Woody Allen’s Sensational Success Tip for Writers

Who is this guy, Woody, and why would he have any worthwhile tips for writers?

Wikipedia tells us that “Woody Allen (born December 1, 1935) is an award-winning American screenwriter, director, actor, comedian, author, and playwright, whose career spans over half a century. He is also a jazz clarinetist who performs regularly at small venues in Manhattan.”

Impressive. Woody has his own page on Wikipedia. But there’s nothing remarkable about that, right? After all, he’s famous. He was born to have his own page on Wikipedia, right?

Wait a minute.

Try being born a short, not-so-attractive male with a funny voice, can’t help but wisecrack even if it gets him in trouble, who becomes a geeky adolescent with a clarinet. None of that has Wikipedia or Hollywood fame stamped all over it.

It helps, of course, that he was naturally funny. Woody started making money from joke-writing while still in his teens. But these kinds of opportunities don’t usually stroll up to us and say, “Hey, wanna be paid for doing what you love?”

That’s why you have to do something sensational.

Eighty percent of success is showing up. ~ Woody Allen

Was that the sensational tip she promised? Boo, hiss.

In my own defense, one definition of sensational is adj. extraordinarily good; conspicuously excellent; phenomenal. The quote is deceptively simple, and it doesn’t sound sensational when you first meet it. But the results that can be had from applying it can be, over time.

So what happens when a writer shows up?

For me, showing up over and over again—and doing the writing even when it felt like dreadful rubbish—eventually cured my fear of writing. I was cured enough to try some things I really wanted to do (screenwriting, travel writing, course writing) and now I can be productive without needing to go through contortions to get there. Not only productive, but happy while I write.

For my money, being a happy writer feels pretty sensational.

There’s no way I could have reached that point without showing up over and over again. I would have remained forever paralyzed by my own fears and defeatist self-talk.

What happens around here when my students show up? Some pretty magical things, actually. I see it all the time. They find out they’re capable of much more than they believed, they write stuff that moves and entertains me, they learn to demystify or disarm their fears, overcome self-sabotage, get help instead of staying isolated. They do more writing.

Woody also said:

You can live to be a hundred if you give up all the things that make you want to live to be a hundred.

I think writing’s the same. We can either stay safe and live an unfulfilled life or plunge headfirst into the germy environment, risking everything we most fear.

———Milli Thornton, owner, Fear of Writing Online Course

Milli Thornton is the author of Fear of Writing. She is owner of the Fear of Writing Online Course, where her mission is to put the fun back into writing. Milli also blogs at Screenwriting in the Boonies and Milliver’s Travels and coaches writers individually at Writer’s Muse Coaching Service.

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3 thoughts on “Woody Allen’s Sensational Success Tip for Writers

  1. Leigh

    This deceptively simple advice is, upon reflection, powerful stuff. I remember reading Woody Allen’s comedy books as a teenager – they were collections of comical vignettes from Woody’s fertile brain – and cackling into the night, unable to put them down. He clearly enjoyed writing them, and likely, as you point out, didn’t think when he started writing for his own enjoyment that he would end up being published and wildly successful. I pledge to remember this adage in all things, and especially in my writing. I will show up. When I do, I’m already 80% there! Thanks, Milli!


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