Show Your Work

date May 25, 2021
authors Austin Kleon
reading time 10 mins

Table of Contents

Discoverability

Make it easy to be found

But it’s not enough to be good. In order to be found, you have to be findable. I think there’s an easy way of putting your work out there and making it discoverable while you’re focused on getting really good at what you do.

Sharing about their work in progress

They’re cranking away in their studios, their laboratories, or their cubicles, but instead of maintaining absolute secrecy and hoarding their work, they’re open about what they’re working on, and they’re consistently posting bits and pieces of their work, their ideas, and what they’re learning online.

Creativity is sharing and collaboration

Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals; it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.

Amateurs are sharing more

Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims.

Beginner

Beginner’s mind

The world is changing at such a rapid rate that it’s turning us all into amateurs. Even for professionals, the best way to flourish is to retain an amateur’s spirit and embrace uncertainty and the unknown.

Finding your own voice is to use it more

used to worry a lot about voice, wondering if I had my own. But now I realize that the only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.

Go online

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

Thinking about your own death puts everything into perspective

Obituaries aren’t really about death; they’re about life. “The sum of every obituary is how heroic people are, and how noble,” writes artist Maira Kalman. Reading about people who are dead now and did things with their lives makes me want to get up and do something decent with mine. Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live.

Process

Process vs product

As in all kinds of work, there is a distinction between the painter’s process, and the products of her process.

Sharing the process

She can decide exactly how much or how little of her work and herself she will share, and she can be as open about her process as she wants to—she can share her sketches and works-in-progress, post pictures of her studio, or blog about her influences, inspiration, and tools. By sharing her day-to-day process—the thing she really cares about—she can form a unique bond with her audience.

Build an audience

“By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.” Audiences not only want to stumble across great work, but they, too, long to be creative and part of the creative process. 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.

How to become a documentarian and keep track of what’s going on

  • Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder.
  • Keep a scrapbook.
  • Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process.
  • Shoot video of you working.

Sharing at the end of the day

Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share.

Process done last week

When the artist Ze Frank was interviewing job candidates, he complained, “When I ask them to show me work, they show me things from school, or from another job, but I’m more interested in what they did last weekend.”

Finding time

You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies. You find it in the cracks between the big stuff—your commute, your lunch break, the few hours after your kids go to bed. You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can find the time if you look for it.

Sharing work will find the patterns

Once you make sharing part of your daily routine, you’ll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You’ll find patterns in your flow. When you detect these patterns, you can start gathering these bits and pieces and turn them into something bigger and more substantial.

How to share

Website

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.

Giving credit

If you share the work of others, it’s your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit. Crediting work in our copy-and-paste age of reblogs and retweets can seem like a futile effort, but it’s worth it, and it’s the right thing to do.

Storytelling

If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.

Explaining what you do

The way to get over the awkwardness in these situations is to stop treating them as interrogations, and start treating them as opportunities to connect with somebody by honestly and humbly explaining what it is that you do.

Be polite and tactful

Have empathy for your audience. Anticipate blank stares. Be ready for more questions. Answer patiently and politely.

No adjectives or noun

Strike all the adjectives from your bio. If you take photos, you’re not an “aspiring” photographer, and you’re not an “amazing” photographer, either. You’re a photographer. Don’t get cute. Don’t brag. Just state the facts.

Give back

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. You have to be a connector. The writer Blake Butler calls this being an open node. If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice.

Vampire Test

If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire. Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.

How to deal with criticism

The more people come across your work, the more criticism you’ll face. Here’s how to take punches: Relax and breathe.

Put out a lot of work

The way to be able to take a punch is to practice getting hit a lot. Put out a lot of work.

Don’t avoid vulnerability

But remember what writer Colin Marshall says: “Compulsive avoidance of embarrassment is a form of suicide.” If you spend your life avoiding vulnerability, you and your work will never truly connect with other people.

Just care about what the right people thinks about your work

“The trick is not caring what EVERYBODY thinks of you and just caring about what the RIGHT people think of you.” —Brian Michael Bendis

Not all feedback are the same

The first step in evaluating feedback is sizing up who it came from. You want feedback from people who care about you and what you do.

The process

Be ambitious. Keep yourself busy. Think bigger. Expand your audience. Don’t hobble yourself in the name of “keeping it real,” or “not selling out.” Try new things.

Saying Yes or No

If an opportunity comes along that will allow you to do more of the kind of work you want to do, say Yes. If an opportunity comes along that would mean more money, but less of the kind of work you want to do, say No.

Ups and downs

Be patient and think long-term

The people who get what they’re after are very often the ones who just stick around long enough. It’s very important not to quit prematurely.

Being able to go on through the good times and the bad

If you look to artists who’ve managed to achieve lifelong careers, you detect the same pattern: They all have been able to persevere, regardless of success or failure.

Zegarnik Effect

Author Ernest Hemingway would stop in the middle of a sentence at the end of his day’s work so he knew where to start in the morning.

Stay in the momentum

You avoid stalling out in your career by never losing momentum. Here’s how you do it: Instead of taking a break in between projects, waiting for feedback, and worrying about what’s next, use the end of one project to light up the next one. Just do the work that’s in front of you, and when it’s finished, ask yourself what you missed, what you could’ve done better, or what you couldn’t get to, and jump right into the next project.

Three prime spots to turn off our brains and take a break from our connected lives:

  • Commute. A moving train or subway car is the perfect time to write, doodle, read, or just stare out the window.
  • Exercise. Using our body relaxes our mind, and when our mind gets relaxed, it opens up to having new thoughts.
  • Nature. Go to a park. Take a hike. Dig in your garden.

Start anew again

The comedian Louis C.K. worked on the same hour of material for 15 years, until he found out that his hero, George Carlin, threw out his material every year and started from scratch. C.K. was scared to try it, but once he did, it set him free.

Start over

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