Keep Going by Austin Kleon: Overview and Takeaways

This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Keep Going" by Austin Kleon. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.

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What is Keep Going by Austin Kleon about? What are the main takeaways of the book?

In Keep Going, Austin Kleon provides methods for overcoming emotional obstacles to creativity. He suggests an approach to creativity that finds joy in the process of making art, rather than the external rewards it might bring you.

Keep reading for a brief overview of Keep Going.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon

In Keep Going, Austin Kleon provides 10 principles for staying creative—even in the face of burnout, self-doubt, or distress at the state of the world. We’ve divided his principles into three central themes:

  1. Have healthy creative goals.
  2. Stay in the moment.
  3. Live a healthy creative life.

Principle #1: Have Healthy Creative Goals

Kleon says that to be creative without feeling overwhelmed or burned out, you have to use your creativity to pursue the right goals. He separates creative goals into two categories: 

  1. Unhealthy results-based goals
  2. Healthy process-based goals

Kleon says that results-based goals are unhealthy, and you should avoid pursuing them. While results-based goals make creating work a means to an end, process-based goals make creating work an exciting and joyful experience. This is because process-based goals allow you to enjoy the work itself and avoid feeling pressured to complete it. This prevents you from having to go through the cynical disinterest of burnout or the anxiety and dread of feeling overwhelmed. 

(Shortform note: You might not have realized that pursuing results-based goals is unhealthy. This may be because, as Daniel Pink’s Drive suggests, society is built on results-based goals—in other words, we’re conditioned to see these as the types of goals we should pursue. For example, jobs and schools provide motivation by offering rewards like money or higher grades. This suggests that when you pivot to pursuing process-based goals, you’ll have to unlearn bad creative habits on top of making new, healthier ones.)

Principle #2: Stay in the Moment

Once you’ve made sure that you’re doing creative work for the right reasons, you can focus on the creative process itself. Kleon suggests that to ensure a healthy and productive creative process, you must stay in the moment. Staying in the moment prevents you from thinking too much about the past or worrying about the future. This way, you can focus entirely on thinking of new ideas and putting them into your work. 

(Shortform note: Psychological research supports Kleon’s suggestion that staying in the moment stimulates creativity. A survey of various studies found a positive correlation between mindfulness (or being aware of what you’re thinking and doing in the present) and creativity.)

Kleon provides three guidelines for staying in the moment:

  1. Take things one day at a time.
  2. Make a creative space.
  3. Slow down.

Principle #3: Live a Healthy Creative Life

After discussing why and how you should pursue creativity in Keep Going, Kleon talks about the interaction between creativity and life as a whole and how you can make this interaction positive and healthy. This interaction is important because one benefits the other:

  • A healthy life keeps you motivated and interested in your creative work, preventing burnout or feeling overwhelmed. 
  • Healthy creative work makes your life and the lives of others more positive by providing emotional or intellectual inspiration.

(Shortform note: Psychological research supports Kleon’s argument that your overall lifestyle and creativity impact each other. One study showed that higher creativity correlated with higher “intrinsic motivation” in life: wanting to do things out of love for the action itself. Based on this and other studies, some psychologists argue that actively working to stimulate creativity throughout your life is crucial for finding meaning or purpose in the things you do.)

Kleon provides three methods for living a healthy creative life: choosing life over creative work, embracing change, and accepting where you are.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon: Overview and Takeaways

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Like what you just read? Read the rest of the world's best book summary and analysis of Austin Kleon's "Keep Going" at Shortform.

Here's what you'll find in our full Keep Going summary:

  • How to stay creative even when you feel stressed or burnt out
  • Why the process of making art is more important than the outcome
  • Why and how to make a creative space to work in

Katie Doll

Somehow, Katie was able to pull off her childhood dream of creating a career around books after graduating with a degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. Her preferred genre of books has changed drastically over the years, from fantasy/dystopian young-adult to moving novels and non-fiction books on the human experience. Katie especially enjoys reading and writing about all things television, good and bad.

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