Show Your Work by Austin Kleon


🚀 The Book in 3 Sentences

  1. Build in public - "showing your work" essentially amounts to documenting what you are learning, as you learn it, for the world to see.
  2. Build under your own name - establishing a website (under "your-name" dot com) allows you to control your own little corner of the internet, you are free to take it in any direction you want, especially as social networks come and go.
  3. Play the long game - never stop learning, always possess a "beginner's mind" and let compound interest of your work continually move you towards "success."

🎨 Impressions

This book is the manifesto for the "build in public" movement that is so heavily profligated these days in the entrepreneurial world, with good reason. Kleon's punchy (100-ish page) book is a cheat sheet for those looking to create online.

Kleon dispels many myths that dissuade people from putting their "art" or work out into the world. You don't have to be an expert to be able to share online. You should think of putting your work online as a beacon to attract other like-minded people.

How I Discovered It

I discovered this book through Ali Abdaal - who listed this book as one of the top 3 books that changed his life. I had already read Kleon's Steal Like an Artist book last year and really enjoyed it, so I thought I would give this one a shot.

Who Should Read It?

Anyone who wants to establish an "online presence" in a non-spammy way. Kleon's no-nonsense advice gives everyone permission to share their work online.

Anyone who has doubts or is feeling trepidation about exposing their work for a broader audience should read this book. Kleon does a great job of providing easy wins and the motivation to keep at it.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me

How my life / behavior / thoughts / ideas have changed as a result of reading the book.

  • Mindset shift to the long term - After reading this book, I felt compelled to write these notes on the book and sharing my influences. Kleon's writing allowed me to see that if you focus on sharing continually and build it into your life as a habit, it will compound over time.
  • Focus on sharing "work" - When I batted around the idea of writing online over the past few years, I always felt a little confused on what I should share. Should I be sharing everything I experienced? From my travel to entrepreneurial challenges, I felt like I needed to go "all-in" if I was going to do it. Though after reading this, I now feel like it's ok to just focus my sharing online to my "work" and leave what I had for lunch to myself.
  • Overcoming narcissism - Being "self-promoting" is a fear I have when I think of sharing my thoughts online. After reading this book, I no longer feel that fear as strongly - rather I see sharing my learning process and more importantly the story behind it as the inherent value.

✍️ My Top 3 Quotes

  • "Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims."
  • "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."
  • "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."

📒 Summary, Highlights, & Notes

creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.

Location: 57

Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims.

Location: 74

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities,” said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. “In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

Location: 76

Amateurs fit the same bill: They’re just regular people who get obsessed by something and spend a ton of time thinking out loud about it.

Location: 85

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.

Location: 97

Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.

Location: 101

It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.

Location: 119

I thought, I’m not going to sit here and wait for things to happen, I’m going to make them happen, and if people think I’m an idiot I don’t care.”

Location: 131

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.

Location: 197

Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share.

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I like the tagline at “What are you working on?” Stick to that question and you’ll be good. Don’t show your lunch or your latte; show your work.

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Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet.

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Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine.

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When she was young and starting out, Patti Smith got this advice from William Burroughs: “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.”

Location: 299

Before we’re ready to take the leap of sharing our own work with the world, we can share our tastes in the work of others.

Location: 326

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.

Location: 331

If you share the work of others, it’s your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit.

Location: 357

Online, the most important form of attribution is a hyperlink pointing back to the website of the creator of the work.

Location: 370

“When shown an object, or given a food, or shown a face, people’s assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it.”

Location: 388

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.

In blog posts, always try to tell a personal story, connect with "the why" through a story. People care about the journey, the person behind the writing, seeing themself in that person.

Location: 399

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.

Location: 407

Most story structures can be traced back to myths and fairy tales. Emma Coats, a former storyboard artist at Pixar, outlined the basic structure of a fairy tale as a kind of Mad Lib that you can fill in with your own elements: “Once upon a time, there was _____. Every day, _____. One day, _____. Because of that, _____. Because of that, _____. Until finally, _____.” Pick your favorite story and try to fill in the blanks. It’s striking how often it works.

Location: 417

This simple formula can be applied to almost any type of work project: There’s the initial problem, the work done to solve the problem, and the solution.

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A good pitch is set up in three acts: The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future. The first act is where you’ve been—what you want, how you came to want it, and what you’ve done so far to get it. The second act is where you are now in your work and how you’ve worked hard and used up most of your resources. The third act is where you’re going, and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there.

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Whether you’re telling a finished or unfinished story, always keep your audience in mind. Speak to them directly in plain language. Value their time. Be brief. Learn to speak. Learn to write. Use spell-check.

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We all like to think we’re more complex than a two-sentence explanation, but a two-sentence explanation is usually what the world wants from us. Keep it short and sweet.

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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. Use pictures, words, and video. Take people step-by-step through part of your process. As blogger Kathy Sierra says, “Make people better at something they want to be better at.”

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As every writer knows, if you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.

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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.

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If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

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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.

Location: 551

When you put your work out into the world, you have to be ready for the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more people come across your work, the more criticism you’ll face.

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Keep your balance. You have to remember that your work is something you do, not who you are.

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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. Why email? You’ll notice a pattern with technology—often the most boring and utilitarian technologies are the ones that stick around the longest. Email is decades and decades old, but it’s nowhere close to being dead. Even though almost everybody hates it, everybody has an email address.

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a life of creativity is all about change—moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers. “The real risk is in not changing,” said saxophonist John Coltrane. “I have to feel that I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.”

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Be ambitious. Keep yourself busy. Think bigger. Expand your audience. Don’t hobble yourself in the name of “keeping it real,” or “not selling out.” Try new things. If an opportunity comes along that will allow you to do more of the kind of work you want to do, say Yes. If an opportunity comes along that would mean more money, but less of the kind of work you want to do, say No.

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You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.

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

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You can’t count on success; you can only leave open the possibility for it, and be ready to jump on and take the ride when it comes for you.

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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.

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Add all this together and you get a way of working I call chain-smoking. You avoid stalling out in your career by never losing momentum. Here’s how you do it: Instead of taking a break in between projects, waiting for feedback, and worrying about what’s next, use the end of one project to light up the next one. Just do the work that’s in front of you, and when it’s finished, ask yourself what you missed, what you could’ve done better, or what you couldn’t get to, and jump right into the next project.

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“The minute you stop wanting something you get it.” —Andy Warhol

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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. You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again.

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“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough,” writes author Alain de Botton.

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