This article is an excerpt from the Shortform book guide to "Show Your Work" by Austin Kleon. Shortform has the world's best summaries and analyses of books you should be reading.
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In Show Your Work!, Austin Kleon guides readers through his view of effective self-promotion. He advises you to publicly share it through your process, from the earliest phases to the finished product.
Read below for inspirational Show Your Work! quotes with explanations.
Show Your Work! Quotes
Austin Kleon has risen to fame with his trilogy of books about creativity in our digital culture: Steal Like an Artist, Show Your Work!, and Keep Going, which address how you can succeed at your creative endeavors and how you can promote yourself effectively.
In Show Your Work!, Kleon argues that the best way to promote what you do is to publicly share it throughout your whole process, from the earliest phases to the finished product. This allows you to focus on honing your skills while making yourself available to be discovered.
Here are the best Show Your Work! quotes:
“If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.”
Many creative people hesitate to share their work because they don’t feel they have anything worth showing. Kleon believes a solution to this problem is to share the process of creating, not just the finished products. By distinguishing between these two aspects of creativity, Kleon seeks to reframe the idea of sharing your work.
Kleon offers three main reasons why you should share your work through your process. First, doing so lets you focus on developing your skills while growing your audience. Second, it’s a powerful way to make valuable connections. Third, it can enable you to live the life you want to live.
“You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again.”
As you share your work, you may find yourself becoming embarrassed of the work you’ve done in the past, warns Kleon. This can feel discouraging and make you consider quitting altogether. He suggests you reframe these feelings. Rather than taking them as a sign of your mediocrity, take them as a sign that you’re learning and growing. This should be encouraging because, as he sees it, you’re never starting from scratch: You’re always building on what came before.
(Shortform note: Creativity experts note that cultivating a growth mindset is crucial for progressing as a creative individual. You have to view failures and mistakes as an opportunity to learn and improve. Be willing to fail, be willing to embarrass yourself—this willingness will help you stick it out for the long haul.)
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.”
Making meaningful connections is what sharing your work is about, so it’s important that you cultivate constructive interactions, contends Kleon. An excellent way to do this is to simply focus on the things you love—the work, the ideas, the artists, and so on. You’ll attract real people who love these same things and you’ll create fewer opportunities for negative attention to come your way.
Worthwhile connections are mutually encouraging—focus on these, and ignore the others, says Kleon. Don’t concentrate on the number of followers you have, and instead concentrate on the quality of those connections. If they’re distracting, hurtful, or otherwise drain your energy, don’t give them any time. Online trolls exemplify this kind of attention—Kleon suggests you block them.
“Become a documentarian of what you do.”
Before you can start sharing, you must gather material, claims Kleon. A way to do this is to simply document your work. Use your smartphone or some other device to record what you’re doing at any stage in the process. Not only will such photos and videos serve as material to post online, but they’ll also help you study your methods and develop your skills and techniques.
If you’re in the early stages of making your piece or don’t yet have any work to show, consider sharing the work of artists who’ve inspired you. For instance, if a poem gave you the idea for the piece you’re starting, share it, advises Kleon. You’ll find that other people like that same poem. They’ll then realize you have something in common, and they’ll likely take an interest in your work when it’s ready to share.
Just note that if you share the work of others, you must be comprehensive in giving attribution. According to Kleon, the most important attribution online is the hyperlink—be sure to include it so it’s easy for people to find the source. If you don’t know where a work came from, Kleon says, don’t share it. Proper attribution is a great way to build real connections with like-minded people, and it’s also just the right thing to do.
If you’re in the middle of your process, show people what you’re doing and how you’re doing it. Share your research for your novel, geek out about your red sable paint brush, ask others how they record acoustic guitar in stereo, and so on. Teach what you’ve learned. These kinds of posts are engaging and sure to attract those who care about the same things.
If you’ve just finished a piece—show it, insists Kleon. Then show the outtakes and edits. This kind of transparency makes you more accessible to people and helps them get to know you.
Kleon writes that if you have many finished works, tell people about opportunities you may have coming up: a gallery showing or a book reading, for instance. Share your memories of how a certain work came to be, or ask for constructive feedback. Kleon claims there’s always a way to help people engage with your work at any phase.
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Here's what you'll find in our full Show Your Work summary :
- How to succeed at your creative endeavors
- How to make money off your creative work
- Why you should share your creative process