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Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon

July 5, 2014


This is Austin Kleon’s follow-up to his best-selling Steal Like an Artist. That book is full of excellent advice on how to find inspiration. This book is about leveraging technology and communities to share the work you do create, in its finished form and, perhaps more importantly, in progress. The subtitle is a bit off-putting, I think, and makes this book seem more like a big breakthrough self-help guide. Kleon puts it better in his intro when he describes it as “a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion.”

Other than the subtitle, I found very little to dislike in this book. Perhaps Kleon could be criticized for curating advice that’s not all his, but that’s in line with his philosophy of finding what inspires, recombining it and then sharing it. There is insightful advice on nearly every page, whether it’s Kleon’s own, his paraphrasing of someone else or direct quotes from people he admires. This, along with Steal Like an Artist, should be on the bookshelf of anyone in a creative industry.

Here are some of my favorite quotes.

On being an amateur:

…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.


“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. Medioctrity, however, is still on the spectrum…the real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.”

-from Clay Shirky’s Cognitive Surplus


Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.


On mortality in the section advising “Read obituaries”:

 “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.”

-Steve Jobs


“If you could walk around like that all the time, to really have that awareness that it’s going to end. That’s the trick.”

-George Saunders, on the post-near-death-experience experience


Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards.


On becoming a documentarian of your work:

…whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way.


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

-David Carr


On sharing your work:

 Don’t show your lunch or your latte. Show your work.


Don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actually doing your work.


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

-Lauren Cerand


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

-Colin Marshall


On sharing your likes:

When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it…Don’t try to be hip or cool. Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.


On the story behind your work, in a section aptly titled “Work doesn’t speak for itself”:

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 [sic] how they value it…If you want to be more effective when sharing your work, you need to become a better storyteller.


On teaching what you know:

 “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


On always learning:

 You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again.


And my favorite:

If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.

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