Did 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.
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.
(Image credit: feelingsofnostalgia)