Lessons from The Dead Poets Society

This week's writing tips is about the Dead Poets Society and the message and inspiration that film gives.
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Weekly Writing Tips - Lessons from The Dead Poets Society - Pictured: photo of Robin Williams from the film.

I remember the first time I watched Dead Poets Society; it was towards the end of the year in one of my English classes and my teacher wheeled out an archaic crt tv and popped in a vhs that I was fully prepared to doodle through. When Robin Williams was introduced in the opening scene, however, I was hooked. Like any other 90’s kid, I grew up with Williams and gave special attention to anything he did which absolutely worked in my favor for The Dead Poets Society.

It was a film about a group of boys coming of age in a prestigious school surrounded by professors and parents that cared less about their sons’ passions and dreams and more about whether they would be a doctor or a lawyer when they grew up. Then in walked Williams’ character John Keating who taught the boys to not only appreciate literature but also to learn how to appreciate their own lives through it.

He brought new life to dusty old quotes for the characters and movie goers alike- bland books about Walt Whitman or Shakespeare now became interesting as they were given a more meaningful context. Reading and writing were portrayed as integral to the human experience and rather than putting it at odds with math and science, Keating insists that all are noble pursuits; that science is necessary to sustain life but poetry is what we stay alive for.

I don’t think there was a single quote from Keating that didn’t rock my teenage brain and to this day, over a decade later, I still return to the film when I’m in need of inspiration or to be reminded that no matter how futile I’m afraid writing is, that there is worth to writing. That even daily journaling has meaning and to stay true to yourself and your passions. There are a few quotes in particular from Keating that stay with me when even the grind of life becomes too much and in true Robin Williams fashion, they always are able to bring a silver lining to even some of the worst days. Some of the most notable being:

"Carpe Diem; seize the day."

“You must strive to find your own voice because the longer you wait to begin, the less likely you are going to find it all."

“So avoid using the word ‘very’ because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired; he is exhausted. And don’t use very sad; use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys… to woo women. And in that endeavor, laziness will not do.”

“Just when you think you know something, you have to look at it in another way. Even though it may seem silly or wrong, you must try.”

“No matter what anybody tells you, words and ideas can change the world.


I know these are generally meant to be tips about writing and how to improve our crafts but as I mentioned in an earlier entry about working through burnout and writer's block, I think it’s important to surround yourself with things that inspire you. This movie not only inspires me to be daring and true to my voice in writing, but also that it’s important to work towards my own happiness and suck the marrow out of life.


Now Try This Writing Promp
Writing Prompt:

To quote from Whitman, "O me! O life!... of the questions of these recurring; of the endless trains of the faithless... of cities filled with the foolish; what good amid these, O me, O life?" Answer. That you are here - that life exists, and identity; that the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse. That the powerful play goes on and you may contribute a verse.
What will your verse be?

Writing Prompt:
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Author: Anna Ratzburg & Colin Murdy