Keep Going

date Aug 31, 2021
authors Austin Kleon
reading time 11 mins

Table of Contents


What is a daily routine?

“One’s daily routine is a highly idiosyncratic collection of compromises, neuroses, and superstitions,” Currey writes, “built up through trial and error and subject to a variety of external conditions.”

What is creativity?


Everything got better for me when I made peace with the fact that it might not ever get easier. The world is crazy. Creative work is hard. Life is short and art is long.

Not linear

The reason is this: The creative life is not linear. It’s not a straight line from point A to point B. It’s more like a loop, or a spiral, in which you keep coming back to a new starting point after every project. No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really “arrive.” Other than death, there is no finish line or retirement for the creative person.

A daily routine

The truly prolific artists I know always have that question answered, because they have figured out a daily practice — a repeatable way of working that insulates them from success, failure, and the chaos of the outside world.

Control the controllable

We have so little control over our lives. The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on. What we work on and how hard we work on it.

It’s a groundhog day every day - how can you make it better?

pretend you’re starring in your own remake of Groundhog Day: Yesterday’s over, tomorrow may never come, there’s just today and what you can do with it.

Waking up with more work to do

The creative journey is not one in which you’re crowned the triumphant hero and live happily ever after. The real creative journey is one in which you wake up every day, like Phil, with more work to do.

Schedule + showing up

The secret to writing under all those conditions was having a schedule and sticking to it.

Every routine is different

It’s undeniably fun to read about the routines and rituals of creative people, but what becomes clear after a while is that there is no perfect, universal routine for creative work.

The constraints of routine are helpful

A little imprisonment—if it’s of your own making—can set you free. Rather than restricting your freedom, a routine gives you freedom by protecting you from the ups and downs of life and helping you take advantage of your limited time, energy, and talent. A routine establishes good habits that can lead to your best work.

Just show up and start!

“The simple thing I’ve learned over the years is just to have a starting point and once you have a starting point the work seems to make itself,”

Before going to bed

Before you go to bed, make a list of anything you did accomplish, and write down a list of what you want to get done tomorrow. Then forget about it. Hit the pillow with a clear mind. Let your subconscious work on stuff while you’re sleeping.

Treat every day like a seperate compartment

Every day is like a blank page: When you’re finished filling it, you can save it, you can crumple it up, or you can slide it into the recycling bin and let it be. Only time will tell you what it was worth.

Going public and then private

You must retreat from the world long enough to think, practice your art, and bring forth something worth sharing with others. You must play a little hide-and-seek in order to produce something worth being found.


Inviting chaos and anxiety

There’s almost nothing in the news that any of us need to read in the first hour of the day. When you reach for your phone or your laptop upon waking, you’re immediately inviting anxiety and chaos into your life.

Reading distant and past news instead of focusing on the here and now

“To read of things distant and sounding betrays us into slighting these which are then apparently near and small.” He decided his attention was too valuable, and gave up reading the weekly Tribune.

What does a smartphone take away?

“The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty, and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from.” —Lynda Barry


Airplane mode is not just a setting on your phone: It can be a whole way of life.

Say No

How to say NO

In her piece “How to Graciously Say No to Anyone,” Alexandra Franzen suggests the following: Thank the sender for thinking of you, decline, and, if you can, offer another form of support.


Social media has created a human phenomenon called FOMO: the Fear Of Missing Out. It’s the sense, scrolling through your feeds, that everybody out there is having a much better time than you are. The only antidote is JOMO: the Joy Of Missing Out.

Yes to my art and sanity

Saying “no” to the world can be really hard, but sometimes it’s the only way to say “yes” to your art and your sanity.

Focus on action, not identity

Say the verb, not the noun

Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work.

Do the verb

Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.

The bane of the job title

Job titles can mess you up. Job titles, if they’re taken too seriously, will make you feel like you need to work in a way that befits the title, not the way that fits the actual work. Job titles can also restrict the kinds of work that you feel like you can do.

