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Show Your Work

by Austin Kleon

Date finished: 26 Feb 2023

Showing your work publicly is the best way to connect with people who are passionate about the same things as you. It helps you invent yourself, lets your fans find you, and helps you improve at what you do. People who you look up to probably share their work as part of their routine.

All Book Notes | Amazon page

My Notes

Creativity doesn’t come as a lightning bolt

Good work doesn’t come out of nowhere. It comes from interacting with ideas of other people. Many of the “lone geniuses” throughout history were part of a community who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, and giving and taking ideas.

It’s okay to be an amateur. It gives you freedom and perspective

You have no reputation to live up to, nothing to lose and people are have less expectation out of your work. You can experiment, make mistakes, and look ridiculous. Also, as an amateur, you can sometimes give better advice to other amateurs, since the expert is so far ahead in his craft that he may have trouble seeing what the amateur is struggling with.

To “find your voice” you need to use it

Share what you like reading, what thoughts you’re obsessed with, what music you can’t keep out of your head. Talk about what you love, and don’t self-censor.

You will die, and so will everyone else. It’s not that scary to put yourself out there

To quote Steve Jobs:

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. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. 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.

Document everything you do and share your process

Human beings are social. They want to see what other humans are doing and how and why. Sharing your work helps you form relationships with other people.

Especially if the outcome of your work isn’t easily shared, if you’re still in the apprentice stage of your work, or if your process doesn’t lead to tangible finished products, the process is all you have to share.

Share something small every day

No-one had overnight success. Building a body of quality work takes a lifetime. Focus on shipping a bite-size of work every day. It can be your influences, your sources, your method, what you learned, anything. Share this on your social media. Even if 90% of it is crap, if you share daily, you will have 36 good posts in a year.

You have to make time for it. Everyone has 24hrs/day. If it’s important, you will make the time. Stay up a bit later, wake up a bit earlier, do it during commute.

Sharing shouldn’t take precedence over producing actual work.

Don’t share useless things

You’re sharing with people because you care, not to spam their feeds. If it’s not interesting, useful, or entertaining don’t share it. If you wouldn’t be comfortable with your mom or your boss seeing it don’t share it. If you’re unsure, share something else instead and put this back in the drawer. Sleep on it, there’s no reason to rush.

Combine your small daily shares into larger bodies of work

There are themes and patterns in the daily bite-sized chunks you share Collect and organize what you’re sharing. Keep your sources accessible and searchable. Have an archive. Go back through your notes, and piece them together to bigger bodies of work . Tweets become blog posts. Blog posts become book chapters.

Claim Your corner of the internet

Social media are useful, but they come and go like any other trend. Have a corner of the internet that’s yours. You can be anything and anyone you want online. Build your own website and publish everything you do there. Make it your own small utopia and fill it with your ideas and the things you care about.

Share your influences and inspiration sources

When starting out anything, you will not be good enough. Becoming good takes time and practice. Share your inspiration if you don’t feel comfortable sharing your early attempts. What are you reading? What blogs are you subscribed to? Who are your heroes? Who do you look up to?

All these are part of who you are. People are social. They want to know you. Share away!

Be open and honest about what you like. Don’t self-censor

You love things that someone else probably thinks are garbage. That’s fine. Love your garbage. When you genuinely enjoy something, don’t feel guilty about it. Share it. It’s the best way to connect with people who like it too.

If you self-censor and only share things that you think other people will find cool, you will never connect with people over the things you actually care about. That’s a lonely life to live.

Always credit the work you’re sharing

Whenever you are sharing work of others, credit it. Always. Treat work of others as if it were your own.

Say what the work is, who made it, how they made it, when and where, and why are you sharing it. You can also shout-out to the people who helped you find the work you’re sharing; you share your inspiration sources, and help them get more visibility at the same time.

Lastly, always include a link. People are lazy. If you don’t add a link, almost no-one will bother searching the source you’re attributing.

Learn to tell good stories about your work

Words are important. The stories you tell about your work vastly shape how people perceive your work. It shapes how they feel, what they understand about it, and how they value it. The way you email, text, tweet, blog, comment is all part of a narrative you are constructing about your work. Learn what is a good story and how to tell one.

There is a vast body of work studying storytelling. A simple, but effective plot for stories by John Gardner:

A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.

