Book notes
Show Your Work!

Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon

Read in October 2020

"Unless you are a real ninja, rockstar, or guru, stay away from those words."

1. You Don't Have to Be a Genius

Find a Scenius

Scenius is a community of people who produce great things by influencing each other by discussing, copying, and charming competitions.

Start asking what you can do for the others instead of the opposing one-way question.

Collaboration always nurtures creativity, and scenius doesn't take away individual achievements.

Be an Amateur

So you won't be afraid of making mistakes.

In the beginners' mind, there are many possibilities.

The gap between mediocre and good can be closed by working, but the gap between doing something and doing nothing is distinct.

A great way to get started on the "sharing your work path" is to choose a topic to learn and make a commitment to learning it in front of others. Such as "N days of X" projects.

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

It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn't online, it doesn't exist.

Read Obituaries

Reading the near-death experiences of people might motivate you to start doing stuff instead of wasting time.

2. Think Process, Not Product

While producing your work, let go of your ego and share your process to connect with the audience.

Be a documentarian of what you do. Keep a work log, so you will already have some raw material if you want to share things. Keeping records is not about making art; it's about keeping track of what's going on around you.

3. Share Something Small Every Day

Once a day, after you're done with your day's work, go back to your documentation and find one little thing to share.

"So What?" Test

Ask this to yourself every time you turn in a piece of something. If you are unsure, let it sit for a day.

Should I Share Test

Is it useful or interesting?

āœ… YES --> SHARE
āŒ NO --> DON'T

What to Share

Early stage --> Inspirations
Middle stage --> Methods and progress
Final stage --> The product

What to Show

āŒ Selfies
āŒ Babies
āŒ Sunsets
āŒ Lunches
āŒ Cats, dogs, turtles, guinea pigs
āŒ Lattes
āœ… Your work

Turn Your Flow Into Stock

ideas -> tweets -> videos, blog posts, talks, podcasts -> books

Your Real Estate

Build a good website, fill it with ideas and stuff you care about. Don't leave it for the sake of the newest, brightest social medium.

4. Open Up Your Cabinet Of Curiosities

Collecting is as effective as creating.

Share your influences.

5. Tell Good Stories

The stories you tell about your work influences how people perceive it.

Structure is everything. Study the structures of your favorite stories so you can steal.

A Good Pitch

Act I - History: Where have you been, what do you want, and what did you do to get it.
Act II: Present: Where are you now?
Act III: Future: How the audience can help you to get there.

Talking About Yourself

Be honest, kind, and patient
Be humble - adjective free: Amazing Engineer Biography: two-sentence explanation.
Unless you are a real ninja, rockstar, or guru, stay away from those words.

6. Teach What You Know

Gathering feedback on what you teach is also keeps the learning going.

  • Make people better at something they want to be better at
  • Share your reading list
  • Share your techniques

7. Don't Turn into a Human Spam

Shut up and listen

Being a good-storyteller comes from being even a better listener. "I like to write stories, but I can't read" is a weirdly egoistic excuse.

Hearts > Eyeballs

The quality of your followers is more important than quantity; there is no need to waste time on hacks about how to get more followers.

If you want followers, be someone worth following. Do your thing and talk about the stuff you love, and you'll eventually attract people who also love them.

The Vampire Test

A Derek Sivers quote:

Whatever excites you, do it.
Whatever drains you, stop doing it.

After doing something, take a moment and think about how it felt. Did you get energized and motivated or exhausted and drained?

That is the vampire test. Apply it to people, jobs, projects, hobbies, whatever.

Find Your fellow <X>'ers

Find people who share the same values as you in a topic, and show the work to them before anyone else.

Do what you can to nurture your relationship.

Meet Up in Meatspace

Prefer IRL events: coffee, lunch, meetups.

A great activity to do: go to museums or bookstores, so you can browse around if you get bored.

8. Learn to Take a Punch

Austin talks about his acquaintances from the design school. They were too harsh while reviewing each other's work to see if any of them are going to quit school. šŸ¤”

Put out a lot of work, get punched a lot.

The more criticism you take, the more you realize it is harmless.

Nobody died from a bad review. Take a deep breath and accept whatever comes.

You can't control the criticism you receive, but you can control how you react to it.

Sometimes, having your work hated by a particular audience might be a badge of honor.

Your work is not your identity. Keep yourself closer to people who like you because of who you are.

Protect your vulnerable areas. If it's too sensitive, don't put it out, but also don't forget:

Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide.

Don't Feed the Troll

The worst kind of troll is the one who lives in your head.

9. Sell Out

Let's write a swimming pool.

ā€” - The Beatles

Ask for money when you are confident and at a fair price.

Your Audience

Keep a mailing list. People who sign-up for your mailing list are giving consent to be "disturbed" by you. Don't push your chance; don't turn into human spam.

Interaction with the audience will require more time as it grows; schedule office hours for that. Don't consume the productive time.


Say "yes" to more kind of work you want to do. Say "no" to less of the things you want to do, even if they have a more significant monetary outcome.

10. Stick Around

Don't quit your show. The people who get what they are often the ones who just stick around long enough.

Whether you've just won big or lost big, you still have to face the next question: what's next?

Start Over Begin Again

Whenever you feel like whatever there is more to learn about what you're doing, it's time to change course to learn something new to move forward.