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Show Your Work

10 Ways To Share Your Creativity And Get Discovered

By Austin Kleon

✈️ The Book in 3 Sentences

Overall, Show Your Work gives you a few general guidelines about how and what you should share with others. This book encourages anyone who makes anything to put it in the world for everyone to see and share the process while you’re making it. Putting yourself online makes your presence actually felt, even if it does start out in a small way and can lead to a number of amazing downstream effects. 

🎨 Impressions

This book is the reason I started this blog in the first place. It’s a nice framework of thinking that got me to get over the “log kya kahenge” (what will other people say) mode of thinking and exposed me to all the potential benefits of having one. I’ve always wanted to share all the random thoughts and things I think about it a more structured way than one off tweets or text messages. This blog is just an avenue for me to research and think deeper about all these thoughts and challenges me to think through my thoughts past the first 5 minutes of ideation. Think about things from different perspectives, it’s where the hot chai cools off and becomes less radical and more practical. 

👀 How I Discovered It 

I actually was helping my girlfriend move out of her DC apartment during the pandemic and we ended up at a FedEx store to ship some boxes back to her family home. While waiting in line I saw the book How to Steal like an Artist on this lazy susan filled with random books. I paged through it, thought it was super interesting, wrote it down to read later, and never did it.

A few months later, I came across an Ali Abdaal video singing the book’s praises and here I am.

📖 Who Should Read It?

Have you ever had an idea, product, or concept that you were completely sucked into and became disproportionately excited about? You just wanted to talk to everyone around you about it, but no one else around seemed to give a damn? Have you ever made something that you’re beaming with pride about and everyone around you gives you a little golf clap and say ‘woah’ ‘cool’ ‘that’s neat’ and then proceeds to not give a damn? Yeah, those people should read it.

This books gives you the framework to create a platform to talk about all those things. Sure, no one will read it or look at it at first…but who cares? Making a blog refines your thoughts and it will all be in one place, easily shareable. When you eventually do come across that person who has the same itch as you, it’ll be a lot easier to talk about the thing because you’ve spent time refining your thoughts. You’ll be able to share your thoughts easier than hunting through your journal, your hard drive, your phone’s photo roll, etc to find that thing you.

☘️ How the Book Changed Me 

  • Well I started this blog
  • It made me be less judgmental when I see others share and made me more comfortable sharing
  • Helped me learn the value of writing and made me begrudgingly accept my high school English teachers’ dogma about how important writing is
  • Made me more comfortable putting myself out on the internet and also just sharing my thoughts in real life

✍🏽 My Top 3 Quotes

Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine. Online, you can become the person you really want to be. Fill your website with your work and your ideas and the stuff you care about […] The beauty of owning your own turf is that you can do whatever you want with it. Your domain name is your domain. You don’t have to make compromises. […] Whether people show up or they don’t, you’re out there, doing your thing, ready whenever they are.

Anyone who isn’t embarrassed at who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough

On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between mediocre and good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something

Table of Contents

📒 Summary + Notes

You Don’t Have to be a Genius

Be a Scenius

Brian Seno referred to this concept called a scenius. What it means is that ideas and creativity aren’t created in isolation, they’re created when people are interacting with each other. Although ideas eventually become fully formed by someone, they are a product of the exchange of ideas with others. All those random conversations where one random thing they say gets your gears spinning contribute to your ideas. It gets away from the lone genius archetype.

Anyone can contribute to a scenius. A scene doesn’t require you to have a threshold of intellect or ability to contribute, you just have to actually contribute. Ergo, go contribute something. Talk in that discord channel, comment on that forum post, go to that conference, raise your hand in class, speak up at the networking event.

Be an Amateur

On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between mediocre and good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something

Amateurs think differently than experts leading to different perspectives and ideas. Embrace your amateur status because you can contribute something experts don’t often do so. Even experts embrace the amateur status and try to do so often.

When you start from an amateur status, you don’t have all the years of biases and preconceived notions that you were taught from your initial training. You’re more likely to question why things are done the way they are and be more flexible to changing those things. When I teach Bhangra, I often get asked questions about why moves and steps are done a certain way. For example, we used to not flourish our hands on a certain step. (For those of y’all who know what I’m talking about, we used to not flourish during sheesha on beat 3 of pataka). It took a new dancer on the team to come and ask why we didn’t do that. That’s when the captains at the time realized that the reason we used to cut the flourish was because the team as a whole used to not be that talented and we cut the flourish for cleanliness’ sake. However, when that dancer asked why, our roster was filthy. That’s when we made the switch and our dancing looked better because of it.

