Show Your Work – by Austin Kleon

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Show Your Work – by Austin Kleon

Show Your Work: ’10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered’

After the runaway success of ‘Steal Like an Artist’, Kleon was always asked the same questions: how do you show your work? how do I actually get my stuff out there? how do i get found? how do i get an audience for my work?

This book begins to answer some of those questions. It stresses the importance of maintain the mindset of an ‘amateur’, thinking about the process (not just the products), telling good stories, and building a regular process of ‘sharing’ into your creativity routine.

 

Grab a copy of the book here: https://www.bookdepository.com/Show-Your-Work-Austin-Kleon/9780761178972/?a_aid=adamsbooks

 

Show Your Work

“For artists, the great problem to solve is how to get oneself noticed” Honore de Balzac

Kleon hates talking about self-promotion. He prefers the Steve Martin approach – “be so good they can’t ignore you”: if you focus your efforts on getting really really good at what you do, you don’t need to find an audience because they’ll find you. But at the same time as being waiting to be FOUND, you also need to make yourself FINDABLE. This is where ‘Show Your Work‘ comes into play; while you’re working hard at getting good, you should be sharing things along the way. By building in a process of sharing, you can start to engage with the ‘real world’ while you’re on your own journey. By generously sharing ideas and knowledge, people often gain an audience along that way that they may be able to leverage somewhere down the track. 

 

As a set up to the book, we’re prompted to consider a different kind of future for ourselves:

  • Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your resume because he already reads your blog
  • Imagine being a student and getting your first gig based on a school project you posted online
  • Imagine losing your job but having a social network of people familiar with your work and ready to help you find a new one
  • Imagine turning a side project or hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you
  • OR – imagine something simpler and just as satisfying: spending the majority of your time, energy, and attention practicing a craft, learning a trade, or running a business, while also allowing for the possibility that your work might attract a group of people who share your interests

The ideas that follow are our favourite lessons from the book and our favourite ways to share your creativity and (maybe) get discovered. 

 

  1. You don’t have to be a genius

BE AN AMATEUR

We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs. We take our work seriously, so we like to take ourselves seriously. But today, it is the amateur who often has the advantage over the professional. The amateur can take risks that a professional can’t. The amateur has nothing to lose. The amateur is willing to try anything, then share the results of what they learnt. Amateurs might lack formal training, but they’re all lifelong learners and they make a point of learning in the open so that others can then learn from their failures and successes.

Shrunryu Suzuki: “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few”

 

DOING NOTHING -> DOING SOEMTHING

If you don’t feel like you’re very good at something, that’s certainly not the end of the world. If you want to improve at it, you can practice and get better. Moving from ‘mediocre’ to ‘good’ may feel like a big journey, but you can get there through a series of small steps. Mediocre and good are on the same spectrum – from a place of mediocrity, you can at least see what ‘good’ looks like and you can start making your way along the learning curve. The REAL gap is between doing NOTHING and doing SOMETHING. That’s a complete change in behaviour. That’s a attitudinal step-change that requires you to leap over a chasm. The first step on the journey to getting good is the hardest: actually start doing something

{insert drawing of specturm}

 

WHO’S THE BEST TEACHER?

Sometimes if someone is too good or too experienced, they aren’t a good teacher because they’ve lost touch with the reality of ‘starting’. In anything that you get very good at, there are a lot of things that you don’t even realise that you’ve mastered and internalised.

 

The problems faced by someone just starting out are very different to the problems of someone who is already making progress on their mediocre-good spectrum, and these people are much different from people who are already good. Who you decide to learn from and who you look up to should vary as you make your way through the journey.

 

C.S Lewis said: “it often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than a teacher can… the Fellow-Pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has only recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten”. Often, rather than turning to a master or a guru or already made the slog through to the other side, the better person to learn from is the person who is next to you in the trenches. Moreover, usually the BEST person to learn from is yourself. By getting out there and doing something, you’ll learn things about yourself and you’ll make mistakes that mean you’ll be better next time.

