Show Your Work!
by Austin Kleon
Show Your Work! is about the importance of building an audience by giving most things away for free and showing the work of your process. The lone genius is a myth. Telling a story through sharing your work invites people to connect with you and helps like-minded people to find each other and build together.
Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.
— John Cleese
In order to be found, you must be findable. Build sharing into your routine.
Don't waste time "networking", take advantage of the network. Share your ideas and knowledge to gain an audience that can be leveraged when needed.
When you "show your work", then any time you learn or work on something new, you can attract others that share your interests.
You don't have to be a genius
Give what you have, to someone, it may be better than you dare to think.
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Lone Genius vs. Scenius
Lone Genius Myth - an individual emerges from nowhere, creates great works out of thin air with no outside influence.
Scenius (via Brian Eno) - great ideas are found through collective means, collaboration between artists and tastemakers make up an "ecology of talent."
- Individuals can still be celebrated
- Acknowledges that good work isn't create in a vacuum
- Not about brain/talent, but about what you can contribute in ideas/connections
- Ask what you can do for others, rather than what others can do for you
Be an amateur
Today the amateur often has the advantage over the professional.
- Have little to lose
- Willing to take risks, experiment
- Can try anything and share the results
- New approaches can lead to novel results
In the beginner's mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert's mind, there are few."
— Shunryu Suzuki (Zen monk)
The difference between being mediocre and being good is vast, but the gap between doing nothing and doing something is infinite. Contributing something is better than contributing nothing.
Lifelong learners can learn in the open, sharing failures and mistakes for others to learn from.
It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago he has forgotten.
— C. S. Lewis
Amateurs use any tool they can get ahold of to try their ideas.
How to get started sharing your work:
- Think about what you want to learn.
- Commit to learning in front of others.
- Find a scenius.
- See what others are sharing (and not sharing).
- Look for voids to fill with your own efforts.
- Forget about money, career, being an expert.
Share what you love and the people who love the same things will find you.
You can't find your voice if you don't use it.
Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.
— Dan Harmon
Near-death experiences can result in life-changing euphoria. Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards. Read them to think about death while also keeping it at arm's length.
Think Process, Not Product
Traditionally, artists have been trained to keep their creative process hidden. But today, audiences long feel creative and be part of the creative process. By sharing our process we allow them to feel that connection with us and our work.
In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen—really seen.
— Brené Brown
How to show work when there is nothing to show?
- Scoop up the scraps of your process and shape them into media you can share.
- Turn the invisible into something people can see.
- Become a documentarian of what you do.
- Capture your thoughts in a work journal or audio recorder.
- Take photographs/video of work and yourself in different stages.
Even if you don't share it, documenting and recording your process is valuable.
Share Something Every Day - A Daily Dispatch
Overnight success is a myth - building a body of work takes time.
Start small, focus on days. Find one tiny piece of the process (that you've been documenting) that you can share daily.
- Share influences and what is inspiring you.
- Share your methods and works in progress.
- Share final products or scraps that didn't make it.
- Write about what you learned.
- Form can be a blog post, email, tweet, YouTube, etc.
When I ask [job candidates] to show me work, they show me things from school, or from another job, but I'm more interested in what they did last weekend.
— Ze Frank
Don't be afraid to be an early adopter—jump on a new platform and see if there's something interesting you can do with it.
We're all busy, how do you find the time? You look for it.
Remember that everything on the internet is public (and permanent). Beware of oversharing.
Sharing is Generosity
The act of sharing is one of generosity—you're putting something out there because it might be helpful or entertaining to someone.
Ask yourself "SO WHAT?" about your writing before you publish.
If you work on something a little bit every day, you end up with something that is massive.
— Kenneth Goldsmith
Stock and Flow
Flow is the feed. It's the posts and the tweets. It's the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It's the content you produce that's as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It's what people discover via search. It's what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.
— Robin Sloan
The magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background.
How to make stock: collect, organize, and expand upon your flow. When you share daily, you notice themes, trends, and patterns—and you can turn these into stock.
Tweet → blog post → book chapter
Small things, over time, can get big.
Think of your website as a self-invention machine (not a self-promotion machine). Fill it with your work and ideas and stuff you care about. Don't abandon it for the latest shiny social network. Don't let it fall into neglect. Your website is a long-term asset.
Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities
The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually you'll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish ... Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.
— Paul Arden
Before take the leap of sharing our own work, we can share our tastes in the work of others. Your influences are worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do.
All it takes to find hidden gems is a clear eye, open mind, and willingness to search in place others won't or can't go.