Low maintenance

Retain playfulness - don’t focus on the results and numbers

The great artists are able to retain this sense of playfulness throughout their careers. Art and the artist both suffer most when the artist gets too heavy, too focused on results.

Always do art for yourself

When you start making a living from your work, resist the urge to monetize every single bit of your creative practice. Be sure there’s at least a tiny part of you that’s off-limits to the marketplace. Some little piece that you keep for yourself.

Low overhead

And remember: If you want maximum artistic freedom, keep your overhead low. A free creative life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.


  • Do what you love + low overhead = a good life
  • Do what you love” + I deserve nice things = a time bomb.

Don’t focus on the metrics

It’s easy to become as obsessed with online metrics as money. It can then be tempting to use those metrics to decide what to work on next, without taking into account how shallow those metrics really are.

Anecdote to going viral

I’ll often post something I loved making that took me forever and crickets chirp. I’ll post something else I think is sort of lame that took me no effort and it will go viral. If I let those metrics run my personal practice, I don’t think my heart could take it very long.

Post and then take a break

Increase the time between your sharing and receiving feedback. Post something and don’t check the response for a week. Turn off the analytics for your blog and write about whatever you want. Download a browser plug-in that makes the numbers disappear from social media.

Too scared of numbers?

Try it: If you’re bummed out and hating your work, pick somebody special in your life and make something for them. If you have a big audience, make them something special and give it away.

Find magic in the mundane

Really great artists are able to find magic in the mundane. Most of my favorite artists made extraordinary art out of ordinary circumstances and materials.

Protect your attention

Your attention is one of the most valuable things you possess, which is why everyone wants to steal it from you. First you must protect it, and then you must point it in the right direction.

Reread your diaries

I’ve found that rereading doubles the power of a diary because I’m then able to discover my own patterns, identify what I really care about, and know myself better.

A logbook

When you have a system for going back through your work, you can better see the bigger picture of what you’ve been up to, and what you should do next.

Embracing the imperfect

We’re all complicated. We all have personal shortcomings. We’re all a little creepy, to a certain degree. If we didn’t believe that we could be a little better in our art than we are in our lives, then what, really, would be the point of art?

“The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposed ideas in the mind at the same time, and still retain the ability to function. One should, for example, be able to see that things are hopeless and yet be determined to make them otherwise.” —F. Scott Fitzgerald

Tidy and smooth

Planning and preparing

French chefs practice something called mise en place, which means “set in place.” It’s about planning and preparation: making sure all the ingredients and tools you need are ready before you set to work.

Keeping things ready

We don’t have to keep our spaces perfectly clean and tidy. We just have to keep them ready for when we want to work.

Organized and messy

Keep your tools organized and your materials messy. “Keep your tools very organized so you can find them,” he says. “Let the materials cross-pollinate in a mess.



When you sleep, your body literally flushes out the junk in your head. Neuroscientists have explained that cerebrospinal fluid in your brain starts flowing more rapidly when you sleep, clearing out the toxins and bad proteins that build up in your brain cells.


If we do not get outside, if we do not take a walk out in the fresh air, we do not see our everyday world for what it really is, and we have no vision of our own with which to combat disinformation.

Change and observe

You have to pay attention to the rhythms and cycles of your creative output and learn to be patient in the off-seasons. You have to give yourself time to change and observe your own patterns.

We all have our times

Our lives, too, have different seasons. Some of us blossom at a young age; others don’t blossom until old age. Our culture mostly celebrates early successes, the people who bloom fast.

Momento Mori

But we’re all headed toward the same end. No matter what, this, too, shall pass, and they shall pass, too. I take comfort in that.

Being born is already a miracle

Every day is a potential seed that we can grow into something beautiful. There’s no time for despair. “The thing to rejoice in is the fact that one had the good fortune to be born,” said the poet Mark Strand. “The odds against being born are astronomical.”