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Show Your Work - Summary, Review & Thoughts

On Show Your Work - 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered by Austin Kleon.


1. You don’t have to be a genius.

Great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals. Most people who stood out as a genius in history and had a great impact on society actually came from a whole scene of people who were supporting each other. Being a valuable part of such a group is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but instead what you have to contribute, the ideas you share, the quality of connections you make and the conversations you start. Focus on what and how to contribute, what you can do for others.

Be an amateur. Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes in public, even if it makes them look stupid. Even if that work seems silly or stupid to others, they are in love with that they do. Even when creating mediocre work, it’s possible to go from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap lies between doing nothing and doing something. Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing.

The world is changing at a fast rate that it turns everyone into amateurs. The best way to continue on even for professionals is to keep an amateur’s spirit, embrace uncertainty and the unknown.

To get started on the path to sharing, think about what you want to learn, then make a commitment to learning it in front of others. What are other people in that scene sharing? What are they not sharing? Look out for gaps to fill, no matter how bad they are at first. Don’t worry about making money or a career of it, forget about being an expert or professional. Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find out.

If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share. Take a look at the obituaries, the part of a newspaper about the people who have recently died. Take inspiration from the people who lived through life before you. They all started out as amateurs, and they got where they were by making do with what they were given, and having the guts to put themselves out there.

2. Think Process, Not Product

By sharing the process we allow for the opportunity of people having an ongoing connection with us and our work.

By documenting and recording your process you will see the work you are doing more clearly and feel like you are making progress. Keep a work journal / scrapbook. Write down or voice record your thoughts. Take photos of your work. Keep track of what’s going on around you. And when you are ready to share, you’ll have a surplus of material to choose from.

3. Share Something Small Every Day

Each day find a little piece of your process that you can share.

Don’t worry about the post being perfect. Get it in front of others and see how they react. Most likely it will be crap, since the majority is crap. But just sometimes, maybe rarely, it won’t be crap. The problem is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. So put it out there and find out.

Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work. Especially work you want feedback on. But don’t share everything. Don’t share content which you don’t want to get copied all over the internet.

Ask yourself, “So What?” with each piece you share. You want to put something out there that’s helpful or entertaining to someone.

If you are unsure whether to share something or not, wait 24 hours on it. The next day, ask yourself: “Is this helpful? Is it entertaining?” (Or another good question: “Is it something I’d feel comfortable with my boss or my mother seeing?).

By sharing daily, you build a collection of content. A social media profile on which you shared daily works as a notebook. After using it for thinking out loud and getting feedback, you can always revisit it. Flip through old ideas, notice themes and trends in what you share. Detect these patterns and turn them into something bigger. For example, a Tweet can turn into a blog post and the blog post can turn into a book chapter.

Small things, over time, can get big.

On another note, having your own website is a good long-term investment since that is the place where you have full control.

4. Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities

What does your wonder chamber look like?

A few hundreds of years ago on some places of this earth it has been fashionable to have your own “wonder chamber” or “cabinet of curiosities” in your house. A room filled with rare and remarkable objects. In our present day, we all have our own treasured collections. These collections can be physical like a bookshelf of your favorite books, digital like a collection of your favorite movies, or more intangible such as memories of places where we have been, people we have met or experiences we have accumulated. We all build these collections while doing our work and living our lives. They may be weird or very niche, but that is what makes them wonderful.

Before we are ready to take the leap of sharing our own work, we can share our tastes in the work of others. What inspires you? What ideas fill your head? What do you read? What do you follow? What do you stick on your refrigerator? Your influences tell other people who you are.

Keep your eyes open, have an open mind, and a willingness to search for inspiration in places other people aren’t willing to go. That is all it takes to uncover hidden gems.

Openly celebrate the things you genuinely enjoy. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about the things you enjoy. Have the guts to be direct. Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things too.

Give credit. Let others know where you found the work that you’re sharing.

5. Tell Good Stories

Work doesn’t speak for itself. People want to know where things came from, how they were made and who made them. How people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it. Your work doesn’t exist in a vacuum, you always have a history of work you have done before and that already tells a story.

The most important part of a good story is the structure. One good way to structure it is the following: “Once upon a time, there was _. Every day, _. One day, _. Because of that, _. Because of that _. Until finally, _.”

Dan Harmon’s Story Circle:

  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

6. Teach What You Know

The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorial and post them online. Use any media format, pictures, words and video.

7. Don’t Turn Into Human Spam

Forward-thinking artists look for potential collaborators, not just passive consumers of their work. They understand how important feedback on their work is. They hang out online, answer questions, ask for reading recommendations, they chat with fans about the things they love.

To be interesting, you have to be interested yourself.

Maybe even better than hanging out online is meeting up in person. Spend time with people that give you energy. Keep distance from people that make you feel worn out and depleted after. You will find people who share your obsessions, the people who share a similar mission to your own. There won’t be a lot of them, but the few will be so important.

8. Learn to Take a Punch

Put out a lot of work. Let people criticize it. The more criticism you receive, the more you realize it can’t hurt you. Sometimes when people hate something about your work, push that element even further. Make something they would hate even more. Having your work hated by certain people is a badge of honor.

The trick is not caring what everybody thinks of you, just care what the right people think of you.

When receiving feedback, it’s always important to remember who it came from. You want feedback from people who care about you and what you do.

The worst kind of hate is the one that stays in your head. The hate that makes you tell yourself that you are not good enough, that you suck. Is there someone that makes you feel like that? Block them. Remove their comments. At some point, maybe even consider a space without comments.

”There’s never a space under paintings in a gallery where someone writes their opinion,“

— Natalie Dee

9. Sell Out

Once an audience starts gathering for the work you put out freely, you want to consider turning them into supporters. One easy way to do this is to ask for donations.

A great way to stay in contact with the people that care about your work is by email. Email has been proven to not go away. Even if you have nothing to sell right now, collect email addresses from people who come across your work and want to stay in touch.

Keep yourself busy, think bigger and expand your audience. Don’t limit yourself by “keeping it real” or “not selling out”. Try new things. Accept opportunities that allow you to do more of the work you enjoy. Decline opportunities that might make more money but would force you to do less of the work you enjoy.

Say “yes” a lot in the beginning. But with success there will come a time when you will have to switch to saying “no” a lot.

10. Stick Around

The people who get what they are after are very often the ones who just stick around long enough.

Keep on doing the work that’s in front of you. When it is finished, ask yourself, what have you missed, what could have been better? Then get into the next project. This will keep you going. But at some point you might burn out. That could be a good opportunity for a sabbatical, to take one year off.

Whenever you feel like you have learned whatever there is to learn from, look for a change and learn something new. Dedicate yourself to learning it in the open. Document your progress and share as you go. Show your work, and when the right people show up, pay close attention to them, because they’ll have a lot to show you.

Is Show Your Work Worth Reading?

Yes! Show Your Work by Austin Kleon has been one of my favorite reads. The book is full of great advice on how and why to share the work you do. Each topic is kept precise and entertaining. The advice is easy to apply. The book is not scientific, but it still contains quality advice.

It’s worth to read for anyone interested in creating something, people who spend their time working towards certain goals that want to leave an impact.

How Has Show Your Work Helped Me?

Show Your Work has given me a lot of motivation and direction for sharing my work and putting myself out there. With a better understanding of why and how to share what I love, I feel more confident.

It has been one of the major motivations for me to start my blog. It also made me start with sharing more on the new Twitters, and now even alongside my bachelor’s final project and thesis.

Written by Bryan Hogan


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