Don't sweat guilty pleasures - if you enjoy it, don't let anyone make you feel bad about it. Being open and honest about what you like is how to find others who share the same tastes.
Always Give Credit
If you share the work of others, always make sure the creator gets proper credit. Failing to properly attribute the creator robs them and robs your audience of the ability to dig deeper or find more of their work.
Shout out the people that pointed you to interesting work with a simple "via" callout.
What if you don't know where something came from? If you can't properly credit, don't share it.
Tell Good Stories
When shown something new, people's assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it.
Our work does not speak for itself. Humans want to know where things came from, who made it, and how it was made.
Our audience is human—humans want to connect.
- Personal stories make the complex more tangible.
- Personal stories spark associations.
- Personal stories offer entry into things that seem cold on the surface.
If you want to be effective when sharing your work, you must become a better storyteller.
You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.
‘The cat sat on a mat' is not a story. ‘The cat sat on the dog's mat' is a story.
— John le Carré
Structure is everything
Sometimes a lot of cropping/editing is required to fit our lives into a good story.
Fairy Tale Structure (Emma Coats, Pixar) ======================================== Once upon a time, there was [_____]. Every day, [_____]. One day, [_____]. Because of that, [_____]. Because of that, [_____]. Until finally, [_____].
[The plot of nearly every story is] a character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.
— John Gardner
The shape of of most creative work is like the structure of a story:
- You get a great idea.
- You go through the hard work of executing the idea.
- You release the idea out into the world.
- You come to a win, lose, or draw.
A good pitch is a story with the end chopped off.
- The first act is the past, where you've been. What you want, why you want it, what you've tried to get it.
- The second act is the present, where you are now. How you've worked hard and used up most of your resources.
- The third act is the future, where you're going. How the person you're pitching can help you get there. (aka how they can help you finish the story)
Everybody loves a good story, but not everyone is a good storyteller. Study good stories and find some of your own. Your stories will get better the more you tell them.
How to pitch yourself: Strike the adjectives from your profile. You aren't an aspiring photographer or an amazing photographer, you're a photographer. Don't get cute. Don't brag. Just state the facts.
Teach what you know
The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.
— Annie Dillard
Teaching doesn't mean instant competition. Knowing the master's technique is not the same as emulating it. Many chefs are rich and famous by sharing recipes and techniques.
Think about what you can share from your process that informs people what you are trying to reach. What are your techniques? What skills do you have with tools/materials? What kind of knowledge comes with your job?
Teaching doesn't subtract from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how you do work, you are generating interest in your work. People feel closer to your work.
Don't turn into human spam
If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.
To be accepted by a community, you have to be a good citizen.
- Be a connector.
- If you want to get, you have to give.
- Shut up and listen.
- Be thoughtful and considerate.
Forward thinking artists don't just want fans, they want potential collaborators. They hang out online and answer questions. They ask for reading recommendations.
You want hearts, not eyeballs.
- If you want followers, be worth following.
- If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.
- Make stuff you love, talk about stuff you love, you'll attract people that love the same things.
Find your true peers
Share yourself and your work and others like you will find you. These are your real peers—the people who share your obsessions, the people who share your mission, and have mutual respect.
- Nurture these relationships.
- Sing their praises.
- Invite them to collaborate.
- Show them your work before everyone else.
- Keep them as close as you can.
Learn to take a punch
The most valuable skill designer Mike Montiero learned in art school was hot to take a punch. Vicious feedback helped him learn not to take criticism personally.
How to take a punch:
- Relax and breathe.
- Strengthen your neck. Practice getting hit (receiving feedback)—put out a lot of work.
- Roll with the punches. Criticism is an opportunity for new work. You can't control the criticism you receive, but you can control your reaction.
- Protect your vulnerable areas. "Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide." — Colin Marshall
- Keep your balance. Your work is something you do, not who you are.
The trick is not caring what everybody thinks of you and just caring about what the right people think of you.
— Brian Michael Bendis
Don't feed the trolls. Get feedback from people who care about you and what you do. Don't be afraid to block people on social media and delete mean comments.
The mailing list model:
- Give away great stuff for free.
- Collect emails.
- When you have something to share or sell, send an email.
A life of creativity is about change. Be ambitious, think bigger, expand your audience, try new things.
Use the chain-smoking model: when one project ends, rather than taking a break, use the end of that project to jump into the next one.
George Carlin threw out all of his material every year. When you throw out old work, you are making room for new work.
"Starting over" sounds negative. Instead, "begin again" carrying with you the lessons you've learned.
- Find something new to learn, and learn it out in the open.
- Document it as you go and share your progress so others can learn with you.
- Show your work and pay attention to those that join you.