Book Summary: Show Your Work
By Austin Kleon
Show Your Work: 10 Ways To Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered is a book where the author tries to take a jab at some of the most common questions that haunt almost every creative individual
How do I get my stuff out there? How do I get noticed? How do I find an audience?
If Steal Like an Artist was a book about stealing influence from other people, this book is about how to influence others by letting them steal from you.
Here’s the book summary.
1. Find A Scenius
Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think
There’s a healthier way of thinking about creativity that the musician Brian Eno refers to as “scenius.”
A place where people can support each other, look at each other works, steal ideas, copy others’ work, and contribute ideas. With the internet, it has become really easy to find the scenius of your choice.
2. Be An Amateur
In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, In the expert’s mind, there are few.
Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love, so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.
Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing.
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. Find a scenius, pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they’re not sharing.
Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with your own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first.
Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.
3. You Can’t Find Your Voice If You Don’t Use It
Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.
~ Dan Harmon
It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it. If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.
4. Read Obituaries
Obituaries aren’t really about death; they’re about life. Reading about people who are dead now and did things with their lives makes me want to get up and do something decent with mine.
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
Think about the legacy you wanna leave behind.
1. Take People Behind The Scenes
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. ~ Michael Jackson
Audiences not only want to stumble across great work, but they, too, long to be creative and part of the creative process. By letting go of our egos and sharing our process, we allow for the possibility of people having an ongoing connection with us and our work, which helps us move more of our product
2. Become A Documentarian Of What You Do
Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. 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.
Whether you share it or not, documenting and recording your process as you go along has its own rewards: You’ll start to see the work you’re doing more clearly and feel like you’re making progress. And when you’re ready to share, you’ll have a surplus of material to choose from.
1. Send Out A Daily Dispatch
Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance.
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.
Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share
A daily dispatch is even better than a résumé or a portfolio, because it shows what we’re working on right now
The form of what you share doesn’t matter. 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. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for everybody
Social media sites are the perfect place to share daily updates. Don’t worry about being on every platform; pick and choose based on what you do and the people you’re trying to reach.
Don’t be afraid to be an early adopter — jump on a new platform and see if there’s something interesting you can do with it
Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can find the time if you look for it.
2. The “So What” Test?
Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share absolutely everything. There’s a big, big difference between sharing and over-sharing.
The act of sharing is one of generosity — you’re putting something out there because you think it might be helpful or entertaining to someone on the other side of the screen.
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.
3. Turn Your Flow Into Stock
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
In my experience, your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow. Social media sites function a lot like public notebooks — they’re places where we think out loud, let other people think back at us, then hopefully think some more
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
Once you make sharing part of your daily routine, you’ll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You’ll find patterns in your flow.
When you detect these patterns, you can start gathering these bits and pieces and turn them into something bigger and more substantial.
4. Build A Good (Domain) Name
Social networks are great, but they come and go. If you’re really interested in sharing your work and expressing yourself, nothing beats owning your own space online, a place that you control, a place that no one can take away from you, a world headquarters where people can always find you.
The beauty of owning your own turf is that you can do whatever you want with it. Your domain name is your domain. You don’t have to make compromises. 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.
1. Don’t Be A Hoarder
Artists collect selectively, while Hoarders collect indiscriminately.
Basically if you deem everything special, then nothing actually remain special. So be mindful of what you collect, one should only collect that really resonates with you.
Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do — sometimes even more than your own work.
2. No Guilty Pleasures
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. When you share your taste and your influences, have the guts to own all of it. Don’t give in to the pressure to self-edit too much.
Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.
3. Credit Is Always Due
If you share the work of others, it’s your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit. Crediting work in our copy-and-paste age of reblogs and retweets can seem like a futile effort, but it’s worth it, and it’s the right thing to do. You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care.
1. Work Doesn’t Speak For Itself
Words matter. Artists love to trot out the tired line, “My work speaks for itself,” but the truth is, our work doesn’t speak for itself. 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.
Learn the craft of storytelling.
2. Structure Is Everything
Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fundraising request — they’re all pitches. They’re stories with the endings chopped off.
Everybody loves a good story, but good storytelling doesn’t come easy to everybody. It’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master. So study the great stories and then go find some of your own. Your stories will get better the more you tell them.
3. Talk About Yourself At Parties
When asked about yourself, instead of thinking it as an interrogation, take it as an opportunity to express yourself to the world, so that they can better understand you.
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.
1. Share Your Trade Secrets
The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes. ~ Annie Dillard
The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorials and post them online. Use pictures, words, and video. Take people step-by-step through part of your process.
Make people better at something they want to be better at
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
1. Shut Up And Listen
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. If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong. You have to be a connector.
If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice. Shut up and listen once in a while. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Don’t turn into human spam. Be an open node
2. You Want Hearts Not Eyeballs
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.
3. Meetup In MeatSpace
Meeting people online is awesome, but turning them into IRL friends is even better.
1. Let’em Take Their Best Shot
Relax and breathe. The trouble with imaginative people is that we’re good at picturing the worst that could happen to us. Bad criticism is not the end of the world. Take a deep breath and move on.
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.
Roll with the punches. Keep moving. Every piece of criticism is an opportunity for new work
Protect your vulnerable areas. If you have work that is too sensitive or too close to you to be exposed to criticism, keep it hidden. But remember, 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 that your work is something you do, not who you are.
1. Even The Renaissance Had To Be Funded
Everybody says they want artists to make money, and then when they do, everybody hates them for it. The word sellout is spit out by the bitterest, smallest parts of ourselves.
Don’t be jealous when the people you like do well — celebrate their victory as if it’s your own
2. Keep A Mailing List
Even if you don’t have anything to sell right now, you should always be collecting email addresses from people who come across your work and want to stay in touch.
3. Make More Work For Yourself
Be ambitious. Keep yourself busy. Think bigger. Expand your audience. Don’t hobble yourself in the name of “keeping it real,” or “not selling out.” Try new things.
If an opportunity comes along that will allow you to do more of the kind of work you want to do, say Yes. If an opportunity comes along that would mean more money, but less of the kind of work you want to do, say No.
4. Pay It Forward.
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.
1. Don’t Quit Your Show
You can’t plan on anything; you can only go about your work, You can’t count on success; you can only leave open the possibility for it, and be ready to jump on and take the ride when it comes for you.
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.
3. Go Away So You Can Come Back
Chain-smoking is a great way to keep going, but at some point, you might burn out and need to go looking for a match. The best time to find one is while taking a sabbatical
4. Begin Again
When you feel like you’ve learned whatever there is to learn from what you’re doing, it’s time to change course and find something new to learn so that you can move forward. You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again.
- All the illustrations have been directly taken from the book.
If you liked this article, I’d recommend reading the entire book by Austin Kleon