Show your work – Austen Kleon

TL:DR; This is a wonderful book and I went over-zealous and took detailed notes. My subsequent books won’t have as detailed notes.

Author: Austen Kleon

Recommendation: 5 stars. Buy it

Book Notes

Exec summary

A compelling and an easy read. Makes the case that you should show your work as it happens (vs waiting for the final content). Get yourself a presence online and cultivate it. Let the world discover you.

Top 3 takeaways

  • Do compelling work and let the world find you.
  • Share regularly: Do a daily (read regular) dispatch of work as it happens. Round up (summarize – “stock) the work to create a bigger body of work.
  • Collaborate with interesting people and be interesting yourself.

The New Model of Networking

Don’t Network: Do compelling work and be findable

“Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you just focus on getting really good, Martin says, people will come to you. I happen to agree: You don’t really find an audience for your work; they find you.

In order to be found, you have to be findable. I think there’s an easy way of putting your work out there and making it discoverable while you’re focused on getting really good at what you do.

These people aren’t schmoozing at cocktail parties; they’re too busy for that. Instead of wasting their time “networking,” they’re taking advantage of the network. By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it—for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.

Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog.

Imagine turning a side project or a 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.

Get yourself a web domain

“Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments you can make with your time.”

A blog is the ideal machine for turning flow into stock: One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work.

Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet.

If your name is common, or you don’t like your name, come up with a pseudonym or an alias, and register that. Then buy some web hosting and build a website.

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. Over the years, you will be tempted to abandon it 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.

“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful.

Build a good domain name, keep it clean, and eventually it will be its own currency. Whether people show up or they don’t, you’re out there, doing your thing, ready whenever they are.

On creativity, collaboration and sharing

The old model: Work alone and publish

When inspiration comes, it strikes like a lightning bolt, a lightbulb switches on in his head, and then he spends the rest of his time toiling away in his studio, shaping this idea into a finished masterpiece that he releases into the world to great fanfare.

The new model: Collaborate

“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.”

creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.

Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute—the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start.

We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.

Embrace your amateurity: Share as you learn

We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs, but in fact, today it is the amateur—the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love (in French, the word means “lover”), regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career—who often has the advantage over the professional. Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims. Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities,” said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. “In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

“The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act,”

“On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments.

Sometimes, amateurs have more to teach us than experts. “It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can,”

The world is changing at such a rapid rate that it’s turning us all into amateurs.

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.

Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.

Discover your voice

But now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.

Focus on what’s important

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.”

“And when that gets into your mind . . . it utterly changed me . . . I thought, 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.”

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.

Sharing your work: Recommendations

“A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome.”

She can decide exactly how much or how little of her work and herself she will share, and she can be as open about her process as she wants to—she can share her sketches and works-in-progress, post pictures of her studio, or blog about her influences, inspiration, and tools.

“By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.”

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen—really seen.”

How can you show your work even when you have nothing to show? The first step is to scoop up the scraps and the residue of your process and shape them into some interesting bit of media that you can share.

“No one is going to give a damn about your résumé; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers.”

Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook,

  • 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.*

The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that.

Where you are in your process will determine what that piece is. If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress. If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned.

“When I ask them to show me work, they show me things from school, or from another job, but I’m more interested in what they did last weekend.”

Flow of sharing: Flow vs Stock (daily dispatch and regular roundups)

Your daily dispatch can be anything you want—a blog post, an email, a tweet, a YouTube video, or some other little bit of media.

Businesspeople, for some strange reason, love LinkedIn. Writers love Twitter. Visual artists tend to like Tumblr, Instagram, or Facebook.

“What are you working on?” Stick to that question and you’ll be good. Don’t show your lunch or your latte; show your work.

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.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours. I like to work while the world is sleeping, and share while the world is at work.

“One day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy: It requires incredible support and fastidious structuring.” —Russell Brand

“Make no mistake: This is not your diary. You are not letting it all hang out. You are picking and choosing every single word.”

“Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you.”

Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share absolutely everything.

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.

  • “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist. 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.” Sloan says the magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background.
  • In my experience, your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow.

But the thing about keeping notebooks is that you have to revisit them in order to make the most out of them. You have to flip back through old ideas to see what you’ve been thinking.

When you detect these patterns, you can start gathering these bits and pieces and turn them into something bigger and more substantial. You can turn your flow into stock. For example, a lot of the ideas in this book started out as tweets, which then became blog posts, which then became book chapters. Small things, over time, can get big.

On doing good pitches

Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fund-raising request—they’re all pitches.

A good pitch is set up in three acts: The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future. The first act is where you’ve been—what you want, how you came to want it, and what you’ve done so far to get it. The second act is where you are now in your work and how you’ve worked hard and used up most of your resources. The third act is where you’re going, and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there.

You should be able to explain your work to a kindergartner, a senior citizen, and everybody in between.

Bios are not the place to practice your creativity. We all like to think we’re more complex than a two-sentence explanation, but a two-sentence explanation is usually what the world wants from us. Keep it short and sweet.

One more thing: Unless you are actually a ninja, a guru, or a rock star, don’t ever use any of those terms in your bio. Ever.

