Show Your Work!

By

Austin Kleon

Read in
October, 2020
My rating:
8
/10

Summary

This is a powerfully good read for anyone who has any interest in doing anything creative, especially if it's on the internet. An instruction manual of sorts, but presented in ang approachable and relatable way to make the most of what you have to give to the world. If you have even the hint of a creative bone in your body, you're going to want to read this book immediately.

Notes

'Genius' Has Nothing to Do With It

Creativity is often seen as something done on your own, a fairly antisocial thing. When in reality, it's anything but. Creativity works best when we exist in concert with others.

The concept of the 'scenius' works better - the idea that we are part of a scene within which the creativity sloshes around: each member bringing their own unique flavour to the party, sharing and stealing and twisting the ideas of everyone else, with creative works emerging over time.

It's better to think of an 'ecology' of minds, rather than the single genius dottedhere and there.

If Anything, It's Better to be an Amateur

Amateurs have one big advantage over the professionals - they are driven by the love of what they do, nothing else. Everything is possible, mistakes are fine and there is more ability to be fresh.

When you are an amateur it is perfectly acceptable to learn and commit mistakes in public, to do so in front of others, and feel no shame. You can do the unexpected, and it's remarkable.

'You can't find your voice if you don't use it.'

Even when you're an amateur, have somewhere you can put your work where someone will see it. Most will be able to put something online. Increases the chance of being found by others, and it helps you find your voice, too.

You Can't Find Your Voice If You Don't Use It

If you work isn't somewhere people can see it - ideally online, but really anywhere - you are going to have a hard time of things.

There are two main reasons you must be sharing what you do:

  1. You can be found by others, and
  2. You can find your own voice

This might be uncomfortable at first and you might not necessarily have the 'best' voice to begin with, but it is something that has to grow as you do it.

If you hold off, not saying anything and not putting it anywhere, you will stay exactly where you are.

In reading the autobiographies or obituaries of others, more often than not you will find that they went through this exact kind of process themselves. Everyone has, at some point, muddled through. So you can too.

Get Comfortable With Showing People 'How It's Made'

It's worth showing people how the sausage is made, sometimes, because people find it interesting. People are curious about how stuff is done, and this curiosity builds interest and trust and relationships.

In truth, there are always people who will be interested in what you do and how you do it, so long as you show it in the right way.

This could even be the most mundane parts of what you do. The important thing is that you make it interesting, and do it regularly.

This does not mean that you should necessarily show everything that you make. Some of it will be worthwhile, some of it won't, but the real way to determine is by asking the big question: 'so what?'

Maintain Flow. Build Stock.

'Flow' and 'stock' is the idea that you are constantly sharing small pieces of what you do - your 'flow' - but, in the background, need to be building something more long-term - your 'stock'.

'Flow' is a series of tweets about a subject. 'Stock' would be a book or a long essay on the same. It's the difference between the daily bits and pieces, thoughts, sketches and ideas and the built assets that accrue huge value over time.

Always build stock.

The best place to accumulate, point towards and generally gather all of these things - flow or stock - is somewhere on the internet that you own. Ideally, a website that has your name on it.

Your Interests Are Uniquely You. Show People.

Whether you mean to or not, you are a curator of your own 'cabinet of curiosities'. This could be the books you read, the prints you collect, the plants you gather in your house.

Your collection - whatever it is - will be interesting to people, so long as you present it in an interesting way.

So show it off! It's a big deal to do this, because people are more likely to connect with you and 'get you' once you give them a hook into your life through the things you like, not just what you are like.

However, if some of what you collect is the work of others, make sure you always properly give credit, attribute, link... point towards them so that others can follow the trail.

Everything Gets Better When You Tell Good Stories

You and your friend can upload the same thing to the internet. Whichever you bothers to tell a good story while doing it is the one who will do better.

People care about stories and they can elevate something ordinary to something amazing.

This isn't just for stories about the work you have done, either. This goes for stories about yourself. If you are able to do both - tell great stories about yourself and the work you do, then you're onto a winner.

Have You Learnt Something? Start Teaching It.

As soon as you learn something, figure out how to give it away to people. This could be in videos, articles, podcasts, books... you name it.

Show your recipes. Explain your techniques. Unveil your methods. Talk, in detail, about the system that you have developed. People will love you for it.

Ideally, make people better at something they want to get better at! This is really valuable and if you know things that others don't, then you're onto something.

Educating others increases their interest in you and helps, in turn, to then educate you. Now that's something worth doing.

Don't Be Such a Foghorn

If you spend all your time just pumping content out into the world, nobody is going to take much interest. You also need to be interested in what others have to say.

If you want fans, you need to be a fan yourself. If you want to be an accepted member of a community, you need to be a good member of that community before you can expect anything to happen.

Don't optimise for 'more connections', optimise for really good and strong connections with the people that find your work interesting.

Build a Thick Skin

That is, know how to take a punch. You need criticism to get better at what you do, because it's going to show you where you're going wrong AND where you can do better.

But taking criticism isn't easy, especially at first. It's really, really hard at first. Even so, try to actively seek it. The more you get the more you'll grow, and the more rapidly you will build your ability to be able to take it in the first place.

Among this, be careful to identify and ignore the trolls that may inevitably pop up.

C.R.E.A.M.

'Everybody says they want artists to make money, and then when they do, everybody hates them for it.'

If you've got something worth buying, why aren't you selling it? Produce content. Share it. Produce some more. Share it some more. Produce something remarkable and worthwhile and amazing? Sell it.

Make sure that you have somewhere to call your own too - your own website with with your own mailing list. These are your people and your base of operations. Neither can be taken from you in the whims of a switch of an algorithm.

It's a Marathon, Not a Sprint

There'll be a lot of time spent just cranking away with your work where you might not feel like you're getting anywhere.

And that's fine.

You're not here to be a superstar from day one, that's beyond unlikely.

Don't quit what you're doing while you're in the middle of doing it. Sometimes you just need to keep practicing, in public, until you start to suck less.

One way you can do this is to 'chain-smoke' - to finish one project and to use the dying embers to light the flames of the next project.

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