Show Your Work - by Austin Kleon

Show Your Work
Get it now on Amazon.

Austin always produces a mixture of great art combined with solid life lessons and advice; Show Your Work doesn’t disappoint for one second.

Recommendation: 5/5


My Highlights

… you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.

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. Find a scenes, pay attention to what others are sharing, and then start taking note of what they’re not sharing. Be on the lookout for voids that you can fill with your own efforts, no matter how bad they are at first. Don’t worry, for now, about how you’ll make money or a career off it. Forget about being an expert or a professional, and wear your amateurism (your heart, your love) on your sleeve. .Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.

… the only way to find you voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.

If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.

… 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.

“By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.”

How can you show your work even when you have nothing to show? The first step is to scoop up the scraps and the residue of your process and shape them into some interesting bit of media that you can share. You have to turn the invisible into something other people can see. “You have to make stuff,” said journalist David Carr when he was asked if he had any advice for students. “No one is going to give a damn about your resume; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers.”

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.

Whether you share it or not, documenting and recording your process as you go along has its own rewards: You’ll start to see the work you’re doing more clearly and feel like you’re making progress. And when you’re ready to share, you’ll have a surplus of material to choose from.

“Put yourself, and your work, out there every day, and you’ll start meeting some amazing people.” — Bobby Solomon

Overnight success is a myth.

Focus on days.

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. Where you are in your process will determine what that piece is. If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress. If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned. If you have lots of projects out into the world, you can report on how they’re doing—you can tell stories about how people are interacting with your work.

A daily dispatch is even better than a resume or a portfolio, because it shows what we’re working on right now.

The form of what you share doesn’t matter. Your daily dispatch can be anything you want—a blog post, an email, a tweet, a YouTube video, or some other little bit of media. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for everybody.

Don’t show your lunch or your latte; show your work.

Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that 90 percent of everything is crap. The same is true of our own work. The trouble is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day.

I like to work while the world is sleeping, and share while the world is at work.

… don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actually doing your work. If you’re having a hard time balancing the two, just set a timer for 30 minutes. Once the timer goes off, kick yourself off the Internet and get back to work.

Always remember that anything you post to the Internet has now become public.

“Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you.”

Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share absolutely everything. There’s a big, big difference between sharing and over-sharing.

Always be sure to run everything you share with others through The “So What?” Test. Don’t overthink it; just go with your gut. If you’re unsure about whether to share something, let it sit for 24 hours.

“Stock and flow” is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: “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.” Sloan says the magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background.

In my experience, your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow.

Once you make sharing part of your daily routine, you’ll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You’ll find patterns in your flow.

When you detect these patterns, you can start gathering these bits and pieces and turn them into something bigger and more substantial. You can turn your flow into stock.

“Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments you can make with your time.” — Andy Baio

Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine. Online, you can become the person you really want to be. Fill your website with your work and your ideas and the stuff you care about.

Stick with it, maintain it, and let it change with you over time.

... “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises ... 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 in to who you are and what you do—sometimes even more than your own work.

When you share your taste and your influences, have the guts to own all of it. Don’t give in to the pressure to self-edit too much.

Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.

“Do what you do best and link to the rest.” — Jeff Jarvis

“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.”

Words matter.

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.

Personal stories can make the complex more tangible, spark associations, and offer entry into things that might otherwise leave one cold.

The most important part of a story is its structure. A good story structure is tidy, sturdy, and logical.

If you study the structure of stories, you start to see how they work, and once you know how they work, you can then start stealing story structures and filling them in with characters, situations, and setting from your own life.

Author John Gardner said the basic plot of nearly all stories is this: “A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.”

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 cam 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. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this story shape effectively turns your listener into the hero who gets to decide how it ends.

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.

... study the great stories and then go find some of your own. Your stories will get better the more you tell them.

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 pat of your process. As blogger Kathy Sierra says, “Make people better at something they want to be better at.”

Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how to do your work, you are, in effect, generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.

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 be a connector.

If you want to get, you have to give.

Don’t talk to people you don’t want to talk to, and don’t talk about stuff you don’t want to talk about.

If you want followers, be someone worth following.

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

… “being good at things is the only thing that earns you clout or connections.”

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.

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.” — Derek Sivers

Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test … If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.

“Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide.” If you spend your life avoiding vulnerability, you and your work will never truly connect with other people.

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 come for you.

… chain-smoking. You avoid staling 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.

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


Show Your Work
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