Show Your Work - Book highlights
5 min read

Show Your Work - Book highlights

Show Your Work - Book highlights

I finally got a chance to read Austin Kleon's bestseller book - "Show Your Work". Although, I've had "Steal Like An Artist" book (yet another Austin's masterpiece) on my reading list for a while, when I saw Ali Abdaal (productivity expert and one of my favorite YouTubers) highly recommending this piece, I was intrigued and got to it right away.

Now, I shall admit, this is the book of the year for me. There is just so much insight into the creative process of everyday things. After reading this book, I've realized how wrongly I approached my own creative work. By the way, I am a developer building digital products 😉.

So, here I would like to share my favorite book highlights. TLDR:

The key is process, not product. Share something new every day...

About the book

I got this book as a Xmas gift, which is about 200 pages, ~A6-sized tiny polished book that feels great in hands. I usually read in a Kindle format and I am happy I got this one in a physical form.

The book is broken up into ten chapters, which Austin describes as "10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered". Best of all, the book is full of amazing illustrations (apparently drawn by the author), and quotes from other famous writers, artists, and creators, which I found extremely inspiring to read. So, I can't recommend it enough: get a copy of this book for yourself and read it from cover to cover:

Chapter 1: You don't have to be a genius.

  • Great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals that the musician Brian Eno refers to as "scenius".
  • Scenius acknowledges that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.
  • Scenius makes room for the rest of us: the people who don't consider ourselves geniuses.
  • Be an amateur - the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love, regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career.
  • Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public.
  • Amateurs are all lifelong learners, and they make a point of learning in the open, so that others can learn from their failures and successes.
  • 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.
  • The only way to find your voice is to use it, by talking about things you love.
  • In this day and age, if your work isn't online, it doesn't exist.
  • One day you'll be dead. Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live.

Chapter 2: Think process, not product.

  • There's the artwork, the finished piece, framed and hung on a gallery wall, and there's the art work, and all the day-to-day stuff that goes on behind the scenes: looking for inspiration, getting an idea, applying oil to a canvas, etc.
  • Audiences not only want to stumble across great work, but they, too, long to be creative and part of the creative process.
  • 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 resume; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers."
  • Become a documentarian of what you do.

Chapter 3: Share something small every day.

  • Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm.
  • 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.
  • "90 percent of everything is crap." The trouble is, we don't always know what's good and what sucks. That's why it's important to get things in front of others and see how they react.
  • Ideally, you want the work you post online to be copied and spread to every corner of the Internet.
  • "Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you."
  • "Flow is the feed. Stock is the durable stuff." The magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background.
  • Once you make sharing part of your daily routine, you'll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. Ideas of this book started out as tweets, which then became blog posts, which then became book chapters.
  • Nothing beats owning your space online, a place that you control. (refers to blog/website)

Chapter 4: Open up your cabinet of curiosities.

  • We all carry around the weird and wonderful things we've come across while doing our work and living our lives.
  • 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.
  • Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.
  • If you share the work of others, it's your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit.

Chapter 5: Tell good stories.

  • 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.
  • If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller.
  • Structure is everything. Aristotle said a story had a beginning, a middle, and an end.
  • Always keep your audience in mind. Speak to them directly in plain language. Value their time. Be brief. Learn to speak. Learn to write.

Chapter 6: Teach what you know.

  • Think about what you can share from your process that would inform the people you're trying to reach.
  • The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others.
  • When you share your knowledge and your work with others, you receive an education in return.

Chapter 7: Don't turn into human spam.

  • Good work isn't created in a vacuum, the experience of art is always a two-way street, incomplete without feedback.
  • "Being an open node". If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice.
  • Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you.
  • If you want followers, be someone worth following. If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.
  • 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.

Chapter 8: Learn to take a punch.

  • The more people come across your work, the more criticism you'll face.
  • The more criticism you take, the more you realize it can't hurt you.
  • Every piece of criticism is an opportunity for the new work.
  • If you spend your life avoiding vulnerability, you and your work will never truly connect with other people.

Chapter 9: Sell out.

  • I try to be open about my process, connect with my audience, and ask them to support me by buying the things I'm selling.
  • Life of creativity is all about change - moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers.
  • 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 opprortunity comes along that would mean more money, but less of the kind of work you want to do, say No.
  • Pay it forward. You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get work done.

Chapter 10: Stick around.

  • If you look to artists who've managed to achieve lifelong careers, you detect the same pattern: They all have been able to persevere, regardless of success or failure.
  • You avoid stalling out in your career by never losing momentum.
  • "Anyone who isn't embarassed of who they were last year probably isn't learning enough".
  • You have to have the courage to get rid of work and rethink things completely.
  • Look for something new to learn, and when you find it, dedicate yourself to learning it out in the open.