Show Your Work! - by Austin Kleon
Almost all of the people I look up to and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine. They're open about what they're working on, and they're consistently posting bits and pieces of their work, their ideas, and what they're learning online. Instead of wasting their time "networking," they're taking advantage of the network. By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it--for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.
Under the "scenius" model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals--artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers--who make up an "ecology of talent." If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of "a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other's work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas." Being a valuable part of a scenius is not necessarily about how smart or talented you are, but about what you have to contribute--the ideas you share, the quality of the connections you make, and the conversations you start.
On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.
Writer David Foster Wallace said that he thought good nonfiction was a chance to "watch somebody reasonably bright but also reasonably average pay far closer attention and think at far more length about all sorts of different stuff than most of us have a chance to in our daily lives." 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.
"It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can," wrote author C. S. Lewis. "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."
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 scenius, 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.
I used to worry a lot about voice, wondering if I had my own. But now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It's hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.
In this day and age, if your work isn't online, it doesn't exist. If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.
Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live.
A lot of us go about our work and feel like we have nothing to show for it at the end of the day. But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way. In fact, sharing your process might actually be most valuable if the products of your work aren't easily shared, if you're still in the apprentice stage of your work, if you can't just slap up a portfolio and call it a day, or if your process doesn't necessarily lead to tangible finished products.
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.
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.
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. Put it in a drawer and walk out the door. The next day, take it out and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself, "Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I'd be comfortable with my boss or my mother seeing?"
A blog is the ideal machine for turning flow into stock: One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life's work.
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. Over the years, you will be tempted to abandon it for the newest, shiniest social network. Don't give in. Don't let it fall into neglect. Think about it in the long term. Stick with it, maintain it, and let it change with you over time.
There's not as big of a difference between collecting and creating as you might think. 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. 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.
If you share the work of others, it's your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit. Online, the most important form of attribution is a hyperlink pointing back to the website of the creator of the work. This sends people who come across the work back to the original source. Don't share things you can't properly credit. Find the right credit, or don't share.
Words matter. Artists love to trot out the tired line, "My work speaks for itself," but the truth is, our work doesn't speak for itself. 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 effects how they value it.
Think about what you can share from your process that would inform the people you're trying to reach. Have you learned a craft? What are your techniques? Are you skilled at using certain tools and materials? What kind of knowledge comes along with your job? 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."
Albini laments how many people waste time and energy trying to make connections instead of getting good at what they do, when "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.
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. Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people--you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.
"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.
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. I know people who run multimillion-dollar businesses off of their mailing lists. The model is very simple: They give away great stuff on their sites, they collect emails, and then when they have something remarkable to share or sell, they send an email.
When you have success, it's important to use any dough, clout, or platform you've acquired to help along the work of the people who've helped you get to where you are. Extol your teachers, your mentors, your heroes, your influences, your peers, and your fans. Give them a chance to share their own work. Throw opportunities their way.
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.
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. "Anyone who isn't embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn't learning enough," writes author Alain de Botton. Look for something new to learn, and when you find it, dedicate yourself to learning it out in the open. Document your progress and share as you go so that others can learn along with you. Show your work, and when the right people show up, pay close attention to them, because they'll have a lot to show you.