Show Your Work! - Austin Kleon

"Autobiography is only to be trusted

when it reveals something


- George Orwell

Show Your Work! - Austin Kleon

The following was something stolen from the author Austin Kleon whom taught me that stealing was not only encouraged but inevitable. This blog post is inspired by, and taken from his book "Show Your Work". This is a collection of what I found to be important for me. I hope that you find simplicity in the ten suggestions like I did. Live on purpose.

My notes on the highlights:

1 - You don’t have to be a genius

Creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration.

It’s about what you contribute.

Scenius = a scene of people who are supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas. Sceniuses include blogs, social media, email groups, and/or discussion boards (forums).

Ask how you can nurture and/or support your scenius. What can you do for others or your network?

Be an amateur. That’s all any of us are.

Try anything and SHARE the results! Take chances, experiment, follow your whims. Get out of your league.

A strength of yours can be that you don’t know what you are doing.

Think about what you want to learn, and commit to learning it in front of others.

Pay attention to what each of your sceniuses is sharing, and then start taking note of what they’re not sharing.

Look for voids that you can fill with your efforts no matter how bad they are at first.

Share what you love!

Blogging (*wink) can be a great way to communicate anything, so share EVERYTHING as if it is a matter of life or death…because it is.

You’ll be dead soon (reminder) so share your beautiful ideas.

2 - Think Process, Not Product

Take people behind the scenes.

There is "work of art" and there is also "WORK FOR ART". That’s what’s important.

The process is messy, show that.

Show your "how" so that other artists can explore that part of their creative process.

Become a documentarian of what you do. Not just the glam and science, but most importantly the day to day activities.

It’s about simply keeping track of what’s around you.

3 - Share Something Small Every Day

Forget about decades, years, and months. Focus on days. Once a day (or more) AFTER you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece (or more) of your process that you can share.

Ideas to look for sharing with others: influences, what inspires/ed you, your methods, work in progress, final product, scraps, what you’ve learned, report on how your current projects/products are doing, statistics, stories about how people are interacting with your work, research, journal entries, references, plans, drafts, drawings, prototypes, demos, notes, sketches, diagrams, interviews, audio, stories, collections, videos, scrapbooks, what is around you right now, photos...

Ways in which you can share: blog post, email, tweet, youtube video, Instagram post, other little bits of media.

"SO WHAT" test: Is it helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my boss/mother seeing?

“Yes” = share it

“No” = toss it

“I don’t know” = save it for later

Jump onto new social media platforms (not to abandon others!) and see if there may be something interesting you can do with it.

If you are unsure of what to post ask the question “what am I working on right now?” and answer it in a post.

Look for the time in your day (mindfully notice when it arrives) that you have a moment to post and take immediate advantage.

Don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actuating doing the work: set a timer and get back to work when it goes off.

Post/share as if everyone/anyone who reads it has the power to fire you (sharing vs. over-sharing).

Flow = the feed (posts, tweets, updates) or stream of daily (or more frequently) reminders to followers/people that you exist. Stock = product or completed work that holds to the test of time, think "masterpieces". Maintain your flow while you work on your stock by collecting, organizing, and expanding.

Think out-loud publicly and let other people think back at you.

Look back often to your previous posts and journal entries (flow) reading for themes, trends, and patterns. When you find these, start gathering the bits and pieces and turn them into something bigger or more substantial (stock).

Small things, over time, can get big.

A personal blog (like a personal journal) can be your sketchbook, studio, gallery, storefront, salon, anything, and/or everything. Mine is found in the journal where I collect all of my ideas as they appear in my flow and on their way to becoming finished pieces of stock.

Your website is not to be thought of as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine.

4 - Open Up Your Cabinet Of Curiosities

Don’t be a hoarder (only collect the BEST specimens).

There isn’t a big difference between collecting and creating.

Be a curator of the work that you like and ingest.

Draw people's attention to the things that you like, then shape those things into new shapes.

Share your “tastes” - 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 any art? What do you collect? Who’s work do you admire?

Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy, celebrate them.

Be open and honest about what you like.

Credit is ALWAYS due. It allows others the opportunity to dig deeper into the topic/idea.

Attribution = What is it? Who made it, and when? Why should people care? How you found it? Where can more things like this be found?

Do not share things that you can not properly credit. Find the right credit or don’t share. Use links

5 - Tell Good Stories

When shown an object, given food, or shown a face, people's assessment of it (how much they like it/how valuable it is) is deeply affected by what you tell them about it.

Buy (from cheap stores) + resell (using a good story for a higher $).

Humans want to know: where things come from, how they were made, and who made them. The story based on the where/how/who you share has a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about it. This effects how they value it too.

People want to connect. Personal stories make the complex more tangible.

The small steps and choices are the story, tell them well with depth.

A good story is told with conflict/resolution turning points, landing points, connections, and successes.

Dan Harmon's Story circle:

1. A character is in the zone of comfort.

2. But they want something.

3. They enter an unfamiliar situation.

4. Adapt to it.

5. Get what they wanted.

6. Pay a heavy price for it. (win/lose/draw)

7. Return to their familiar situation.

8. Having changed

(cycle repeats from 1)

You are the character in the story of your work. Put your work into the world coming to a win, lose, or a draw.

