it or not. Those of us who are thirsty for inspiration keep ourselves ready: Painters with their sketchbooks, Photographers with their cameras, Writers with our pencils. For the technologically advanced artist, sketches, snapshots, and scribbles can easily be captured with the latest mobile device. Technology provides ease of use, but you still have to provide the content.
My new Toshiba E205 laptop is fast, has Windows 7, the latest Microsoft Office, and my favorite, an illuminated keyboard. But, I’m still staring at a blank Word document and waiting for inspiration to translate through my fingertips. So far, nada...until this morning.
I’m currently on one of the easier curves of the roller coasters of stress that we all experience. This year has been hectic for a number of reasons that are too many and too boring to name. Who wants to hear complaints, whining, and excuses about stress, illness, family commitments, a new house, car problems, or just general lack of ideas? I’m not surprised to have had them all. Overwhelmed, yes, but not surprised. What surprises me is that I haven’t been able to work past them and find the time to write.
Today’s unexpected source of inspiration came from my cat. Yeah, I know. Don’t laugh. I take inspiration where I can get it.
Charlie sits perched on the window sill, his tail swishing lazily as he watches…whatever it is cats are interested in. He’ll perk up occasionally when a bird flutters by to tease him. But the real excitement doesn’t come until there’s enough sunshine pouring through the windows to cast shadows on the living room wall. Yes, my cat is a shadow chaser. You would think those blurry grey splotches were actually mice racing across the wall. Charlie was obviously entertained, but I wondered why he would rather chase the movements of shadows than the real things that passed outside the window. He knows the difference between shadow and real…right? Oh well. I was bored, so I kept watching him.
Eventually, Plato’s Allegory of the Cave came to mind. Picture a group of people imprisoned in a dark cave lit only by a fire they are unable to see. Their movements are severely constricted as to ensure their only source of stimulation would be the shadows and echoing sounds of the unseen objects, animals, and people that produced them.
The conditions of such an environment become reality for the prisoners. Their senses embrace the only reality afforded to them. Identifying the shadows and sounds becomes a societal goal. The person who is able to produce frequent answers is rewarded and respected by the others in the group.
One of the prisoners is released and given the opportunity to see the entirety of the cave. He now sees that the shadows and echoed sounds are only parts of the tangible things and beings that are passing in front of the fire. The flood of information is overwhelming. Acceptance comes to the former prisoner when he is led out of the cave and is able to see the true reality of the world that exists outside the cave. Unrestricted, his senses are able to experience everything he was once denied.
He returns to the cave and his companions. He’s certain they’ll see his newly acquired knowledge for the gift that he believes it to be. Instead, his revelations are met with suspicion and contempt. Changes to the comfort of their perceived reality are unwanted by the prisoners.
Upon remembering the story, I felt the burden of stress about my writing progress begin to lighten. I realized I had been experiencing the same concept of Plato’s allegory, under different circumstances. I know several writers of varying degrees of skill and success. Publishing success is often a friendly competition between fellow writers. We update each other, talk about our ideas and upcoming projects, exchange praise or rants about the successes and failures of the creative writing process, and support each other on social networking sites.
Recently, I let myself become influenced by the progress of other writers. I’ve been steadfastly working on my first novel during the past year. By the time I’ve finished a chapter, another author is announcing yet another of their books to debut via e-publishing.
I know a few writers whose work has popularity that I can’t fathom the reason for. I started to become disillusioned by the progress of writers whose work I believe lacked substance, and e-publishers who judged manuscripts by low standards of quality. I found the praise given to those works to be misguided.
Is that what the reading public wants to fill their Kindles and Nooks with? I don’t like the idea or want to accept it. But, I have to. Creative fiction is subjective. What I don’t have to do, I realized, is measure my success by that of a small community of writers, readers, and publishers whose methods I don’t agree with.
We’re all entitled to our personal opinions. Every way of a man is right in his own eyes. But let's ponder the heart...here’s mine: Picture Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This time, in place of the chained prisoners sits a group of writers churning out book after book of fiction for inexpensive downloads and cheaply printed paperback. Their poorly-written prose is little more than mind candy, mass-produced mediocrity eagerly flooded into the book market by the kind of publishing house willing to promote any manner of writing that will provide temporary, instant gratification for the reading public who then quickly devours it without even remembering the title or the author’s name.
If your writing friends are happy with their mass-produced publishing success, let them be. They’re happy. Even if you believe they have the potential to improve, let them be. They’d rather bite off your arm than hear a critique suggesting that their book is anything but stellar.
There are different levels, different types of success. Every writer needs to define for themselves what success means to them and then stick by it. Fast food fiction is for writers, readers, and publishers who relegate creative prose to having value equal to that of a burger on the Dollar Menu at McDonald’s. I’d rather attract readers who think my work is worth the price of hard-cover print. *Inhales deeply…Ahhh dontcha just love the scent and feel of a new book?
Detecting some judgmental bitterness? Could be, but this is Outlaw’s pRose. ;)
“Writing without fear.”
P.S. Charlie does manage to catch his shadowy prey. Of course pouncing on a wall shadow includes smacking against the wall then sliding down behind the sofa. But it never stops the second and third attempts…