 

The world is changing at such an amazing rate that we can’t be satisfied with knowing what we know now. If you become complacent, the world will leave you behind. You need to have the humility to become a student again, to remain an amateur (even if you see yourself as a professional, bring with you the spirit of the amateur). Kleon says that the best way to get started on your path to sharing your work is to think about something you want to learn, then make a commitment to learn it in front of others. You might find that by sharing what you love, the people who love the same things will find you.

 

 

  1. Think process, not products

TAKE PEOPLE BEHIND THE SCENES

When a painter talks about her “work”, she could be talking about two different things:

  • The ‘Artwork’. This is the finished piece, like the painting that gets framed and hung on the gallery wall,
  • Or, the ‘art WORK’. This is the day-to-day work of creating the art. This is all of the stuff that goes on behind the scenes in her studio – the ideas, the searching for inspiration, the initial sketches, the mixing of the colours, then the act of applying oil to canvas. 

There’s PAINTING the noun (the thing you end up with) and PAINTING the verb (the act of doing the work). You can apply this concept more broadly to your work and view things as either the PRODUCT or the PROCESS. Traditionally, artists only ever shared their products and kept the process a secret just to themselves. In the past, an artist was supposed to toil away in secrecy, hidden away from the outside work, keep her ideas to herself and keeping her work under lock and key, waiting until she has a magnificent product to show and at which point tries to connect with an audience. That might have made sense in the pre-digital age, when it was too hard or too cost to share thing from your journey. But today,. By taking advantage of the internet and social media, an artist can share what she wants whenever she wants with whomever she wants at almost no cost. She can share those inspirations in the early phases, she can share the tools she’s using as she progresses, she can blog about her influences or post pictures of her sketches or post videos of her work-in-progress. By opening yourself and your work to the ‘real’ world, you can not only begin to connect with your audience sooner, you can get the vital feedback you need to make changes or improvements along the way (rather than slaving away in hiding until it’s ‘done’ only to find out that no one wants it).

 

Sturgeon’s Law

Film critic Theodore Sturgeon said that “90% of everything is crap”. The same goes for your work. Unfortunately, while you’re making your art, you don’t know which of it is going to be good and which is going to be crap. So rather than being a perfectionist, rather than trying to improve your strike rate so that only 80% of your work is crap, focus on growing the whole pie itself. Rather than just trying to focus on the 10% of stuff that’s good and trying to make it as good as possible, just make MORE and by default you will end up with more good stuff. It sounds counterintuitive, but if you want to make things that are good, you should focus on quantity not quality.

NOTE: See Originals‘ by Adam Grant for more on this idea.

 

The ‘So What?’ Test: don’t become human spam

Now that it’s cheaper and easier than ever before to share your work, the question doesn’t become ‘HOW do I share my work?’, it shifts to ‘WHAT should I share?’. Most people are hoarders in that they don’t share enough of their ideas, but it’s easy to cross the fine line and become an over-sharer. The act of sharing should be one of generosity: you’re putting something out there because you think it might be helpful or entertaining to someone else on the other side of the screen. You’re not doing it for you, you’re doing it for them – so you should always keep the idea of ‘someone else’ in mind. 

Oversharing is lazy and careless. Just because you CAN put something out there doesn’t mean you SHOULD. Just putting everything out there without consideration is not the way to connect with an audience. For anything you want to share, you need to ask yourself: “so what?’. If you don’t have a good answer as to why you’re sharing this, if you can’t justify why this would be interesting or entertaining to someone, then you probably shouldn’t be sharing it. 

decision matrix for how to show your work

 

  1. Teach what you know

SHARE YOUR TRADE SECRETS 

In the book ‘ReWork’ by Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson, we were encouraged to emulate chefs by out-TEACHING their competition. They asked: what do you do? What are your ‘recipes’? What’s your ‘cookbook’? These are the secrets that you could share and teach. What can you tell the world about how you operate that’s informative and educational? You might think that these are precisely that things that you DON’T want to share, that keeping that these secrets to yourself can give you an advantage, but is someone is learning about your work they’re implicitly interested in your work. So show your work!

