Show Your Work (Book Review)

Austin Kleon says, Show Your Work is for people who hate the very idea of self promotion. Kleon is a writer and artist from Austin Texas and has written extensively about promotion for creative people (or anybody sharing work publicly). I’ve appreciated his perspective on creativity, art, and many other things since picking up Steal Like an Artist many years ago.

Show Your Work is a perfect companion to Steal. It has been a tremendous help for my writing and the fear and trepidation that comes along with promotion and marketing. I recommend it highly.

The way I’ll tackle this book review is to share three quotes I found helpful from the book, and three Big Ideas, principles, I think are worth adding to your creative tool box.

But please read the book and make your own conclusions and applications because my opinions, are well, my opinions.

Quote #1

“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.”

When I think about self promotion in these terms, it’s not about being sleazy and spammy or pushy. It’s about being yourself, and sharing what you love, and finding an audience that loves the same things. Easy, right?

Quote #2

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

Another quote which struck me as simple, yet essential, is this one. If we don’t want people to know about what we care about, we probably don’t care about the thing we’re making or creating.

Quote #3

“to be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.” To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.”

People wonder why their message, art, or stuff never gains traction. I want to ask: how interested and attentive and curious are you? Curious and interested people always have the best stuff to share.

Three Big Ideas

There’s a lot to love in this book. I appreciate the brevity of the book. The length of the book packs a punch and is not a long read. I think that’s a positive and intentional. Every writer knows the temptation to spend our time doing everything but creating and doing work. Kleon gives something thoughtful and actionable.

I could say much about the book but let me narrow it down to Three Big Ideas:

Big Idea #1: Sharing is Caring

Imagine your child never sharing their drawings with you. If you have kids, you know what I’m talking about. Little Lucy spends hours on a turtle, okay minutes, and is excited to share it with you. It might be abstract and confusing, and look more like a blob than a turtle, but you feel the passion in her work.

Kleon taps into the idea of sharing is caring. We share our stuff because we care, and we think it’s important. And the more we genuinely care about something, others will too. How often have I watched a film, read a book, or visited a restaurant because my friend was so excited about it? My friend believed consuming this thing would be good for me. Sharing is caring.

When we think of marketing, self promotion, and sharing our work as a caring act, it changes our motivations. No longer does it feel sleazy and evil, it feels important. Sharing is caring.

Big Idea #2: Your Work Isn’t For Everybody

This idea is dripping from every page. If you follow Austin Kleon, you’ll notice a common theme. He knows his work, your work, and my work isn’t for everyone. Our work isn’t for everybody, but it’s for somebody. It could be one, two, or three people, and that’s okay.

Many creative people, leaders, and people of all stripes think what they’re making, saying, or creating should be for the masses. This is only true for a handful of people.

Kevin Kelly suggests we only need 1000 True Fans to have a creative life. Not the masses, 1000 raving fans. People that love what you do, buy and share everything you make, and are loyal to the end.

Kleon suggests throughout the entire books hints at these principles. We don’t make things for riches and fame. We make things to stay alive and tap into the mysterious impulse of creation even when few people are paying attention.

If your reach goes beyond the small few that’s left up to God and the Creative Ferry. But when you and I can remember my work isn’t for everybody, we won’t take it personally. We won’t crawl into the fetal position and beg for our mothers. We simple say: that wasn’t for them, or you, but it will be for someone.

Big Idea #3: Be Interested/Interesting and Curious

This will win the day. The more interested and curious you are about other people's work you’ll become interested, and eventually interesting. Ask questions of how things are done and made, and what makes the world tick, and you’ll make good stuff.

Kleon argues when people on the web, and in real life, stop being curious and interested and attentive they no longer are interesting themselves. Their work suffers.

Being uninteresting doesn’t make us bad people. But when we stop seeing the complexity, beauty, and depth of the world we lose depth in the process. When we no longer are curious of the ideas, people, and work that’s gone before, our work suffers.

When we become interested in others, their process, and why things are… we become curious, and in turn we have the fuel to make great things.

Kleon is doing good work and writing helpful books because he stays open to the world around him. He has written a helpful guide for sharing your work. Promotion doesn’t have to be scary or sleazy. Just be yourself, honest, and share what you care about. That’s at least a good start.

Tell me what you think of the book in the comments.

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