What I'm Reading: Show Your Work
One of the things I used to worry about in terms of my writing was being compared to other creators and being told “It reminds me of (insert name/title here)” or “It’s not enough like (insert name/title here)”. SPOILER ALERT: Both of those things have happened. Repeatedly. More so the latter but we can talk about that at a later time. The former doesn’t bother me as much when you consider that it is impossible to keep the influence of anything that you love from touching your own creative work in some way or another after having read Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon. If you haven’t read that before and you are an artist of any kind, I do recommend it as I do recommend Show Your Work, Kleon’s follow-up.
This is not a secret formula “how-to” for instant success for artists. It really is about the long-game. If that’s what you’re looking for, I’d say look for another book. Probably also look for another career because anyone who finds success in film/television, writing, painting, etc., finds it after years of unseen work behind it. Yeah, I entered contests and did fairly well in my first year of submissions but it was for a script on a subject I started studying about when I was a teenager. See what I mean? And I’m not even close to where I want to be in terms of my artistic goals. But what Kleon provides are tools to help you get discovered by getting your creative work out into the world.
1. You don’t have to be a genius.
If you’ve read The Element, Sir Ken Robinson talks about how what we think of as a genius is essentially harmful. When you assume someone is a genius, what you’re really seeing is someone in their element. And at some point in the life of this “genius”, they had a beginning, too. Just start. You’ll learn what works and what doesn’t along the way.
2. Think process, not product.
By sharing the process, your audience becomes more invested in your product. There is an understanding and a sense of community as to what went into it forging a stronger connection between you and your audience. Not to mention it can take some of the stress of you in terms of creating the product so you can focus on the process of it becoming.
3. Share something small every day.
I have gotten a little lax with this myself but it was my friend Phillip that insisted that I make better use of my social media in terms of growing my audience before anyone knows my name. I’m working on it. Refer to number 7 on this list.
4. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.
Referring back to Kleon’s first work in this series, “Steal Like an Artist”, I like to think of this as opening up your cabinet of influences in that the things that you’re curious about and the things that you enjoy genuinely influence your life and your life’s work. Be open to sharing those because when it comes time to take in the finished product, your audience can look for those sort of Easter Eggs in your work that come from those influences. Ready Player One, anybody?
5. Tell good stories & 6. Teach what you know.
I feel like these two go hand-in-hand. Tell good stories about what you know and how you came to know it. What you know tends to be about what someone would find in your aforementioned “cabinet of curiosities/influences” so the passion you’ll have behind it will be genuine and people will respond to that.
7. Don’t turn into human spam.
This note that Kleon makes is practically what I feared would happen if I shared daily on social media. The last thing I wanted to do is annoy the living shite out of people which would potentially take away from any readership or viewership I might have in future. But as he points out in his earlier points, you avoid becoming human spam by providing quality content. It doesn’t have to be perfect content. Again, you don’t have to be a genius. But it should be interesting to you and the energy you put behind it will attract the crowd you want because they share your interests.
8. Learn to take a punch.
People are going to be critical of you. When you’re just starting out, like I am, it may be well-founded in their minds and in your yours. It is absolutely inevitable. But what you can do is learn to choose which criticisms are helpful to you and which to throw out. Take those script notes I mentioned before on this blog as an example. Those are suggestions from a reader who more often than not seeks to help you grow. A troll seeks to tear you down and will, more often than not, do so with some level of anonymity or geographical distance. One is of value and one has none. Pick your battles.
9. Sell out.
There’s a quote I’ve liked for quite some time from Walt Disney that Kleon quotes in Show Your Work that I believe can be applied to any creative work: “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.” If you make money doing what you love, guess what? You get to do more of what you love. Money is freedom to create so there is no shame in selling your work if it makes you happy. Anyone who makes you believe otherwise is wrong.
10. Stick around.
I had a phone call with an Academy Award nominated producer recently and the main takeaway I got from this mirrors the final chapter of this book. You have to stick it out. Find a way. Keep working. By no means should you stop taking care of yourself but again, this is the long game. You never know who will be the next person will be that reads your writing, sees your artwork, listens to your music, etc. That person could be the one that needed to see it - in more ways than one.
Have you read Show Your Work? Did you find it relatable? If so, let me know in the comments below what your favorite points were!
Click HERE to buy a copy of Show Your Work or visit your local bookstore.