Book Review – Show Your Work

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A few months ago a friend of mine, Chuck Grimmett, gave me the book Show Your Work by Austin Kleon. While I finished the book some time ago, I am just now writing the review/synopsis. I’ve put it off because I haven’t had to write a book review in years and even then it didn’t go well. My college transcript speaks to this fact. Anyways, I’ve decided it’s about time I showed my work(see what I did there? Top notch!).

I had two main takeaways from this book. The first is to be a part of a community. People want to connect and they want to work with you. The second is creation is a process. Kleon says, “Overnight success is a myth.” Creation and success take time and perseverance. It’s about growth. Slow and steady growth.

“This book is about how to influence others by letting them steal from you.” I think this is a great synopsis of the book. And something I had not thought of as part of the creative process. Kleon suggests putting your work out there so others can benefit from it.

I often think of working on projects as practice. It’s like working out. Doing reps makes you stronger and therefore better. While I think this is an aspect of it, his suggestion that creation is collaborative is something new that makes a lot of sense. To draw the working out parallel further, I often look up videos and suggestions on how to improve my workouts. My workout routines have become an amalgam. They’re a combination of things I’ve learned from the people that have inspired me. It makes sense for me to do the same on the things I am working on. I could potentially inspire and teach others who are looking to grow in that field.

Along these lines, it is stressed to not only be a creator but a fan. You are more than just a person that creates things. You are a part of a community of individuals all focused on a subject. And leads to a point that I think is important: generosity. “You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done” Kleon suggests “paying it forward,” and to give credit where credit is due. Help others as you were helped. And work with people as a fan of the subject matter and not just a solo creator. There’s very much a we’re all in this together sentiment when Kleon talks about community.

I’m going to be prosaic. As creators, we are in service to the muse. The muse, in this case, is the community. It’s where a lot of the inspiration comes from. We ought to give back and contribute to the muse. It’s in our best interest to keep the muse healthy by contributing so that we may draw inspiration from her again. You can’t go to the well again if there’s no water.

The second and probably most practical point in the book is that creation is a process. No one ever became great without working at it. Every day you should be working on projects and trying to improve. “People really do want to see how the sausage gets made.” This is so true. It’s fascinating to see nothing turn into something. It’s the point of a whole genre of literature: biographies. Kleon suggests using a blog. One post does not tell an important story, but ten years of blogging is an autobiography.

If your subject matter doesn’t produce projects quickly, Kleon says to speak of your inspirations. Show how this project is being made. Not just the technical steps this is where I get trapped. But show the thoughts behind it. “If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.” This hearkens to the previous point. Be a fan of the things you create and of the subject matter. Share your fandom. It’s part of the process.

So much of the process is about giving back, which is why he suggests to not be spam. He uses the metaphor of a vampire. Are you only sucking the life out of things? Because that’s selfish and it steals the energy from others. I am guilty of this. I have taken ideas and have failed to give anything back to the community. I think it’s okay to suck some life out of something if you give credit and you use that to create more life. Let the community nourish you so that you can give back.

It’s a cycle. You feed and grow from the community. Thus it’s important to have a healthy community. To have a healthy community, give the fruits of that growth back to the community. According to Kleon, the muse will thank you.

This cycle and the two big ideas are what I took away from this book. There is a process to create. Let others inspire and be inspired by that process. This odd square book helped me to understand what needs to be put out there, and how to do it. Going forward I will be going through the process and giving back to the creative community. With that said, I’m so sorry I talked about muses, but at least I will be showing my work(See what I did there? Nailed it again).

The Show Your Work is filled with great quotes below are a few that I enjoyed:

  • “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it” -Dave Grohl
  • “Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you stop doing.” -Derek Sivers
  • “The minute you stop wanting something you get it.” -Andy Warhol

Is it weird that all of these quotes about art also apply to women/dating?

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