The amateur is often better at teaching other amateurs than a master because the master forgets what it’s like to be an amateur.

This just reminds me of the times in grade school when the teacher will say something and no one except 1-2 kids would understand it. After about 5 minutes of questions from the class that led nowhere, one of those kids would explain what the teacher said in language that made sense to the other 12 year old minds and everyone just went “OHHhHHhHh that makes sense”. It happens all the time in life. It’s natural to feel discouraged from talking because you’re not 1000% an expert. Just know that sometimes, an expert isn’t always the best communicator or teacher. If you’ve been to college and taken an entry level science course, there’s always one teacher who is just god awful. Sure, they’re smart as heck when it comes to molecular pathway of Clathrin, COP I, and COP II and its role in transport between the endoplasmic reticulum and the Golgi body. BUT DEAR GOD, no one wants to hear that researcher teach all the nuances of every single nitty gritty detail they spent learning about each cytokine. Sometimes experts have no idea how to teach because they don’t remember what it’s like to be the beginner.

Share your journey of how you’re learning something.

If you’re learning a new thing, document and share the process you’re going through with others. If you’re working on a new project, post a tweet of a halfway finished process pic. It could be outtakes that you cut out from a video. It could be snippets that you’re proud of from a recent writing. A screenshot of all the Anki flashcards that you did not get through today and put off until tomorrow. It doesn’t have to be good, doesn’t have to be bad. Just document and share it. Well, don’t necessarily share it immediately, but those random little captured pieces may be handy later on.

You Can’t Find Your Voice If You Don’t Use It

Today, if you don’t have your work online, it essentially doesn’t exist therefore you don’t exist.

You get better at public speaking when you speak in public. You get more comfortable talking to people if you actually talk to people * my inner introvert shudders in anxiety *. You get better at communicating if you communicate more. It helps you find your style, your preferred methods, everything about communicating. Sharing your work is a great way to do just that. 

Read Obituaries

When you read an obituary you are reminded that life is finite. Everyday is not guaranteed and you need to make the most out of it. Thinking that way, living life that way, thinking about how you will be remembered, it emphasizes the need to share your work. Momento mori, remember you will die.

Think Process Not Product

Take People Behind the Scenes

Before the internet was so widely available to the public, sharing your process was 1) not possible and 2) not spoken about. There was no efficacious and consistent way to share your process with the wide audience but there also was no incentive to. People thought about artists as the “lone genius”. Someone who works in a creative ecstatic fugue state that they enter through some arcane and idiosyncratic ritual that only they know about. All that to hide that it takes a long process of work and by hiding that work they make themselves seem untouchable and superior. It’s important to remember that everyone is a person that got to where they are through a series of manageable steps. Anyone could do it, just depends on how much they want to do it.

Nowadays, sharing the process creates that connection with the consumers and potential customers. Take curriegoat for example. Initially I was just marveled by how he made these crazy cool rugs, then he showed his process all the way through. After that I was like damn, that was so cool, he taught me how to do this on my own. Now when I see his stuff I have that connection, he’s the guy that got me into daydreaming about making rugs. I now look at my ideas, designs from other people, and just random ish and think “yo that would make an awesome rug” and I instinctually think about curriegoat. I am in a weird ass way, forever going to link any textile made with a punch needle or tufting gun to him. That is a connection I would not have if I just saw all his on some Etsy shop or Instagram page.

Share your work, take people behind the scenes and grow your connection with your audience

Become a Documentarian of What You Do

Maybe don’t share everything though. There was that one guy that live-streamed on Twitch his entire life. He was homeless and let his audience make his decisions. Well I guess that was the more problematic part. It was this weird toxic coexistence where he had an income because people donated to him, but he had to listen to these people that would say crazy stuff.

You have to make stuff. No one is going to give a damn about your resume; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers

Even if you don’t have any actual product to show, document your stuff. Film yourself when you’re working, take photos during the process. There’s a page from the book I’m just gonna take a pic of and plop in here

Most people still think about thinking as a purely internal process, and believe that the only function of the pen is to put finished thoughts on paper. Richard Feynman once had a visitor in his office, a historian who wanted to interview him. When he spotted Feynman’s notebooks, he said how delighted he was to see such “wonderful records of Feynman’s thinking.” “No, no!” Feynman protested. “They aren’t a record of my thinking process. They are my thinking process. I actually did the work on the paper.” “Well,” the historian said, “the work was done in your head, but the record of it is still here.” “No, it’s not a record, not really. It’s working. You have to work on paper, and this is the paper.”

Ahrens, Sönke. How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers (p. 95).

