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)

^ ^ ^

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)

^ ^ ^

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)


This is the first post in a brief monthly series I’m trying in which I examine some of the career and writing questions I’ve been pondering. These are purely my own opinions, but perhaps something here will resonate with you, too!   I’ve been looking at this blog lately and asking myself whether or not it’s necessary. On the one hand, I find it convenient to have a place to share my thoughts on writing–often, mostly for myself to document my thinking–and as a place to promote things when I have fiction coming out. I use it for my general web-presence, too, since I’ve heavily stepped back from the more fraught social media spaces like Facebook and Twitter. But sometimes I worry that the time I put into the blog takes time away from the most important thing: doing the writing. So, I have to ask myself: as a relatively as-yet unknown author, is a website worth it?

Short Answer? Yes.

It’s actually super important for even a very new writer to have at least a landing page. It may be just a static page you update once a year, but if you have even one story published, you need someplace online (preferably not just a FB page) where your publications are listed and where someone can find your contact information. Why? Because when editors are putting together collections (in my case, like More Recent Dead from Prime Books), they read a lot of fiction, and there’s a chance–even just a small chance–that they may read your published story and decide they want to include it in their book. When I was first starting out, I didn’t realize that a lot of collections from big-time markets were put together in this way, and my invite to More Recent Dead caught me way off guard. But thank GOODNESS I had this blog, because it was via my contact form on this site that editor Paula Guran got ahold of me to ask about including my story, “A Shepherd of the Valley.” If I hadn’t had this site, or if I’d only had a personal FB site (which, given the volume of people on the site, makes it very difficult to ID the correct person with your name), I would have missed that fantastic opportunity. Now, I can’t speak to FB author pages, but given how many times random people I don’t know have asked to be friends only to then push their author page (it’s a #1 complaint among established authors that people are constantly friending them only to ask them to like their author page), I tend to shy away from that form of a web presence. But it might work for you! Just so long as you have SOMEWHERE that clearly links you and your published work and provides contact info: Good!

What about a blog?

This is where things get harrier in my own calculations. The thing is: I like having a blog. I enjoy rambling and tracking my progress. I enjoy the thought of having a long history online that if–blessed if!–I end up really carving a name for myself in this writing field, I could have a huge backlog look at what steps and phases I went through to get there, and maybe that could help or encourage someone else just starting out on this rocky path. I also like interacting with the blogging community. Reading what other people are doing and working on, what’s inspiring them, even just what a favorite author’s day-to-day looks like is something I deeply enjoy, and while I may not yet have a large following of readers, I’d like to be in practice blogging in order to keep in touch with both them and fellow authors with whom I might someday collaborate. Does it take up time I might use for writing? That’s my constant worry, that writing a blog post such as this is taking good writing time away from me, or–more subtly–stealing that precious creative energy that I might otherwise channel towards fiction. But the more I think about this, the more I confirm that this is a groundless fear. Truth is, I can write a blog with lots of background noise or other distractions or in uncomfortable positions with a baby strapped in a bjorn to my chest (current situation: napping baby, heavy bjorn), but that fractured time is really unsuitable for the kind of focus I need to produce new works of fiction. As frustrating as that is, at times, I’ve come to recognize that I do need a certain amount of peace and quiet when I write fiction. I’ve tried writing it during these snatched moments, but it almost always ends up in frustration. I just can’t get into a flow when people are talking around me (one reason I don’t do well writing at cafes, as much as I wish I could), or kiddos are making various demands, or other adults are asking me questions–it’s maddening. So sometimes that does mean I can blog a bit more than I can write in a given day (or week), because I may have more of these high-distraction periods that I can use for blog writing which I could never convert into good fiction writing time. As for whether or not blogging steals creative energy, I don’t think so. They’re two very different kinds of writing. If I were writing more non-fiction, maybe there’d be a bit more conflict, but the fiction I write isn’t badly affected by my having written a blog post now and then. If it did, or if I were just starting out and struggling to produce any fiction work at all, it might be more of an issue, but as it is, I know I can produce a lot of work (even if not as much right now in the midst of New Babyhood). In a way, the blogging keeps me practicing my typing, if nothing else, which means when I can start carving out more quiet time to produce work, my typing skills haven’t completely fallen off the planet. Useful!

So, do I need a website?

Website, YES. Absolutely. I need to have at a minimum someplace that: Lists published work and where to find it.
  1. Is identifiably me.
  2. Allows people to contact me easily.
Do I need a blog? No. That’s something I do purely because I enjoy it, and find it a more satisfying method for connecting with folks online than other social media sites. But if you like Instagram or FB or Twitter or whatever, do that instead of a blog. A blog is a project of love for me, but if you love connecting to people via another medium? Do that. Just make sure it isn’t creeping into your optimal writing time, whatever that is for you.