Woody Allen and the art of letting go

Woody Allen has got his head screwed on.  He knows how to let go.

photo by Gilberto Viciedo

photo by Gilberto Viciedo

Allen told the New York Times that he never rewatches his films after they are made:

“I’ve never once in my life seen any film of mine after I put it out. Ever. I haven’t seen ‘Take the Money and Run’ since 1968. I haven’t seen ‘Annie Hall’ or ‘Manhattan’ or any film I’ve made afterward. If I’m on the treadmill and I’m scooting through the channels, and I come across one of them, I go right past it instantly, because I feel it could only depress me. I would only feel, ‘Oh God, this is so awful, if I could only do that again.'” [Source]

He doesn’t want to feel that itch to improve the past.  There’s no point in being embarrassed now.  That type of worry is redundant.

I also admire Allen’s drive to start working on a new project as soon as he finishes the last.  Always moving ahead, never looking at what’s passed.

I’m sure he still learns from mistakes and takes from experiences.  But he won’t dwell.  Neither will he panic about the future.

Compare this with Jenny Diski’s comment in this fortnight’s London Review of Books:

“It’s absolutely true that writing a book doesn’t make you happy (it’s never good enough while you’re writing it or after you’ve finished it, and anyway what about the next one).”

I can’t say how happy Woody Allen is when he’s writing screenplays, but he does manage the situation well:

  • It may never be good enough, but he cracks on with that understanding.
  • He lets go once the project is finished.
  • The next project is a challenge worth starting right away.

How do you use this as a student?

Whatever you do, be ready to let go:

  • Let go of research.  You’ll never know everything.  The aim is to have *enough*.
  • Perfection is not attainable.  Letting go before it’s perfect is necessary, not shameful.
  • When you hand work in, let go of that burden.  Stop thinking of ways to improve on writing style (at least until it’s handed back).
  • When you let go of one project, grab hold of the next as soon as possible.

What do you need to stop dwelling on?  What is your next project going to be?

3 comments

  1. It’s the habit of many people to cling to what have been without realizing that they can do nothing to change it. As a consequence they have become blind to what the present has to offer. 🙂

  2. @Euforilla, I often find that information relevant to students can work just as well elsewhere. Many thanks for the comment!

    @Walter, what you can’t change may be frustrating, so you’re right that there’s no use in clinging to it.

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