Learn to talk about yourself in an interesting but humble way

Have a pitch when people ask you “What do you do?”. It’s an opportunity to connect with somebody who might be genuinely interested in your work. Keep your audience in mind: you should be able to explain what you do to a 5-year-old, to your grandmother, to someone in your field, and everyone else.

Saying “I’m a software engineer who draws and plays music” is ok. If you don’t feel comfortable with your title, ask yourself why. Maybe you need to reflect upon your life decisions.

Stick to the facts. Quoting straight from the book:

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.

Teach your craft and share your knowledge

Sharing your techniques doesn’t mean anyone can emulate them. It usually requires years of practice to master something, and most people are not even interested in mastering it in the first place. But they still can be fascinated in witnessing the process1.

Share what you learn, your reading list, helpful reference materials. Create tutorials. Teach what you know. It generates interest in your field, which helps your work. Teaching helps internalizing knowledge. People reach out to you with helpful reading material and they bring you in contact with people in the field.

If you want to be noticed, you have to notice

No-one likes the “I write, but I don’t read” kind of people. If you only shout-out to your own work you are playing the game wrongly, and no-one will want to play with you. You need to be a fan before you have fans. You have to care about others’s work if you want people to care about yours.

Care about Who is following you, not how many

It’s much better to have 1000 true fans than 10000 followers who don’t care about what you are doing. Connections are important in life, but meaningful connections only arise through genuine interest and care. Make stuff you love and you will attract people who love that kind of stuff.

Keep away from people who suck your energy

Spending time with some people will make you feel energized. With others, you will feel depleted. The latter suck your energy. Remove them from your life at all cost. Same with any other activity that drains you.

Find the few people who match your weird and make them your trusted circle

There are a few people that match your weirdness. They share your obsessions, they have a similar mission to you, and you share mutual respect. Collaborate with them, praise them, and keep them as close as you can.

Meet with people in real life

Over time you will make a great online network. Meet with these people in real life too.

Learn to take criticism without making it personal

The more work you share, and the more popular you become, the more criticism you will face. Get used to criticism. Learn to differentiate your work from self-identity. Use the useful critiques to become better, and ignore the hateful ones.

Some people will hate your work with passion. Make more of it. Hate and love are two sides of the same coin.

It’s fine to make money as a creative

Quoting from the book:

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

Don’t be jealous when people you like do well. Don’t be bitter.

Ask funding for your work

When your work becomes sufficiently good that you think it deserves funding, ask for it. Add a “Like this? Buy me a coffee.” to your website. Send an email to your newsletter subscribers asking them to fund your next book.

Be careful when crowdfunding. Sometimes feel that they have some say in how their money is being used (not too unlike how investors want to influence a startup).

Have a mailing list of people who like your work

Email outlasted every other online communication channel so far. Keep a mailing list of people who like your work, and send them emails with useful and interesting content.

When you need to advertize your new project, ask for funding for your new startup, or need help proofreading your upcoming book, your mailing list will be a warm audience responding to your needs.

People who sign up to your mailing list trust you. Respect them and don’t betray their trust.

Be open to opportunities for that help you do more of what you like

If something comes along your way that will allow you to do more of the work you love doing, say Yes. If something comes along that would mean more money but less of what you like doing, say No.

Be mindful to spend your time on your craft, not the busywork around it

Quoting Neil Gaiman:

There was a day when I looked up and realised that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.

Persist, and don’t quit early

People who succeed are usually the ones who persist long enough. Don’t quit early.

Keep a momentum with your work

Don’t let your momentum die between projects. Woody Allen used to start writing the script for the next film the day he finished the last one. Ernest Hemmingway used to stop a sentence midway so he knew where to start next morning.

Taking breaks, waiting for feedback and worrying about what’s next all kill your momentum. Use your current project as a link to the next one.

Don’t burn out

Sometimes it is beneficial to completely remove yourself from your work and what you’re doing. Go to the woods for a week. Spend three months doing something entirely different.

Sabbaticals - of varying length - will give your brain space to ideate.

Keep yourself an amateur

As you become better at what you do, you will plateau and things will become stale. You need to keep challenging yourself. Try new things, start a new craft, dive in a new domain of knowledge. Become a beginner again, and let the possibilities light up your brain.

  1. Did you watch How it’s made as a kid, or anything else similar? You were probably never interested in becoming a bowling bowl manufacturer, but it was still fascinating to watch how they’re made. 

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