Show Your Work!
- Author: Austin Kleon
- Full Title: Show Your Work!
There’s a healthier way of thinking about creativity that the musician Brian Eno refers to as “scenius.” Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals—artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers—who make up an “ecology of talent.” If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.” ( Location 53)
creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds. ( Location 57)
If we forget about genius and think more about how we can nurture and contribute to a scenius, we can adjust our own expectations and the expectations of the worlds we want to accept us. We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others. ( Location 62)
Writer David Foster Wallace said that he thought good nonfiction was a chance to “watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pay far closer attention and think at far more length about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lives.” Amateurs fit the same bill: They’re just regular people who get obsessed by something and spend a ton of time thinking out loud about it. ( Location 83)
The world is changing at such a rapid rate that it’s turning us all into amateurs. Even for professionals, the best way to flourish is to retain an amateur’s spirit and embrace uncertainty and the unknown. ( Location 91)
The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. Find a scenius, pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they’re not sharing. Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with your own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first. ( Location 97)
Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you. ( Location 101)
Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of you working. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you. Take advantage of all the cheap, easy tools at your disposal—these days, most of us carry a fully functional multimedia studio around in our smartphones. ( Location 197)
Don’t worry about everything you post being perfect. Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that 90 percent of everything is crap. The same is true of our own work. The trouble is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react. ( Location 235)
Of course, don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actually doing your work. If you’re having a hard time balancing the two, just set a timer for 30 minutes. Once the timer goes off, kick yourself off the Internet and get back to work. ( Location 243)
If you’re unsure about whether to share something, let it sit for 24 hours. Put it in a drawer and walk out the door. The next day, take it out and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my boss or my mother seeing?” There’s nothing wrong with saving things for later. The save as draft button is like a prophylactic—it might not feel as good in the moment, but you’ll be glad you used it in the morning. ( Location 261)
Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine. Online, you can become the person you really want to be. Fill your website with your work and your ideas and the stuff you care about. ( Location 295)
If you happened to be wealthy and educated and alive in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, it was fashionable to have a Wunderkammern, a “wonder chamber,” or a “cabinet of curiosities” in your house—a room filled with rare and remarkable objects that served as a kind of external display of your thirst for knowledge of the world. Inside a cabinet of curiosities you might find books, skeletons, jewels, shells, art, plants, minerals, taxidermy specimens, stones, or any other exotic artifact. These collections often juxtaposed both natural and human-made marvels, revealing a kind of mash-up of handiwork by both God and human beings. They were the precursors to what we think of today as the modern museum—a place dedicated to the study of history, nature, and the arts. ( Location 309)
There’s not as big of a difference between collecting and creating as you might think. A lot of the writers I know see the act of reading and the act of writing as existing on opposite ends of the same spectrum: The reading feeds the writing, which feeds the reading. “I’m basically a curator,” says the writer and former bookseller Jonathan Lethem. “Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.” ( Location 319)
Our tastes make us what we are, but they can also cast a shadow over our own work. “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste,” says public radio personality Ira Glass. “But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.” Before we’re ready to take the leap of sharing our own work with the world, we can share our tastes in the work of others. ( Location 323)
Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it. ( Location 399)
The way to get over the awkwardness in these situations is to stop treating them as interrogations, and start treating them as opportunities to connect with somebody by honestly and humbly explaining what it is that you do. You should be able to explain your work to a kindergartner, a senior citizen, and everybody in between. Of course, you always need to keep your audience in mind: The way you explain your work to your buddies at the bar is not the way you explain your work to your mother. ( Location 448)
Best of all, when you share your knowledge and your work with others, you receive an education in return. Author Christopher Hitchens said that the great thing about putting out a book is that “it brings you into contact with people whose opinions you should have canvassed before you ever pressed pen to paper. They write to you. They telephone you. They come to your bookstore events and give you things to read that you should have read already.” He said that having his work out in the world was “a free education that goes on for a lifetime.” ( Location 502)
“When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.” —Richard Ford ( Location 508)
No matter how famous they get, the forward-thinking artists of today aren’t just looking for fans or passive consumers of their work, they’re looking for potential collaborators, or co-conspirators. These artists acknowledge that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that the experience of art is always a two-way street, incomplete without feedback. ( Location 521)
If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community. ( Location 532)
Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple. ( Location 551)
Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test. It’s a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life. If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire. Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc. Vampires cannot be cured. Should you find yourself in the presence of a vampire, be like Brancusi, and banish it from your life forever. ( Location 563)
