Show Your Work!
Austin Kleon, 2014
Small, fun, and motivational guide on how to do build a personal business from the hobby. Super quick read, full of useful and small candies of information and tips. Want to start a small business and make money off your hobby? Read this book.
Highlights & Margin Notes
When George Lucas was a teenager, he almost died in a car accident. He decided “every day now is an extra day,” dedicated himself to film, and went on to direct Star Wars. Wayne Coyne, lead singer of The Flaming Lips, was 16 when he was held up while working at a Long John Silver’s. “I realized I was going to die,” he says. “And when that gets into your mind . . . it utterly changed me . . . 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.”
“A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome.”
But human beings are interested in other human beings and what other human beings do. “People really do want to see how the sausage gets made.” That’s how designers Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt put it in their book on entrepreneurship, It Will Be Exhilarating. “By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers.
Commander Hadfield wanted to show his work. Things fell into place when his sons explained social media to him and got him set up on Twitter and other social networks. During his next five-month mission, while performing all his regular astronautical duties, he tweeted, answered questions from his followers, posted pictures he’d taken of Earth, recorded music, and filmed YouTube videos of himself clipping his nails, brushing his teeth, sleeping, and even performing maintenance on the space station. Millions of people ate it all up, including my agent, Ted, who tweeted, “Wouldn’t normally watch live video of a couple of guys doing plumbing repair, but IT’S IN SPACE!”
“No one is going to give a damn about your résumé; 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. 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.
The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that.
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.
If you happened to be wealthy and educated and alive in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, it was fashionable to have a Wunderkammern, a “wonder chamber,” or a “cabinet of curiosities” in your house—a room filled with rare and remarkable objects that served as a kind of external display of your thirst for knowledge of the world. Inside a cabinet of curiosities you might find books, skeletons, jewels, shells, art, plants, minerals, taxidermy specimens, stones, or any other exotic artifact. These collections often juxtaposed both natural and human-made marvels, revealing a kind of mash-up of handiwork by both God and human beings. They were the precursors to what we think of today as the modern museum—a place dedicated to the study of history, nature, and the arts.
When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them. When you share your taste and your influences, have the guts to own all of it.
“Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.”
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. 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 effects how they value it.
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.
Learn to write. Use spell-check. You’re never “keeping it real” with your lack of proofreading and punctuation, you’re keeping it unintelligible.
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. The writer Blake Butler calls this being an open node. If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice. Shut up and listen once in a while. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Don’t turn into human spam. Be an open node.