Turn up

My personal favourite line of Woody Allen’s is from the book jacket biog he wrote for himself: “Woody Allen’s one regret is that he is not someone else”. But I’d like to offer you this alternative:

I think that the biggest life lesson I learned as a boy that has helped me and is still with me is that you really have to discipline yourself to do the work. If you want to accomplish something you can’t spend a lot of time hemming and hawing, putting it off, making excuses for yourself, and figuring ways. You have to actually do it. I have to go home every single day, no matter where I am in a world, no matter what I’m doing, and putting 30 to 45 minutes of practice on my clarinet because I want to play. I have to do it. When I want to write, you get up in the morning, go in and close the door and write.

You can’t string paper clips, and get your pad ready, and turn your phone off, and get this, get coffee made. You have to do the stuff. Everything in life turns out to be a distraction from the real thing you want to do. There are a million distractions and when I was a kid I was very disciplined. I knew that the other kids weren’t. I was the one able to do the thing, not because I had more talent, maybe less, but because they simply weren’t applying themselves.

As a kid I wanted to do magic tricks. I could sit endlessly in front of mirror, practicing, practicing, because I knew if you wanted to do the tricks you’ve got to do the thing. I did that with the clarinet, when I was teaching, I did that with writing. This is the most important thing in my life because I see people striking out all the time. It’s not because they don’t have talent, or because they don’t want to be, but because they don’t put the work in to do it. They don’t have the discipline to do it.

This was something I learned myself. I also had a very strict mother who was no nonsense about that stuff. She said ‘If you don’t do it, then you aren’t going to be able to do the thing.’ It’s as simple as that. I said this to my daughter, if you don’t practice the guitar, when you get older you wouldn’t be able to play it. It’s that simple. If you want to play the guitar, you put a half hour in everyday, but you have to do it. This has been the biggest guiding principle in my life when I was younger and it stuck.

I made the statement years ago which is often quoted that 80 percent of life is showing up. People used to always say to me that they wanted to write a play, they wanted to write a movie, they wanted to write a novel, and the couple of people that did it were 80 percent of the way to having something happen. All the other people struck out without ever getting that pack. They couldn’t do it, that’s why they don’t accomplish a thing, they don’t do the thing, so once you do it, if you actually write your film script, or write your novel, you are more than half way towards something good happening. So that I was say my biggest life lesson that has worked. All others have failed me.

Woody Allen Interview ‘Vicky Cristina Barcelona’ – Frosty, Collider.com (15 August 2008)

It’s not possible to feature Woody Allen without thinking of the same things that make some of his films uncomfortable. Yes, this interview was done in promotion of Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It’s easy to say that this is the worst film ever made – so let’s. It’s astoundingly awful. Writer Ken Levine has a better take on it than I will ever manage because after five minutes I felt inspired to get on with my work.

So, you know, Allen is a productivity guru of a sort.

Though I’ve got to say that Midnight in Paris is as good as advertised.

Go ahead, worry some more

A friend used to write for Z Cars, back when it was done live, and he told me once that they used to place buckets in between the sets. For the actors to throw up in as they ran between scenes. I once had a pitch meeting where I was so scared I arrived early, opened the car door in the carpark and vomited.

I then went into the pitch meeting and did it again, more metaphorically.

So clearly vomit is key. But if you go through this, you also go through the circle of worrying why you worry, you wonder if you’re inadequate. And then if you’re ever a little bit okay about something, you worry why you aren’t worrying. You worry if you’re now less adequate still. And of course you wonder why you went into this stupid career or how you ever thought you could this stupid thing.

But that might be okay.

New research from East Asia provides a solution for this apparent paradox. It finds that, for certain people, worry can actually enhance creativity.

Call it the Woody Allen effect.

“The emotions that benefit creativity may not be the same for all individuals,” concludes a research team led by psychologist Angela Leung of Singapore Management University.

If worry is your default state, intensifying it slightly may actually prompt more flexible thinking.
Its study finds that, when the pressure is on, worry appears to be a motivating force for neurotic people. “Higher levels of intrinsic motivation in turn predict greater flexibility in idea generation,” the researchers add in the journal Emotion.

Leung and her colleagues describe three experiments that provide evidence for their thesis. One of them featured 274 Taiwanese university students, who began by filling out a questionnaire designed to measure intrinsic neuroticism. They were then asked to recall a happy, worrisome, or neutral experience.

Half were then instructed to memorize an eight-digit number, which they would later be asked to recall. This placed them in a stressful, high-cognitive-load state. The others memorized a two-digit number, a far easier task.

At that point, all were instructed to come up with “as many uses for a brick as possible.” After doing so, they recorded whether they found the experience interesting and fun.

The result: Under the heavy cognitive load, neurotic people displayed more flexible thinking after recalling worrisome events. This was in contrast to people low on the neuroticism scale, who displayed the most mental flexibility after recalling neutral events.

For Some, Worry Inspires Creativity – Tom Jacobs, Pacific Standard: the Science of Society (26 June 2014)

I don’t like the Woody Allen peg, that feels like an excuse for a stock photo when they’ve got nothing else to use. But at least it gives me an excuse for an apposite quote from him:

More than any other time in history, mankind faces a crossroads. One path leads to despair and utter hopelessness. The other, to total extinction. Let us pray we have the wisdom to choose correctly.

My Speech to the Graduates – Woody Allen, included in Complete Prose (Amazon UK, Amazon US (originally written 1979)

via 99u