Book Thoughts

Book Thoughts: Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

A year or so ago I read Austin Kleon‘s book Steal Like an Artist, and found it interesting but not as inspiring as I’d hoped. To be fair, I’d also just read The Accidental Creative by Todd Henry, and that book had struck me with its actionable methods for generating and developing ideas. Not all of it was pertinent to my needs (Henry’s book is geared towards professional and marketing business creatives, less so to writers), but a lot of the advice and suggestions were applicable to creative writing, too.

Show Your Work, however, felt fresh and invigorating to me. It tackles a subject I loathe personally, which is how to network and share your work without seeming spammy or self-obsessed. Let’s be honest, self promotion STINKS. I hate it. But what I liked about Show Your Work is that it seems to be exactly what some of my favorite artists online already do: share their processes, their WIP, and their loves and inspirations. Show Your Work did a great job of reminding me that being online and sharing what I do and what I love can be fun, too.

For the last month or so, I’ve been really pulled back from the internet. I read the ah-maz-ing Four Thousand Weeks by Oliver Burkeman, which deserves its own blog post entirely, because it blew my mind in the best of ways, but it kicked off a desperate desire to slow things down and focus on the physical life around me. It was great. I then topped off the tanks with Digital Minimalism by Cal Newport (which also deserves its own post, because while some of it I found very interesting, some of it directly contradicted what felt most helpful in Four Thousand Weeks, particularly in the area of how you *should* spend your free time), which just made me even less interested in reconnecting online.

Yet in the midst of all that, I got a chance to evaluate what online activities I actually enjoyed and found most useful personally. This blog is definitely one of them, and I found I enjoy sharing things on Instagram too (though I finally figured out how turn off the “Like” counters so I can’t see how many people liked (or didn’t!) a post, which helps me focus on the sharing aspect, and less on the “earning likes” side, which I hate). This was a great book to help me get back on the horse, while making sure I was sharing only what I *actually* wanted to share, and that I was having fun doing it.

Notable Thoughts:

Over the years, you will be tempted to abandon [your website] for the newest, shiniest social network. Don’t give in. Don’t let it fall into neglect. Think about it in the long term. Stick with it, maintain it, and let it change with you over time.”

Show Your Work, Austen Kleon (69)

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Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you. Don’t waste your time reading articles about how to get more followers. Don’t waste time following people online just because you think it’ll get you somewhere. Don’t talk to people you don’t want to talk to, and don’t talk about stuff you don’t want to talk about.”

Show Your Work, Austen Kleon (129)

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Add all this together and you get a way of working I call chain-smoking. You avoid stalling out in your career by never losing momentum. Here’s how you do it: Instead of taking a break in between projects, waiting for feedback, and worrying about what’s next, use the end of one project to light up the next one. Just do the work that’s in front of you, and when it’s finished, ask yourself what you missed, what you could’ve done better, or what you couldn’t get to, and jump right into the next project.”

Show Your Work, Austen Kleon (189)

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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?”

Austen Kleon, Show Your Work (191)