Teaching doesn’t mean instant competition. Just because you know the master’s technique doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to emulate it right away.

You don’t get the feeling that any of this is calculated, it’s just the way they operate—they started out as beginners, and so they feel an obligation to pass on what they’ve learned.

Ideas on what to share: your craft, reading list

Have you learned a craft? What are your techniques? Are you skilled at using certain tools and materials? What kind of knowledge comes along with your job?

Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorials and post them online. Use pictures, words, and video.

Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how to do your work, you are, in effect, generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.

“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.

“When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.”

They can’t find the time to be interested in anything other than themselves.

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.

Sharing your wonder chamber

“The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually, you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. . . . Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.”

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.

We all carry around the weird and wonderful things we’ve come across while doing our work and living our lives. These mental scrapbooks form our tastes, and our tastes influence our work.

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:

“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.

Where do you get your inspiration? What sorts of things do you fill your head with? What do you read? Do you subscribe to anything? What sites do you visit on the Internet? What music do you listen to? What movies do you see? Do you look at art? What do you collect? What’s inside your scrapbook? What do you pin to the corkboard above your desk? What do you stick on your refrigerator? Who’s done work that you admire? Who do you steal ideas from? Do you have any heroes? Who do you follow online? Who are the practitioners you look

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f—ing like something, like it.” —Dave Grohl

When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them.

So, what makes for great attribution? Attribution is all about providing context for what you’re sharing: what the work is, who made it, how they made it, when and where it was made, why you’re sharing it, why people should care about it, and where people can see some more work like it.

Don’t share things you can’t properly credit. Find the right credit, or don’t share.

Writing stories that people relate to

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 effects how they value it.

Whether you realize it or not, you’re already telling a story about your work. Every email you send, every text, every conversation, every blog comment, every tweet, every photo, every video—they’re all bits and pieces of a multimedia narrative you’re constantly constructing.

If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell

If you study the structure of stories, you start to see how they work, and once you know how they work, you can then start stealing story structures and filling them in with characters, situations, and settings from your own life.

“Once upon a time, there was __. Every day, __. One day, __. Because of that, __. Because of that, __. Until finally, __.”

Author John Gardner said the basic plot of nearly all stories is this: “A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.”

You get a great idea, you go through the hard work of executing the idea, and then you release the idea out into the world, coming to a win, lose, or draw. Sometimes the idea succeeds, sometimes it fails, and more often than not, it does nothing at all.

project: There’s the initial problem, the work done to solve the problem, and the solution.

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.

Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you.

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.

Make yourself an interesting person

If you want followers, be someone worth following. Donald Barthelme supposedly said to one of his students, “Have you tried making yourself a more interesting person?” This seems like a really mean thing to say, unless you think of the word interesting the way writer Lawrence Weschler does: For him, to be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.” To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

It is actually true that life is all about “who you know.” But who you know is largely dependent on who you are and what you do, and the people you know can’t do anything for you if you’re not doing good work.

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.”

Stay away from Vampires

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.

There will only be a handful or so of them, but they’re so, so important. Do what you can to nurture your relationships with these people. Sing their praises to the universe. Invite them to collaborate. Show them work before you show anybody else.

A troll is a person who isn’t interested in improving your work, only provoking you with hateful, aggressive, or upsetting talk. You will gain nothing by engaging with these people. Don’t feed them, and they’ll usually go away.

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.

Handling criticism

Designer Mike Monteiro says that the most valuable skill he picked up in art school was learning how to take a punch. He and his fellow classmates were absolutely brutal during critiques. “We were basically trying to see if we could get each other to drop out of school.” Those vicious critiques taught him not to take criticism personally.

Relax and breathe. As far as I know, no one has ever died from a bad review.

Strengthen your neck. The way to be able to take a punch is to practice getting hit a lot. Put out a lot of work. Let people take their best shot at it. Then make even more work and keep putting it out there. The more criticism you take, the more you realize it can’t hurt you.

Roll with the punches. Keep moving. Every piece of criticism is an opportunity for new work.

“Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide.”

Keep your balance. You have to remember that your work is something you do, not who you are.

The first step in evaluating feedback is sizing up who it came from. You want feedback from people who care about you and what you do. Be extra wary of feedback from anybody who falls outside of that circle.

$ Building a fan base I know people who run multimillion-dollar businesses off of their mailing lists. 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.

Keep your own list, or get an account with an email newsletter company like MailChimp and put a little sign-up widget on every page of your website. Write a little bit of copy to encourage people to sign up. Be clear about what they can expect, whether you’ll be sending daily, monthly, or infrequent updates.

The people who sign up for your list will be some of your biggest supporters, just by the simple fact that they signed up for the potential to be spammed by you. Don’t betray their trust and don’t push your luck. Build your list and treat it with respect. It will come in handy.

When you have success, it’s important to use any dough, clout, or platform you’ve acquired to help along the work of the people who’ve helped you get to where you are. Extol your teachers, your mentors, your heroes, your influences, your peers, and your fans. Give them a chance to share their own work. Throw opportunities their way.

You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.

“Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck—and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”