The keenest sorrow is to recognize ourselves as the sole cause of all of our adversities. ~Sophocles
In the movie, Cool Hand Luke, Paul Newman portrays a rebellious but composed man whose tenacious rebellion inspires every other prisoner on the chain gang. Everyone wants to see him win.
When Luke arrives at the prison camp he is introduced to the rules.
A Night In the Box The floor guard recites the rules:
- "You remember your number and always wear the ones that has your number. Any man forgets his number spends a night in the box."
- "These here spoons you keep with you. Any man loses his spoon spends a night in the box."
- "Last bell is at eight. Any man not in his bunk at eight spends the night in the box."
- "To smoke you must have both legs over the side of your bunk. Any man caught smoking in the prone position in bed spends a night in the box."
It's relentless. Obviously, the night in the box is supposed to break the will of any rebellious prisoners who don't get with the program. Sometimes we writers spend a night in the box. We break our own wills simply by thinking wrong.
Luke, Don't Let Them Break You The entire point of the movie and Luke's character is to not let them break you.
Get Your Mind Right Later, news comes that Luke's mother has died. Luke feels untethered now and decides to make a break for it. He escapes and the act of rebellion uplifts all the prisoners. They silently root for his escape. But, later that night the prison guards capture Luke, drag him in and stand him up before the leader of the camp known as Captain. Captain says, "Luke, you got to get your mind right." They throw him in the box.
Prisoners of Our Own Weak Belief Sometimes we are prisoners of our own weak belief. We question ourselves and begin to doubt we can write. We talk to ourselves, "hey get your mind right. Forget about this writing stuff." We sink in a morass of doubt.
Learn from Luke. Rebel against it. Even when you're spending a night in the box, don't let it beat you. Luke runs multiple times, but each time they catch him. They are relentless.
Most Famous Movie Line The next time he escapes and they bring him back, Captain is even angrier, but he knows he'll break Luke. That's when Captain says one of the most famous lines of all movie history: "What we have here is... failure to communicate." They throw him in the box.
Dig a Ditch, Fill It In Again, Repeat Process Luke escapes again and they bring him back again. They are relentless. Writing feels like that sometimes. When they bring him back this time they make him dig a ditch, fill it in, dig it out again and fill it again. All night long he works. It is relentless. At times writing feels just like that.
Finally he is beat. "Please, Captain," he begs. "I'll be good." Luke walks inside the prison hut and the other prisoners see him in his weakness and they hate him for it. They loved the rebel, but they hate this broken coward who now represents their own weakness. It's often the same way with writers. We don't want any weakness near us, and when we are the cause of our own weakness then the self-loathing kicks in.
But, Hope Everyone thinks Luke is beaten. But something stirs within him. He isn't going to let them get him down. He runs again. When you can't see what the future holds, then you have faith. Hang on.
Take Up Your Pen, In Rebellion, and Write, even when you're down and out.
Fight those feelings of failure. Ignore them and keep writing. Get out of the box. Learn what you can to make your writing better, but keep on going. Get back in there and write something you enjoy.
You can quit if you like, just make sure that you keep on writing.
I hope this has offered you some inspiration in a time when you needed it.
Keep on learning, keep on writing.
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