Think of the most famous chefs in the world: Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Gordon Ramsay, Martha Stewart. They all have recipe books and TV shows. They are chefs, they’ve created marvelous new dishes, but they’re teaching everyone else how to cook… They’re giving up their secrets and showing people exactly how they could copy them. It seems counterintuitive, but this is exactly what’s made them famous – they don’t have any secret dishes that you can only get if you buy from them, they share everything, and by doing so they’ve attracted a worldwide audience. 

Share your reading list, point to helpful reference materials, create some tutorials to teach people. Take people step-by-step through part of your process – make people better at something that they want to be better at. Teaching people doesn’t subtract from what you do, it actually adds to it. People feel closer to you because you’re letting them in on what you know.

 

8 – learn to take a punch

LET ‘EM TAKE THEIR BEST SHOT

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 a punch:

  • Relax and Breath
    • We’re good at picturing the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen to us
    • Fear is often just the imagination taking a wrong turn – it’s probably unlikely to ever happen, but your brain makes it feel ultra-real
    • Bad criticism is not the end of the world… take a deep breath and accept whatever comes
  • Stengthen your neck
    • the way to take a punch is to practice getting hit a lot
    • put out a lot of work – let people take their best shot
    • then make more work and keep putting it out there. The more criticism you take the more you realise it can;t hurt you
  • Roll with the punches
    • Keep moving – every piece of criticism is an opportunity for new work
    • You can’t control what sort of criticism you receive – you can only control how you react to it
    • sometimes if someone hates something about your work, it can be fun to push that part even further to make somethign they’d hate even more (having your work hated by certain people can be a badge of honour)
  • Protect your vulnerable areas
    • If you have something so sensitive or too close to you that any criticism would be debilitating, then keep it hidden.
    • BUT – Colin Marshall says: “compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide”
    • if you spend your life avoiding vulnerability, you and your work will never truly connect with other people
  • Keep your balance
    • You have to remember tat your work is something you do – not who you are
    • separate yourself from your work – don’t view a criticsm of your work as a criticism of you

 

Brian Michael Bendis: “The trick is not caring what EVERYBODY thinks of you and just caring about what the RIGHT people think of you”. You don’t need to show your work to everyone, you just need to show your work to the right people. 

 

  1. Stick around

CHAIN SMOKE

When you finish a project, whether you’ve just won big or struck out, you still have to face the question: “What’s Next?”. Every author knows that your last book isn’t going to write the next one for you, every artist knows that just by doing one painting doesn’t mean that the next one will be a sinch. If you look at artists who’ve managed to achieve lifelong careers, you detect the same pattern: they all have been able to persevere, regardless of success or failure:

  • Woody Allen. The day he finishes editing a film, he starts writing the next one. he doesn’t take time off in between.
  • Ernest Hemingway. Would stop in the middle of a sentence at the end of his day’s work so he knew where to instantly get started again in the morning.
  • Joni Mitchell. Whatever she feels like was the weak link in her last project gives her the inspiration and the starting point for the next one.
  • Bob Pollard. Says he never gets writers block because he never stops writing.

Austin Kleon calls this: chain smoking. Avoid stalling in your career by never losing momentum. Instead of taking breaks 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 / what you couldn’t get to – then use that to jump right in to the next project

 

BEGIN AGAIN 

When you feel like you’ve learned everything there is to learn from what you’re doing, it’s time to change course. Find something new to learn so that you can move forward. Embrace the spirit of the amateur. You can’t be content with mastery in one area, you need to push yourself to become a student again. It’s like when comedians throw away their old sets: “when you get rid of old material, you push yourself further and come up with something better. When you throw out old work, what you’re really doing is making room for new work. You have to have to courage to get rid of work and rethink things completely”. The thing is, you’re not really starting over. You can never really start over, because whilst you may clear out old things, you’re still a different person thanks to all of the things you done and learnt along the way.

So don’t think of it as ‘starting over’ – think of it as ‘beginning again’. Your next project is another opportunity to show your work.

 

Alain de Botton: “anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough”

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