Share Something Small Everyday

Send Out a Daily Dispatch

If you’re working on a few projects, share a snippet or a picture of something in progress. If you have a few projects already finished and released, show how they’re doing.

I know this picture is abundantly common and out there, but still every time I see a representation of one day vs a year it still is kinda nuts to me.

Join new platforms and experiment with them. Try out new things and see how you can use them.

This makes me feel much better about how I constantly will adjust workflows and methods based on new platforms. Sometimes I’m worried I spend more time experimenting with different tools than actually getting things done with those tools. I mean god damn I spent a weekend learning Notion because of how it could help and all but dropped notability which I had been using since the 10th grade as my main note taking tool. 

And don’t worry about being perfect, just post it and get it out of the way. Sturgeon’s Law is that 90% of everything is crap and the other 10% is good, you just don’t know what 10% that is. Share it all and you’ll know what the good stuff is. That being said, don’t let sharing overtake the time actually spent making the work.

People often ask me, “How do you find the time for all this?” And I answer, “I look for it.”

I just thought this was hilarious. I snorted some air out of my nose.

The “So What” Test?

Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you

Don’t share everything. No one cares about your bowel movements (tbt to when Facebook statuses were actually your current status). But they might care about a half finished drawing of that aorta you’ve been plugging away at. If you’re unsure, save it to the drafts and sleep on it. Might not be good for prime time today, but it might be a week down the line. Just ask yourself if what you’re sharing is useful or interesting. Yes? → share it. No? → Toss it. I don’t know? → save it for later. 

I think this can lead to some pretty self-doubt filled negative thinking. I’m trying to lean towards just sharing a little more than I’m usually comfortable with. If i follow this, I don’t think I’d share anything because I’d think most of the things I write and share now are not helpful or not that interesting. That being said, I do understand the point of not sharing legit everything.

Turn Your Flow into Stock

Flow – the daily updates that you send out to the world, the chaos

Stock – the curated bits of flow in a neat pile, the organized chaos

Look back through your ideas notes every now and then and incorporate that into your routines. You’ll start seeing patterns and threads of a similar stream of thought emerge and you can converge them into a unified and cohesive piece. A series of tweets over the course of a year could get you halfway to a book.

This I think is best achieved with a slip box. Making evergreen notes, linking back to other notes, which causes you to stumble upon other ideas that you’ve come across and over time you already have your rough draft for your next essay or blog post hashed out. Now all you have to do is refine the draft and publish it. (I’m going to do a blog about evergreen notes and slip boxes later. This will eventually become a link to that post)

Build a Good (Domain) Name

God I kinda hate my domain name just a tad. Too many Bunty aur Babli references that’ll be hard to SEO past. And that Indian blogger SEO’d the hell outta my name so I can’t even keyword myself. Seriously, just Google “Umer Qureshi” and you’ll see this guy from India only. I can’t knock him that much though, it was a smart as heck move.

Make a website and populate it with your own ideas and things you’re interested in. Just put everything you share on your website, doesn’t need to be pretty, doesn’t need to be polished, it just needs to be there in some way shape or form. Social media platforms come and go, but your domain is your domain. You can shape it however you want and it’ll stand the test of time longer than MySpace did.

Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities

Don’t Be a Hoarder

Omg he made a reference to something I learned in my art history major. The wunderkammern. They were these little boxes or rooms filled with ‘exotic items’ and ‘antiquities’. Think of an uber rich super villain from a movie and that one room full of a bunch of fossils, art, jars, and random artifacts on display.

Creating and collecting are on different sides of the same sliding scale. Collecting new bits of information flows into your new writings which then causes you to do more reading and the virtuous cycle continues.

When you start writing and making, your content is bad. It just is, but your taste and viewpoint is what makes you you. What you read, listen to, what you use as your influences, magazines, etc all feed into what you write is dope. With writing, you’re refining your messaging and creating your own style

No Guilty Pleasures

If you like it, you like it and don’t be guilty about it. You can use your perspective and your lens to make something others thing is weird to something that is super cool.

For the longest time I was afraid of my love for anime. So much so I completely dropped it in middle school. I watched Naruto, The Prince of Tennis, One of the Gundam offshoots, Yu Yu Hakusho, One Piece, Dragon Ball Z, BoBoBo-Bo Bo-BoBo (did I stutter?), YuGiOh, and all those random anime shows on Toonami. As anime became more widely accepted when I was in college, I dived back into and deeply regret not keeping with it all throughout. Now I’m catching up on all the anime I missed, like One Piece, Hunter x Hunter, Bleach, etc.

