Show Your Work

by Austin Kleon

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: February 23, 2024
Show Your Work
Show Your Work

What are the big ideas? 1. Your audience discovers you through the authentic sharing of your work and ideas. 2. Embracing a beginner's mindset opens up endless poss

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What are the big ideas?

  1. Your audience discovers you through the authentic sharing of your work and ideas.
  2. Embracing a beginner's mindset opens up endless possibilities and fosters creativity.
  3. Persistence and the willingness to share your learning journey are key to achieving success.
  4. Building a strong personal brand is about doing good work and sharing your unique story and influences.
  5. Teaching and sharing generously can enhance your own learning and attract a community of like-minded individuals.

Summary

The Power of Sharing and Community in Creative Work

  • “You don’t really find an audience for your work; they find you.”
  • Almost all of the people Austin looks up to and tries to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine.
  • Instead of wasting their time “networking,” most people Austin know are taking advantage of the network. By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it—for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.
  • “Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute—the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start.”
  • “Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.”
  • “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. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.”
  • “It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it. If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.”
  • “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.”

Embracing the Amateur Spirit for Creativity

  • “Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results.”
  • “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities,” said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. “In the expert’s mind, there are few.”
  • Clay Shirky on creativity: “On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.”
  • “Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing.”
  • “Raw enthusiasm is contagious.”
  • Amateurs will use whatever tools they can get their hands on to try to get their ideas into the world.

Learning and Growth Through Documentation and Persistence

  • “Start reading the obituaries every morning. Take inspiration from the people who muddled through life before you—they all started out as amateurs, and they got where they were going by making do with what they were given, and having the guts to put themselves out there. Follow their example.”
  • “Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of you working. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you. Take advantage of all the cheap, easy tools at your disposal—these days, most of us carry a fully functional multimedia studio around in our smartphones.”
  • “Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance. Building a substantial body of work takes a long time—a lifetime, really—but thankfully, you don’t need that time all in one big chunk. So forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.”
  • “Small things, over time, can get big.”
  • “The people who get what they’re after are very often the ones who just stick around long enough.”
  • “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.”
  • “When you feel like you’ve learned whatever there is to learn from what you’re doing, it’s time to change course and find something new to learn so that you can move forward.”

Building Your Name and Telling Your Story

  • William Burroughs’s advice to Patti Smith: “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work … and if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.”
  • “Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people into who you are and what you do—sometimes even more than your own work.”
  • “All it takes to uncover hidden gems is a clear eye, an open mind, and a willingness to search for inspiration in places other people aren’t willing or able to

go.”

  • “You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care.”
  • “Don’t share things you can’t properly credit. Find the right credit, or don’t share.”
  • “Human beings 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 affects how they value it.”
  • “If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.”

Generosity, Teaching, and Valuing Your Work

  • “The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorials and post them online.”
  • “Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it.”
  • “If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.”
  • “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 own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong.”
  • “You have to remember that your work is something you do, not who you are.”
  • “Put a little virtual tip jar or a donate now button on your website. These links do well with a little bit of human copy, such as ‘Like this? Buy me a coffee.’”
  • “Whether you ask for donations, crowdfund, or sell your products or services, asking for money in return for your work is a leap you want to take only when you feel confident that you’re putting work out into the world that you think is truly worth something. Don’t be afraid to charge for your work, but put a price on it that you think is fair.”
  • “Even if you don’t have anything to sell right now, you should always be collecting email addresses from people who come across your work and want to stay in touch.”
  • “You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.”
  • “The purpose of our lives is to add value to the people of this generation and those that follow.”

Questions

  1. How does creating and sharing openly attract the right audience and community to your work?
  2. Why is adopting a beginner's mindset and embracing amateurism beneficial for creativity and growth?
  3. How can documenting your creative process and persisting through challenges contribute to long-term success?
  4. What strategies can you use to build a reputable name and effectively share your story and influences?
  5. How does teaching and sharing the work of others not only add value to your community but also enhance your own creativity and reputation?

Discussion

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