Include details of the initial problem, the work that is done to solve it, and the outcome.

A good pitch tells a story in three acts: past, present, and future.

Past - Where you've been, what you want, how you came to want it, and what you've done so far to get it.

Present - Where you are now in your work, how you've worked hard, and used up most of your resources.

Future - Where you're going and how exactly the person you're pitching to can help you get there.

This automatically turns your listener effectively into the hero who gets to decide how it ends.

People want to know about your worth, and if you are superior or inferior to them.

When someone asks you what you do, don't treat it like an interrogation. Treat this interaction as an opportunity to connect with someone by honestly and humbly explaining what you do. Tell the truth and tell it with dignity and self-respect.


By day, I am "?" and by night, I am "?".

Hybrid: I am a (blank) that (blank)...

A bio is NOT the place to practice creativity. Short and sweet does the deed: 2ish sentences. Refrain from using adjectives; you are not an "aspiring" photographer or an "amazing" are a photographer

6 - Teach What You Know

Anything you've learned that you do not give freely is not only shameful and destructive, it ultimately becomes lost to you.

Share your trade secrets. Every step.

Go out of your way to share your knowledge, but keep an openness to being wrong. This will allow you to gain further insight and deeper understanding.

What do you do? What are your "recipes"? What is your "cookbook"? What can you tell the world about how you operate? What do you find informative, educational, and/or promotional? What are your techniques in your craft? What skills have you acquired at using certain tools and materials? What kind of knowledge comes along with your job?

The moment you learn something, teach it to others!

Share your reading list, point to helpful references, articles, tutorials. Use pictures, words, videos, take people through the process step by step.

Empower people to get better at something they want to get better at.

7 - Don't Turn Into Human Spam

Shut up and listen!

Spend time absorbing what you'd like to put out there.

Ask for recommendations and chat with followers about stuff they love. Ask them about their preferences, interact with fans on the level of a fan yourself.

Don't only point to your stuff, be a connector of your work to the work of others.

Getting followers is about hearts and minds, NOT eyeballs. Think quality versus quantity.

Don't follow, waste time with, or talk about stuff you don't want to.

If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

Who you know is largely dependent on who you are and what you do.

Don't try to make connections, instead, get good at what you do, make stuff you love, talk about stuff you love. Keep it simple.

Vampire test.

If after hanging out with someone, you feel worn out and depleted, that is a vampire. Think of not only people but also jobs, hobbies, and places. Remember that vampires can not be cured. When you recognize one, politely banish it from your life.

Good artists don't keep secrets. When you have a breakthrough pass it on and keep it alive. Exchange tips and tricks. When you befriend a good artist keep them close, sing their praises to the universe, invite them to collaborate, show them work before anybody else, call them to share secrets.

Meet online friends in real life - the most important thing about being online.

Meetups! Find one. If there are none, set one up. Size doesn't matter. Try museums, bookstores, cafes.

8 - Learn To Take A Punch

Criticism is not personal.

Practice meditation.

Make more work and put it out there for critiques.

Keep moving.

Sometimes making something that is hated by certain people is a badge of honor.

Protect your delicate materials, sensitive work, and weak areas until you are ready.

Your work is what you do, not who you are.

Block trolls.

Delete nasty comments.

9 - Sell Out

Look for ways to sell your craft, work, and/or skills.

Celebrate the victories of others as if they are your own.

Cultivate relationships, show your work to them, share freely, then ask for $.

Put a price on your work that you think is fair.

Collect and keep email addresses. Give away great stuff on your site in exchange for an email address. When you have something remarkable to sell or share, send out an email/newsletter. Do not betray the trust of your email list and don't push your luck.

What matters is doing good work and taking advantage of EVERY opportunity that comes your way. Say YES!

A life of creativity is all about change, moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers, thinking bigger, being ambitious, keeping busy, trying new things, and having the audacity.

When you have success, throw opportunities to your teachers, mentors, heroes, influences, peers, and fans. Give them a chance to share their work.

Be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.

10 - Stick Around

The people who get what they are after, are often the ones to stick around long enough. Don’t quit! When they cut off your hands, hold on with your elbow; when they cut off your arms, hold on with your teeth.

You can’t count on success, you can only leave open the possibility of it.

Whether you have just won big or a lost big, you still have to face the question “what now?”.

Use the end of one project to light up the beginning of the next, and start now! When you’re done ask “what did I miss?“, “what could I have done better?“, or “what couldn’t I get to?“. Jump into the next project with those answers. Think of the work that you do as a chain reaction.

Re-charge and get inspired again with periodic breaks. Ways of doing this realistically are during your commute, during exercise, and/or spending time in nature. Your commute allows for separation of work and home and it is a good time to tune out. Exercising relaxes the mind by opening it up to new states. Nature, spending time in a park, going for a hike, gardening, stepping out for some fresh air, and/or disconnecting from anything and everything electronically. Give yourself some time and space away from the hard work that you do.

When you learn how to do something, abandon it. Become a student again. If you aren’t embarrassed by who you were and what you have done last year, you aren’t learning enough.

When you rid yourself of old work and material you push yourself further and deeper and come up with something better. Don’t think of it as starting over because it simply is just beginning again.


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Thank you,

Jace Anderson

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