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Show your Work by Austin Kleon.

Recently I read the book ‘Show your Work’ by Austin Kleon. I have seen this book at so many places - at a friends house, as a gift, on book stalls, at coffee tables but never got around to reading it. But this time i decided that I am going to buy the physical copy as opposed to an ebook as it contains a lot of drawings and graphics by the author and also because it was a long time since I held a physical book. I got my husband to buy it along with the other two in the series - Steal like an artist and Keep Going - as an anniversary present. I was inspired to read this after Youtuber ‘Ali Abdaal’ shared how this is one of the most life changing books he has ever read.

About the book

This book gives you tools, mindsets, frameworks and strategies to be creative in the digital age. It is simple to read and divided into 10 chapters each providing you a way to operate and be creative.The idea is to cultivate an ability to showcase you work. You don’t need to be an expert. Share a work-in-progress and take your audience behind the scenes to reveal your process of working. It might be useful for someone and might help them to get creative and show their work themselves.

Instead of being a hoarder of information, be a curator and a collector of ideas that resonate with you. Share your interest and passion with others and you will be able to find your tribe. Once you are successful, help out those that you took inspiration from.

This book feels so good to hold and read. It’s a short book, which is easy to consume and reflect and write on. I finished it in one sitting and then re-read it for capturing my notes. I thing its a great coffee table book and I am going to read it several times in the future just to refresh and feel inspired whenever I am feeling a creative block.

Who Should read this book?

Any one who has a creative pursuit, in this digital age, should read this book. Even if you are not an artist or a creative person, you will definitely benefit from it.

Summary + Notes

Through this book, the author argues that it’s not just enough to be good at your craft. In order to be discovered by others you have to be ‘findable’. One needs to be able to share their work freely so that they can be discovered by those who share their interests and passions. The book is also not meant to teach you tricks of self-promotion instead it lays out the idea of being so good that others will not be able to ignore you. All you need is a new way of operating. He lays out ten philosophies/way of being that you can imbibe to be able to thrive creatively, in the digital age

1. You don’t have to be a genius

  • Good work isn’t created in isolation. Instead it is a work of collaboration with other minds, who are part of whole movement of people who are supporting each other, stealing and contributing ideas. So its not about how smart or talented you are but what you have to contribute - ideas that you share, the connections you make and the conversations you start.

  • Be an Amateur. An Amateur is an enthusiast who pursues his/her work in the spirit of love (In french the word means ‘a lover’) which allows them to not be afraid to look stupid or silly. They have an advantage over the professional as they are willing to try and share new things, experiment and follow their interests and in the process make new discoveries. They know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing. Amateurs are life long learners and open to learn from their successes and failures.

    • In this fast paced and changing world, everyone is turning into an amateur, the point is to learn to work with unknowns and uncertainity.

    • The best way to start sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn and then learning it in front of others. See what others are sharing and find out gaps that you can fill in through what you know. Don’t worry about how will you financially support your choices and just continue to create and share what you love.

In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, in the expert’s mind there are few. - Shunryu Suzuki
  • You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it. Share the things that you care about online and people will find you

  • Read obituaries of people to derive meaning into your life

2. Think Process not product

  • Take people behind the scenes : In the digital age, people just are not interested to see the finished product but instead they want to know the process behind the product. It helps the audience to be a part of the creative process and in forming a relationship with the customers

  • Become a documentarian of what you do : There is an art to whatever we do and there might be people who are interested in the art. You can start to keep a journal, or a blog to record your process and share it with the world

3. Share something small every day

  • From your documentation find a little piece that you can share. If you are in the early stages of work, share what’s inspirational and motivational, when you are in the middle of a project, write about your methods or show your work in progress. If you have just completed a project, show the final output or your learnings from it. This is similar to the idea of ‘intermediate packets’ from the book ‘Building a second Brain’.

  • Only share something that you think intuitively is worth sharing.

  • Turn your flow into stock. Share something daily (flow) and in the background work on the content that is more durable and meaningful (stock). Maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background. If you follow sharing as part of a daily routine, you will notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You can then turn them into something bigger and substantial.

  • Buy yourself a good domain name where you can start sharing whatever is it that you are working on. Make it your own turf and spend time doing and posting good work and other things will eventually follow.

4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities

  • Share your influences, interests, tastes as it tells people who you are and what you do. Don’t be a hoarder of things instead try to be a collector or a curator which is not very different from being creative.

  • Share anything you like that other people might discard. Look for the gems in the discarded and do not be afraid to edit or filter out your influences.

  • Give credit to the creator of the work that you are sharing. Also give context for what you’re sharing i.e what the work is, who made it, how they made it, when and where it was made, why you’re sharing it, why people should care about it, and where people can see more work like it, where we found the work that we are sharing

5. Tell good stories

  • Human beings are interested to know where things came from and how it were made and who made them. The stories we tell about a work we do has a huge impact on how its valued by others. This value is derived by how people feel about your work and what do they understand about your work from the stories that you tell them. In order to become effective when sharing ourselves and our work is by becoming a better story teller

  • Have some structure to the stories that you tell

  • Be honest and candid about the work you do and strike up a conversation with others about your work

6. Teach what you know

  • Whenever you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. This helps generate interest in what you do. Teaching others doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it adds to it. Whenever you share your work with others its is an opportunity to educate your self through people who provide either feedback on your work or connect you to further resources

7. Don’t turn into a human spam

  • A human spam is a person who just keeps on sharing his own work all the time instead of finding out what others are truly interested in.

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 to your stuff online, you’re doing it wrong. You have to be a connector. If you want followers be someone worth following.
  • Do a vampire test to know whether you should keep someone in your life. If someone drains you of energy they are a vampire and if someone energises you then they are not. Be around people who are not vampires.

  • Find and meet people who share your interests and passions and nurture your relationships with them.

8. Learn to take a punch

  • When you are ready to put your work out there into the world. Be ready for the good, the bad and ugly. The more people read and consume your work the more criticism you will face.

    • Relax and breath deeply and take whatever comes.

    • Keep moving with your work. You cannot control other’s actions so just focus on your momentum

Protect your vulnerable areas don’t avoid them. If you spend your life avoiding vulnerability, you and your work will never truly connect with other people
  • Remember work is something that you do not who you are

  • Take feedback from people who care about you and what you do and be wary of feedback from anybody who falls outside of that.

9. Sell out

  • Don’t be afraid to charge for your work - through donations, crowdfund, selling your products and services. Asking for money in return for your work is a leap of faith you take when you are confident that your work is truly worth something.

  • Keep a mailing list for the days when the technology might expire but everybody will have an email where we can directly reach out to our audience. Don’t be a pushover and provide value through your content to all those who have signed up over the email in the form of newsletters.

  • Experiment with and expand your work. Embrace opportunities that are line with what you want to do with your creative work. Leave the rest.

  • Pay it forward - Once you have had success, use your influence, money etc to promote the work of people that have helped you along your journey. Provide them with opportunities where they can show their own work.

10. Stick around

  • Don’t give up and continue to pursue your ambitions even if you think you are failing. Don’t quit.

  • Chain-smoke : Once you complete a project, don’t idle out, instead keep the momentum going by using the end of one project to start another. This is similar to building a hemingway bridge of ideas.

  • Take a break when needed from your work to rest and recharge and avoid any burn-out.

The thing is, you never really start over. You don’t lose all the work that’s come before. Even if you toss it aside, the lessons that you’ve learned from it will seep into what you do next.


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