Please. Don’t be the guy judging other people’s tastes because they don’t like authentic the authentic limited run 1st edition album of a 1937 South Portland Grunge Polka band pressed on Vinyl. It’s okay if you only like the more mainstream North Austrian Polka Symphonies compressed on an mp3 file. You do you.

Credit is Always Due

When you don’t credit stuff, you not only don’t allow credit to the creator, but you also don’t credit the person who is seeing the content, more content from the original creator. Link back to where you came across the information, link back to the original person. There’s a graphic in the book that says attribution includes – what it is, who made it and when, why we should care, how you found it, and where we can find more things like it. 

Tell Good Stories

Work Doesn’t Speak for Itself

Humans like stories, we want to connect with things. Your work can be as great as possible, but only the ones with a great story will do well. 

The Mona Lisa literally was not famous until it was stolen. Part of the reason Guernica became globally famous is because he and the painting would not return to Spain until the Spanish dictator Francisco Franco was removed from power. Picasso died before Franco left power (by dying).

Guernica by Pablo Picasso
Mona Lisa by Leonardo Da Vinci

If you want to make good work, you also have to tell the work’s story. So document the process and share it along with the work.

Structure is Everything

Stories have very similar structures. The character wants something, faces an obstacle trying to achieve it, the character fails, wins, or there’s a draw. When you’re sharing you work share the story along with it. Study good stories with different story structures and write stories. The more you read and write the better at it you’ll become. 

Talk about Yourself at Parties

Your bio is not the place to be creative, people want the simple 2 sentence answer that clearly and concisely explains what you do. 

I get extremely annoyed when people say ‘oh omg so I’m a writer/producer/model/podcaster/youtuber/videographer/consultant/author/lawyer/brother/son/husband/dad/photosynthesizing industrial water bottle startup CEO. Chill dawg. Everyone has a lot of things they do, we all aren’t one thing. You’re being as obnoxious as the person who requires you to address them by all the degrees they have at the end of their name. I’m looking at you Mr Dr Professor MD, DDS, MEd, PhD, MA, MHA. Stick with something simple, pick the things that you identify with the most. If they ask what else you do, then fine, go on your soliloquy about how photosynthesizing water bottles will change the Croation economy for the better and THAT’s why you started a kickstarter that raised 150% of its stretch goal in 2 weeks. But until then, don’t be so dang obnoxious.

Teach What You Know

Share Your Trade Secrets

Sharing your process, how you work isn’t just helping everyone else, it helps you too. By sharing your process, teaching others, you create a connection with those people and similarly create more interest in your work.

When I read this I think about how much everyone loves and praises this one guy I watch on YouTube I learned after effects from (Avnish Parker) . So many people in there are willing to support the creator because on Patreon and sing his praises in the comments of his tutorials. That’s not something someone would be able to do if he didn’t share the sauce. Not only that, when you release your work, people will hit you up and send you other materials and point you to references you had not seen before.

Having your work out in the world is a free education that can last a lifetime

Don’t Turn into Human Spam

Shut Up and Listen

When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things

To write you need to read. Don’t just share your ideas incessantly, throwing them in everyone’s face without taking interest in them. If you want to publish to a journal, then read that journal. If you want to get people to come to your show, get to know people at other shows and go to their shows. You want someone to share your work, you better scratch their back too. Show interest in your fans, talk to them at their level, and they’ll help you back. Be a dot connector. 

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. 

The Vampire Test

If you are doing something or hanging around someone that makes you feel entirely drained after, that’s a vampire. Don’t do or be around anyone that’s a vampire. You need that energy to create.

Identify Your Fellow Knuckleballers

As you share your work, you’ll encounter others that do similar things. You’ll find those people who collaborate with you and share ideas, etc. Find them, don’t let them go.

In Bhangra, I found my fellow knuckleballers on my Bhangra team, specifically my fellow captains. Those are the people I can talk about a new idea to put into a set or rave about a crazy mechanism idea I have until 3 or 4 am after a comp. It’s god damn awesome.

Meet Up in Meat Space

Actually hang out with people in the real world. People like that don’t have your trivial small talk, you’re immediately talking about the big ideas and the work y’all can do.

Learn to Take a Punch

Let ’em Take Their Best Shot

Protec ya neck – the more work you put out → more criticism you get → more easily you’ll take criticism.

