Show Your Work – Summary

The most interesting and motivational books that I’ve read recently is Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. Here are some notes I took while reading the book.

  1. You don’t have to be a genius
    • One of the most dangerous myths about creativity – lone genius – that great work are done by lonely, antisocial geniuses
    • Scenius – a healthier way of thinking about creativity. Great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals who interact and share with each other. If you look at the history of the lone geniuses, they all had a network of creative and talented peers. Try to be part of such networks.
    • Be an amateur
      • Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results
      • In the beginners mind, there are many possibilities, in the experts mind there are few
      • Not afraid to make mistakes and look ridiculous in public
      • Willingness to try stupid things – which in turn is creative
      • Don’t worry not about how to make money or career off it. Share what you love and make even if it has mistakes. The people who love similar things will find you.
    • You can’t find your voice if you’re not using it
      • How Roger Ebert became an online hit – he had no other choice, he was dying
      • Sharing online is almost mandatory these days – certainly in my case.
    • Read obituaries
      • “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” – Steve Jobs
      • Obituaries are like near death experiences for cowards. It’s also a summary of their lives, what they did and who they were.
  2. Think process, not product
    • Take people behind the scenes
      • Human beings are interested in other human beings and what other human beings do – “people really do want to see how sausage gets made”
      • By letting go of our ego and share our process, we allow the possibility of people having an ongoing connection with us and our work
    • Become a documentarian of what you do
      • We’re not all artists. We think we don’t have anything to show at the end of the day. But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to it and there are people who are interested in it if presented to them in the right way
      • Even if you think you don’t have anything to show, you can still scoop up all the scrap of your process and shape them into some interesting bit of media.
        • Document your process: scrapbook, photos of your work in progress, videos of you working, of different stages in your work.
        • It’s not about making art, it’s simply keeping track of what’s going on around you.
        • Whether you share it or not, documenting process has other rewards, like the sense of progress, and you’ll be able to see your work more clearly. And once you’re ready to share, there’s plenty of stuff to choose from.
  3. Share something small everyday – daily dispatch
    • The day is the only unit of time I can really get my head around. weeks and seasons are too long and human made. The day has a rhythm, the sun goes up, the sun goes done, I can handle that.
    • Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find something to share.
    • Your daily dispatch can be anything you want – a blog post, a tweet, an email, a youtube video, a photo. Anything!
    • Social media sites are the perfect place to share daily updates – you don’t need to be on all platforms – just pick one or two and stick to it. You could try to be an early adopter if there’s a new one popping up.
    • “90% of everything is crap” – Theodore Sturgeon
    • Turn your flow into stock
      • “Stock and flow” is an economic concept that write Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media. Flow is the feed. The stuff that you share, the posts the tweets. It’s the daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s interesting in two months or two years. It’s the stuff that people discover via search. It spreads slowly and surely and builds you fans. The magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background.
      • You can turn your flow into stock. Go back and look at your flow posts and find patterns. Use these ideas and patterns to build better and more valuable stuff.
      • The author says this book started off a series of tweets and blog posts.
    • Build a good (domain) name
      • “Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best investments your can make with your time” – Andy Baio
      • Social networks come and go, have a permanent and your own place to share stuff
      • A world headquarters where people can always find you
      • If you get one thing out of this book, make it this : register a domain name, and build a website. Your website doesn’t need to be pretty, it just has to exist.
      • A blog/website is an ideal machine to turn flow into stock
      • Think about it in the long term, stick with it, maintain it and allow it to change with you over time.
      • Whether people show up or not, you’re out there, doing your thing, ready whenever they are.
  4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities
    • Don’t be a hoarder – use it to create stuff. Share you influences
    • The things you read, watch, listen all influence your taste. Your teste influence your work.
    • If you like something, don’t feel guilty about it and be open about it – there are always other people who would like the same thing
    • Always provide credit/attribution if you’re using someone else’s work. Only share things you can properly credit.
  5. Tell good stories
    • Work doesn’t speak for itself
    • When shown an object, or 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.
    • If you need to become more effective when sharing your work, you need to become a better storyteller.
      • “The cat sat on a mat is not a story, the cat sat on a dog’s mat is a story” : John le Carre
    • Structure is everything