When you put your work out into the world, you have to be ready for the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more people come across your work, the more criticism you’ll face. Here’s how to take punches: Relax and breathe. The trouble with imaginative people is that we’re good at picturing the worst that could happen to us. Fear is often just the imagination taking a wrong turn. Bad criticism is not the end of the world. As far as I know, no one has ever died from a bad review. Take a deep breath and accept whatever comes. (Consider practicing meditation—it works for me.) ( Location 608)
You have to remember that your work is something you do, not who you are. This is especially hard for artists to accept, as so much of what they do is personal. Keep close to your family, friends, and the people who love you for you, not just the work. ( Location 622)
Do you have a troll problem? Use the block button on social media sites. Delete nasty comments. My wife is fond of saying, “If someone took a dump in your living room, you wouldn’t let it sit there, would you?” Nasty comments are the same—they should be scooped up and thrown in the trash. ( Location 639)
The model is very simple: They give away great stuff on their sites, they collect emails, and then when they have something remarkable to share or sell, they send an email. You’d be amazed at how well the model works. ( Location 690)
You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done. ( Location 725)
Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell says that whatever she feels is the weak link in her last project gives her inspiration for the next. ( Location 758)
The designer Stefan Sagmeister swears by the power of the sabbatical—every seven years, he shuts down his studio and takes a year off. His thinking is that we dedicate the first 25 years or so of our lives to learning, the next 40 to work, and the last 15 to retirement, so why not take 5 years off retirement and use them to break up the work years? He says the sabbatical has turned out to be invaluable to his work: “Everything that we designed in the seven years following the first sabbatical had its roots in thinking done during that sabbatical.” ( Location 769)
“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough,” writes author Alain de Botton. ( Location 795)
So don’t think of it as starting over. Think of it as beginning again. Go back to chapter one—literally!—and become an amateur. Look for something new to learn, and when you find it, dedicate yourself to learning it out in the open. Document your progress and share as you go so that others can learn along with you. Show your work, and when the right people show up, pay close attention to them, because they’ll have a lot to show you. ( Location 806)
Almost all of the people I look up to and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine. These people aren’t schmoozing at cocktail parties; they’re too busy for that. They’re cranking away in their studios, their laboratories, or their cubicles, but instead of maintaining absolute secrecy and hoarding their work, they’re open about what they’re working on, ( Location 26)
Imagine turning a side project or a hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you. ( Location 39)
The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.” Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing. ( Location 80)
- Note: Words I need to live by. 70% of life is showing up. I am better than I see myself
If all this sounds scary or like a lot of work, consider this: One day you’ll be dead. Most of us prefer to ignore this most basic fact of life, but thinking about our inevitable end has a way of putting everything into perspective. ( Location 126)
I’m not going to sit here and wait for things to happen, I’m going to make them happen, and if people think I’m an idiot I don’t care.” ( Location 131)
- Note: This is the goal. Care less if people think I’m an idiot.
Try it: Start reading the obituaries every morning. Take inspiration from the people who muddled through life before you—they all started out as amateurs, and they got where they were going by making do with what they were given, and having the guts to put themselves out there. Follow their example. ( Location 145)
An artist is supposed to toil in secrecy, keeping her ideas and her work under lock and key, waiting until she has a magnificent product to show for herself before she tries to connect with an audience. “The private details of artmaking are utterly uninteresting to audiences,” ( Location 158)
- Note: I don’t agree with this. There is some benefit to keeping some things secret. Some things are not nearly as exciting once you know the secrets of how they are performed. A recent one for me was Youtube editing. Until recently, I just watched and was along for the ride. Now I’m analyzing and looking for tricks.
By letting go of our egos and sharing our process, we allow for the possibility of people having an ongoing connection with us and our work, which helps us move more of our product. ( Location 175)
- Note: Perhaps this is part of what I’m looking for with Youtube.
But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way. ( Location 190)
Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share. ( Location 211)
If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. ( Location 213)
I like to work while the world is sleeping, and share while the world is at work. ( Location 242)
- Note: I get to test drive this while I’m in Arizona, by staying on East Coast time.
Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.” ( Location 269)
- Note: If I focus on these videos I will build an audience via search, but its also more competitive.
But the thing about keeping notebooks is that you have to revisit them in order to make the most out of them. ( Location 274)
- Note: I do a better job with this now that I keep daily and weekly journals, but prior to that the time all blended together. This is the importance of weekly and monthly reviews. I should go back through my old Moleskines and see if there is any gold or nostalgic stuff in there.
Social networks are great, but they come and go. ( Location 282)
When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. ( Location 351)
- Note: I like constantly refining the way I get around on my computer. I spend immense amounts of time with it. I should be good at it.
You can’t control what sort of criticism you receive, but you can control how you react to it. ( Location 616)
These links do well with a little bit of human copy, such as “Like this? Buy me a coffee.” ( Location 665)
Even if you don’t have anything to sell right now, you should always be collecting email addresses from people who come across your work and want to stay in touch. ( Location 685)
When you throw out old work, what you’re really doing is making room for new work. ( Location 800)
- Note: This is similar to Thiago’s talks on the importance of forgetting things.