Show Your Work by Austin Kleon


  • you don't find your audience, they find you...but you have to be findable
  • this is a book about sharing for people who hate self-promotion; about influencing others by letting them steal from you
  • "Imagine spending the majority of your time, energy, and attention practicing a craft, learning a trade, or running a business, while also allowing for the possibility that your work might attract a group of people who share your interests. All you have to do is show your work."

1. You don't have to be a genius

Find a scenius

  • the lone, creative, antisocial genius is a myth
  • rather the works of these people come from groups of creative individuals, an "ecology of talent", a scenius
  • the Internet makes it easy to join a scenius

Be an amateur

  • amateur: "enthusiast who pursues work in the spirit of love, regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career"
  • amateurs have an advantage because they have nothing to lose and are able to take risks
  • contributing something is better than contributing nothing
  • quotes Lewis: "It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better tha nthe master can" (16)
  • "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." (19)

You can't find your voice if you don't use it

  • "in this day and age, if your work isn't online, it doesn't exist" (23)

Read obituaries

  • memento mori
  • obituaries aren't really about death; they're about life

2. Think process, not product

Take people behind the scenes

  • "human being are interested in other human beings and what other human beings do" (36)

Become a documentarian of what you do

  • David Carr: "You have to make stuff. No one is going to give a damn about your résumé; they want to see what you have make with your own little fingers." (41)
  • Documentarian: keep a work journal, take photos of your work, etc.
  • You'll see your own progress, and have material to share when you're ready

3. Share something small every day

Send a daily dispatch

  • "Building a substantial body of work takes a long time—a lifetime, really" (47)
  • He recommends sharing on social media (51): I wonder if his thinking on this has changed
  • "Don't show your lunch or your latte; show your work." (52)
  • [Sci-fi writer Theodore] Sturgeon's Law: "90 percent of everything is crap" (54): aim for quantity (not over quality, but to achieve quality)

**The "so what?" test

  • "Always remember that anything you post to the Internet has now become public." Lauren Cerand: "Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you." (57)
  • ask "SO WHAT?" every time you post a piece of writing

Turn your flow into stock

  • Flow is the feed; stock is the durable stuff
  • "Your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow." (62)
  • you can detect patters in what you share daily (flow) and gather them into something more substantial (stock)

Build a good (domain) name

  • "Social networks are great, but they come and go...If you're really interested in sharing your work and expressing yourself, nothing beats owning your own space online." (66)
  • "One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life's work. My blog has been my sketchbook, my studio, my gallery, my storefront, and my salong. Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet." (66-67)
  • "Don't think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine." (67)
  • "The beauty of owning your own turf is that your can do whatever you want with it...You don't have to make compromises." (69)

4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities

Don't be a hoarder

  • "Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do—sometimes een more than your own work." (77)

No guilty pleasures

  • "On Experience" by Montaigne: "The most ordinary things, the most common and familiar, if we could see them in their true light, would turn out to be the greatest miracles...and the most marvelous examples." (81)
  • "Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too." (83)

Credit is always due

  • "You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care." (84) ...the first of that sentence could be woefully misunderstood
  • So true: Without citing you not only rob the creator, but your audience since they can't see where to learn more (84-85)
  • Also share you/what helped you find what you're sharing (85)
  • "Don't share things you can't properly credit. Find the right credit, or don't share." (87)

5. Tell good stories

Work doesn't speak for itself

  • "Our work doesn't speak for itself. Human being want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. 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 how that value it." (93)

Structure is everything

  • Study story structures, and fit events from your life to those structures
  • Example story structures:
    • Dan Harmon: (1) A character is in a zone of comfort; (2) But they want something; (3) They enter an unfamiliar situation; (4) Adapt to it; (5) Get what they wanted; (6) Pay a heavy price for it; (7) Return to their familiar situation; (8) Having changed
    • Emma Coats (Pixar): once upon a time, there was . Every day, _. One day, . Because of that, . Becuase of that, . Until finally, _.
    • Arisotle: Beginning, middle, end.
    • 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.
    • Gustav Freytag: (1) Exposition; (2) Inciting Incident; (3) Climax; (4) Resolution; (5) Denouement
    • A good pitch: The past, the present, the future (how the person you're pitching to can help)
  • always keep your audience in mind (101)

Talk about yourself at parties

  • Be able to answer the question "what do you do?" in a way appropriate for the audience
  • state the facts

6. Teach what you know

Share your trade secrets

  • "The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others." (117)
  • Christopher Hitchens: Having your work in the world is "a free education that goes on for a lifetime." (119)

7. Don't turn into human spam

Shut up and listen

  • Human spam: people who don't want to "pay the dues" and want their piece here and now

You want hearts, not eyeballs

  • Donald Barthelme: "Have you tried making yourself a more interesting person?" if you want to be interest-ing, you have to be interest-ed (129-131)
  • Steve Albini: "Connections don't mean shit. I've never had any connections that weren't a natural outgrowth of doing things I was doing anyway." (131)

The vampire test

  • If it [person, job, situation] leaves you "worn out and depleted" it's a vampire; avoid vampires. (135-136)

Itentify your fellow knuckleballers

  • Knuckleballers: "your real peers—the people who share your obsessions, mission, mutual respect" (139-141)

Meet up in meatspace

  • IRL meetups

8. Learn to take a punch

Let 'em take their best shot

  • Relax and breathe
  • Strengthen your neck: more criticism and you realize it can't hurt you
  • Roll with the punches: you control how you react to criticism
  • Protect your vulnerable areas: keep the most sensitive stuff hidden
  • Keep your balance: "your work is something you do, not who you are" (152)

Don't feed the trolls

  • don't feed them and they usually go away
  • maybe turn off comments, Natalie Dee: "There's never a space under paintings in a gallery where someone writes their opinion." (157)

9. Sell out

Even the Renaissance had to be funded

  • everyone needs to be paid

Pass around the hat

  • selling your work is a big step; make sure your price is fair

Keep a mailing list

  • give away great stuff for free on your website, collect emails, and when you have something great to sell you send an email

Make more work for yourself

  • try new things and keep yourself moving forward

Pay it forward

  • pay it forward, but don't let that take over from your real work

10. Stick around

Don't quit your show

  • "You've gotta play until the 9th inning." (185)

Chain smoke

  • avoid stalling out by not losing momentum

Go away so you can come back

  • Stefan Sagmeister: sabattical every 7 years. Instead of 25 years of learning, 40 of work, and 15 of retirement, why not take 5 years off retirement and break up the working years?
  • Gina Trapani's times to turn your brain off and take a break:
    • Commute
    • Exercise
    • Nature
  • Separate your work from your life; if you never go to work, you never leave work (194)

Begin again

  • "You can't be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to be a student again." (197)