What Woody Allen Can Teach You About Creating

Image: Woody Allen glassesDid you catch the Woody Allen documentary that’s been playing on PBS recently?

Whatever you might think about his movies or his personal life, he is an amazing example of creativity and getting out of one’s own way.

He’s made (and written) a movie every year for forty years. That’s a shitload of films. And writing.

I’ve only seen a handful of his movies, but here’s what struck me about his career:

He’s not afraid to fail.

When making Annie Hall, people who read the script were concerned because it was so different from his previous films. He chose to sacrifice some of the laughs to be able to create a richer story, knowing that the worst that would happen is that he’d make a fool out of himself.

(Funny, but I’ve always been really frightened of making a fool of myself.)

Then, after the success of Annie Hall, he chose to work at the very edge of his comfort zone again, by making Interiors, which wasn’t a comedy at all. He took a lot of flak for that movie, but here’s what he had to say about it:

I get more pleasure out of failing in a project I’m enthused over than succeeding in a project I know I can do well.

He made that movie because that’s what he wanted to make, and he made it knowing that he wouldn’t have control over the reception.

Notice that being unafraid to fail doesn’t guarantee you success. There will be failures, but “failure” itself is subjective.

Although nobody said it explicitly, I didn’t get the impression that Woody Allen actually sees Interiors as a failure, even though it got panned.

But the opposite is true when it comes to Manhattan.

He hated how that film turned out so much that he offered to make another film for free if United Artists would agree not to release it.

But here’s the thing: People loved that movie. Critics loved it, too.

The point

We each have our own personal flavors of fear and resistance toward certain projects.

But here are two of the really big reasons most of us avoid getting down to the business of creating.

1. We worry about how our creation will be received by others.

2. We worry that the finished product won’t match up with with the perfect, beautiful vision we had for it in the beginning.

We definitely don’t have control over the first. Once we release something into the world, it’s up to the audience (in whatever form applies to your business) to decide how they’ll respond.

And though it seems like we really ought to have control over the second, I don’t think we do. Not fully, anyway.

Our vision for a project is born of a different world. A world without the challenges of the one we live in.

Yet the world we live in – the world of form – is where we have to go from idea to finished creation.

So of course the end product will rarely match our vision 100%.

The problem comes in when we project ourselves into the future, and try to guess how our creation will turn out.

It’s a waste of time and energy, because we don’t control the outcome.

This projecting-into-the-future crap is not an easy thing to stop doing, but we can’t create from that place.

Where to start

Focus on the process. If you’re a writer, write. If you’re a painter, paint. If you’re a teacher, teach.

Try to count the time you spend doing your work as a win, regardless of the amount of progress you make (or don’t).

Remind yourself why you’re creating what you’re creating. What are you learning? How are you making your people’s lives better?

If you notice that you’ve scampered off to the future, worrying about the outcome of your project, gently bring yourself back to your Why.

Know that creating is inherently valuable regardless of the outcome. And that with practice, it will get easier.

Psst! Starting March 8, I’m sharing the best tools I know to help you create stuff that will grow your business and help your Right People. Learn how to go from Idea to Finished Creation with less second-guessing and more consistent, sustainable progress in Project Prowess.

(Image credit: feelingsofnostalgia)

5 thoughts on “What Woody Allen Can Teach You About Creating

  1. Kylie

    It’s really hard to remember that creating is valuable, regardless of outcome. Our world feels so very results-oriented to me. I suppose that, because of that, creating for its own sake is an act of rebellion against the status quo. And I like the sound of that.

  2. Yolanda

    True True True.

    When I was a film student I had this problem big time. I had a vision for what the end product would look like and feel and it was really hard to achieve. Especially as a student using school equipment and doing it all yourself! It was hard to get past but when I look at those little short films now I see stuff I would never have seen back then.

    It is hard to be truly satisfied with what we create, whatever form it takes in business or otherwise. If every creation was spot on every time how would we ever grow?

    Excellent post… thinking I need to see that documentary!

  3. Dave

    I enjoyed reading about Woody Allen and his creative approach. I also like what you said here:

    “Our vision for a project is born of a different world. A world without the challenges of the one we live in.”

    That vision at the start of the creative process is often what sinks me. It’s the place my perfectionism digs its claws in and starts to mess things up. It’s such good advice to remember that early vision is comes removed from reality, and all the challenges that live there.

  4. Victoria Post author

    @Kylie – Thanks, Kylie! You’re right – creating for its own sake is an act of rebellion! It’s been quite a while since I’ve felt rebellious. :)

    @Yolanda – Oh my goodness…if Woody Allen occasionally has trouble making his films match his vision, I can’t imagine how much harder that would be with student budgets and equipment. And you’re right – NOT having the product match the vision is what keeps creating stuff fun and challenging (when it’s not heart-breaking and crazy-making!). Thanks for sharing a bit about your film-making experience, Yolanda!

    @Dave – It’s such a tough thing to accept for perfectionists – I’m one, too! All the more reason to create the things we truly want to create, and to try to make the process as enjoyable as possible. (One of those “simple but not easy” tasks, right? :) Thanks, Dave!

  5. Kathy @BlissHabits

    Thanks for linking this terrific post in my Creativity hop! I wonder how often I’ve stopped because I thought things wouldn’t turn out the way I wanted. Thanks for reminding me to return to the Why!

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