      • “In the first act, you get your hero up a tree, in the second act you throw stones at him and in the third act you let him down.” : George Abbot
      • John Gardner’s most for all stories : “A character wants something and goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including self doubt), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw”
      • Every client presentation, every personal essay, every fundraising request, are all pitches. A good pitch is set up in three acts. The first act is the past, the second is the present and third act is the future. The first act is where you have been, what you want and how you came to want it and what you’ve done so far to get it. The second act is where you are in your work and how you’ve worked hard. The third act is where you’re going and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there.
    • Learn to speak, learn to write
    • Study great stories
    • Talk about yourself at the parties
      • You should be able to explain your work to everyone in simple words – practice if you want
      • Same applies to writing bios. We all thing we’re more complex than a two-sentence explanation, but a two-sentence explanation is what the world wants from us. Keep it short and sweet.
      • Strike all the adjectives from the bio. If you take photos, you’re not an aspiring photographer. And you’re not an amazing photographer either. You’re a photographer. Don’t get cute, don’t brag, state the facts.
      • “whatever we say, we’re always talking about ourselves” – Alison Bechdel
  6. Teach what you know
    • Share your trade secrets
      • The impulse to keep to yourself whatever you’ve learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give out freely and abundantly becomes lost to you!
      • The minutes you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. Create some tutorial and share it online. Use pictures, words or video. Take them step by step through the journey. Make people better at what you want to be better at.
  7. Don’t turn into human spam
    • Shut up and listen
      • Human Spam : People who don’t listen to your ideas, they want to tell you theirs. They don’t pay their dues, they want their piece.
      • The world becomes all about them and their work
      • 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 your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong. You need to be a connector, an open node. If you want to get, you need to give. Shut up and listen once in a while.
    • You want hearts, not eyeballs
      • Stop worrying about how many people follow and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you.
      • If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.
      • If you want followers, be someone worth following
      • “connections don’t mean shit” – Steve Albini. Stop wasting your energy and time trying make connections instead of getting good at what you do. Being good at something is the only thing that’ll make you connections.
      • Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.
      • Follow me back? is the saddest question on the internet
      • The vampire test – Constantin Brancusi
        • A simple way to know who you should let in or out of your life. If, after hanging out with a person you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire. You can apply this to anything – job, hobbies, places, etc.
      • “Part of act of creating is in discovering your own kind, they’re everywhere but don’t look for them in the wrong places.”
      • Meeting people online is awesome, but turning them into IRL (in real life) friends is even better. Arrange meetups with people you meet online.
  8. Learn to take a punch
    • 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.
      • Relax and breathe
        • consider practicing meditation.
        • Imaginative people are good at picturing the worst possible things
        • Take a deep breath and accept whatever comes
      • Strengthen your neck
        • Practice getting hit a lot. Put out a lot of work.
      • Roll with punches
        • Every piece of criticism is an opportunity for new work
      • Protect your vulnerable areas
        • If you have work that’s too sensitive or too close to you to be exposed to criticism, keep it hidden. But 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
        • Keep close to the people who love you for what you are, not for the work
    • Don’t feed the trolls – block anyone who isn’t interested in your work and only provokes you with harmful, hateful and aggressive talk.
  9. Sell out
    • Even the renaissance had to be funded
    • Get over the starving artist romanticism
    • It’s perfectly ok to make things and sell it for money
    • Keep a mailing list
      • Never add anyone to the list without their permission
    • When you have success, it’s important to help anyone who’ve helped you along the way.
  10. Stick around
    • Every career is full of ups and downs
    • The people who get what they’re after are very often the ones who just stick around long enough
    • It’s very important not to quit prematurely
    • A successful or failed project is not a guarantee of another success or failure
    • Try not to lose momentum
      • Instead of taking a break between projects, waiting for feedback and worrying about what next, use the end of one project to light up the next one.
    • Go away so you can come back
      • Longer breaks throughout the year
      • Or daily practical sabbaticals. Walk away from your work completely. Commute, exercise, nature.
      • When you feel like you’ve learned whatever there is to learn from what you’re doing, change course and find something else to learn and move forward.
      • You have to have the courage to get rid of work and rethink things completely. Teardown and rebuild from scratch.

Hope these bullet point summary gives you a flavour of what this book is about. It’s a lot more than these points though and fun to read too.