Seeing Red and Practicing Simplicity
Austin Kleon is the New York Times bestselling author of three illustrated books: Steal Like An Artist (Workman, 2012) is a manifesto for creativity in the digital age; Show Your Work! (Workman, 2014) is a guide to sharing creativity and getting discovered; and Newspaper Blackout (Harper Perennial, 2010) is a collection of poetry made by redacting words from newspaper articles with a permanent marker. Learn more here.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes is widely quoted as saying that in our eccentricities lies our giftedness (The Dangerous Old Woman).
That quote certainly applies to Austin Kleon, who creates newspaper blackouts – poems by blacking out words in newspaper articles. The remaining words are the poems.
After graduating from college, Kleon worked as a librarian for a couple of years. During this time, he read and wrote and drew. Much of what he does now involves executing the ideas he formulated then.
Recently, I finished his latest book, Show Your Work, and thought I’d share my 5 most important lessons.
1. Don’t wait for your final product.
We don’t have to wait until we have an exhibit or product before showing our work. We can and should share our process – knowledge, ideas, and what we’re learning along the way.
This can be through blog posts, social media, or speaking at conferences. We gain a following or network through generosity and the ensuing conversation. This is the antidote to self-promotion.
This type of sharing becomes our body of work or even our resume. People learn about us by what we share online.
2. We learn as we show.
I can certainly attest to learning as I go. Through the act of writing a blog and teaching workshops and photographing every day, I’ve improved as a writer and teacher and photographer.
Think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. Wear your amateurism on your sleeve. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you. ~ Austin Kleon
3. Start small and daily.
When I committed to posting at least twice weekly on my blog, I had no idea of the body of work that would develop. I now have 465 published posts and my page views and email list have grown substantially. Those posts are often used as research or links for the workshops I develop.
Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine. ~ Austin Kleon
Kleon suggests posting something somewhere every day, whether it’s a blog post or tweet that will be helpful to someone else. He says to give it the “so what?” test – a great tool for discerning what to share online.
Tell people what you’re working on or what you’re reading or inspired by. I love sharing what and who inspires me (which is what I’m doing right now).
But also, don’t let the sharing take over from doing the work.
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. ~ Austin Kleon
4. Trust your instincts and tell your stories.
Remember to celebrate your eccentricities and don’t let anyone make you feel bad about what you love (or what you photograph). By being open about who we are, we’ll find others with like minds.
What we share all adds up to our story.
Everybody loves a good story, but good storytelling doesn’t come easy. It’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master. Kleon says to study the great stories and then find some of your own. Your stories will get better the more you tell them.
If you need some help writing your story, I highly recommend wordsmith Alexandra Franzen, who has a number of free resources that will help you write yours (thanks Norah, for reminding me of this).
5. The world owes us nothing.
And finally, how do we share our work without becoming human spammers?
By spending more time listening, having conversations, and sharing the work of others and those who influence us. This is how great work and collaborations happen.
In other words, be a fan. Be a good citizen in your online communities. Be interested and curious.
If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice. Shut up and listen once in awhile. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Show your work, and when the right people show up, pay close attention to them, because they’ll have a lot to show you. ~ Austin Kleon
There’s a lot of great advice in this little but powerful book, whether you have an online business or blog or not.
Try sharing more of yourself and what you love on social media and with the important people in your life. And conversely, get curious about others. What are they not sharing with you?