Roll with the punches – you control the work you put out, not the criticism. Sometimes if someone hates something about your work, then push their buttons like a toddler tries to get a reaction from their older siblings, it’s fun

Protect your vulnerable areas – if there is work too sensitive or that you absolutely want hidden, then don’t put it out there if you’re not cool with it gettin’ poked at. That being said, don’t be afraid to be vulnerable either

Keep your balance – you ≠ work, your work ≠ you. Spend time working on your relationships with your friends and family, not only your work

Don’t Feed the Trolls

Trolls are trash, you wouldn’t let trash just sit in your living room so why let it sit there in the comments? The worst troll is the one that lives in your head, so block them, delete the comment, turn off the comments who gives a damn? Your mind is valuable real estate, don’t let trolls defecate in it. 

Sell Out

Even the Renaissance Had to be Funded

People need to eat, every huge artist has sold out. Some of the best works of creativity made tons of money. Celebrate your friends successes as your own, don’t be the asshole who says they sold out.

Pass Around the Hat

Turn your fans into patrons. If you ask for donations you may end up getting people who feel they want to push your work in a certain direction, which you may not dig. Maybe stick to selling your works or asking people to hire you for a job.

Be careful when selling things you love though because you have to put a price on it that you think is fair. Don’t just keep lowering the price until they buy it because it’s your work. Don’t give it up for half price.

Keep a Mailing List

Put one at the bottom of every blog post for people to sign up. Then once you get people to sign up either by saying, hey wanna download this little sheet or resource or something, it’s free just give me your email address. Then when you have something to sell, it’ll pop up in their inbox. I should probably do this. 

Success! You're on the list.

Make More Work For Yourself

The people who call you a sellout are stupid, they just want you to stay the same. Don’t be stagnant. Try new things, be more ambitious, take on bigger projects. Make more work for yourself.

Pay it Forward

If you make it big, you also had a little luck along the way. You owe a boost to everyone else that’s less lucky.

“Be ‘hearty in your approbation and lavish in your praise,’ and people will cherish your words and treasure them and repeat them over a lifetime – repeat them years after you have forgotten them.”

Dale Carnegie in How to Win Friends and Influence People

Stick Around

Don’t Quit Your Show

The people who get what they’re after are very often the ones who just stick around long enough. 

This just makes me feel a lot better about the pod randomly going to hiatus whenever life gets too wild, but then I just restarting it when I can.

Chain Smoke

Don’t take a break in between projects waiting around. Use your success as momentum for the next project. Figure out what you could have improved on and then use that as the catalyst for the next project. Don’t sit on your laurels because your previous work doesn’t guarantee success next time.

That’s basically what we had to do with FCB and why we didn’t really take time off. Because if we took time off we just didn’t improve and we didn’t get any better. Sure, we could have had a better win percentage or something if we didn’t compete, but we also would not have gotten any better. It’s also just way more fun to compete more often. Yeah we got second a lot and I hated getting second. But we would not have put on all those crazy ideas that we had if we didn’t push ourselves to make something new every single damn time. We chain smoked.

Go Away So You Can Come Back

The minute you stop wanting something you get it

At the same time, take a break once in a while. If you can take a year sabbatical to rest up, generate ideas and build your next 7 year plan then do it. But if you can’t, make them throughout the week. Your commute, take a walk, exercise, build them into your schedule once a week or once a month. Set aside time to think. 

Start Over Begin Again

Anyone who isn’t embarrassed at who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough

When you’ve let an idea run its course, you’re getting tired of something, you feel like you’ve learned all you can about a certain topic, then throw it out and become a beginner in something else. When you’re done with a certain material, throw it away and start again. It’ll force you to be more creative and think of more things to do.

I tend to think of myself as a jack of many trades. I don’t have a crazy amount of confidence in anything except my general sense of fashion and Bhangra. Everything else, I have just average or slightly better than average acumen in my copious interests. Being a beginner in a bunch of topics is just more fun. Everything is new and exciting and makes me feel like a little kid. My favorite moments in life are when I’m reading a book, listening to a podcast, sitting at a lecture, or just having a conversation where someone says something that sends my mind into overdrive. The gears start spinning, my mind races, it feels like I’m on cocaine or something and serotonin is just rushing through me as I think about the various possibilities or applications. Ie, when I first learned of notion and all it’s function I couldn’t breathe from the overwhelming sense of ‘holy heck I can do so much with this program’. I put away all my medical school stuff aside for a week in the middle of clerkships and only slept 6 hours total to learn everything and set it all up. Looking back at all that, I mentally beat myself up a bit for not learning about this sooner.

You never really start over. You don’t lose all the work that’s come before. Even if you toss it aside, the lessons you learned from it will seep into what you do next

Dedicate yourself to learning something new and when you find it, dedicate yourself to learning it out in the open.

This blog is a new experience for me and I get to share all the things that I am always working on and learning about.

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