Book Review: ‘Show Your Work!’ by Austin Kleon

‘Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered’ is a must-read for creatives suffering perfection-paralysis, or just plain shy of sharing.

When it comes to sharing your handiwork, there can be a fine line between self-promotion and selfishness. In this fun illustrated little book, Austin Kleon discusses the advantages of showing your work, clever ways in which to actually come up with the stuff, plus how to do so without overdoing it.

Don’t mean to toot my own horn. Oh wait, yes I do.

Why show your work

Traditionally, artists have been accustomed to believe that their creative process should be kept a well-guarded secret, with only the finished product to ever see the light of day. Many artists hide their method for fear of imitation, or even because their development work lacks the perceived ‘polish’ to warrant it being shared with the world.

But as Kleon points out, when we hide our process we limit our audience and the potential for them to form an attachment to our craft.

“By letting go of our egos and sharing our process, we allow for the possibility of people having an ongoing connection with us and our work, which helps us move more of our product.”

People love to understand how things are made. We’ve all listened to interviews with our favourite musicians, discussing their songwriting techniques. Similarly, we’ve all watched behind-the-scenes footage and out-takes from our favourite films (take for example, this Star Wars blooper video on YouTube with more than 3-million views).

Making your process public will not only feed your fans (your greatest ally), but may also facilitate invaluable feedback to inform the final product.

 

What you can do to show your work

With the exception of a finished piece, it mightn’t always seem like you’ve got much to divulge on a day-to-day basis. Wrong. Simply start at the beginning… What are your influences? Where do you get your inspiration? As Kleon so eloquently puts it, there’s not as big of a difference between collecting and creating as you might think.

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it.” – Dave Grohl

Document everything you do – write down your ideas, record audio of you thinking aloud, keep a scrapbook, sketch concepts, take photographs and shoot video of your development. Eventually, you’ll have an entire catalogue of content ready to be let loose.

Alternatively, consider something that you would like to learn, then keep a diary of you learning it for your audience. Share links to the sites you frequent, details of the books you read, tutorials you’ve watched on YouTube, and even any advice you’ve received.

Ultimately, you should set out to contribute things that will educate the people that you’re trying to reach.

 

How to show your work (without being a dick)

Let’s be honest – nobody likes a show-off. Perhaps our favourite observation from Kleon’s book is that the act of sharing is one of generosity – you’re putting something out there because you think it might be helpful or entertaining to someone on the other side of the screen.

Today’s progressive creatives search for potential partners-in-crime – people they can collaborate with and learn from – as opposed to passive voyeurs of their work. Their agenda is to excite and inform their peers, not boast or brag.

“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.”

By the same token, don’t ignore or be jealous of your competition – interact with them and celebrate their victories as though they were your own. Sure, there is a lot of amazing work out there that can sometimes be pretty intimidating, but chances are there are plenty of people who are equally humbled by what you do!

 

Austin Kleon is also the author of ‘Steal Like An Artist’ (another book on Ignite’s Recommended Reading List!) To find out more about Kleon and his work, check out austinkleon.com.