The first book I saw by Austin Kleon was “Steal Like An Artist” in a shop at San Francisco airport. Aside from the intriguing headline, it was a friendly, non-intimidating book about unlocking your creativity. He’s also written “Show Your Work”, which talks about sharing your process. In “Keep Going”, the focus has more of a “Chicken Soup for the Soul” approach.
- Every day is groundhog day
- Build a bliss station
- Forget the noun, do the verb
- Make gifts
- The ordinary + extra attention = The extraordinary
- Slay the art monsters
- You are allowed to change your mind
- When in doubt, tidy up
- Demons hate fresh air
- Plant your garden
I’m not going to review every chapter in the book. Rather, I’m going to highlight those portions that resonated with me.
You never arrive
Many of us think of success as a destination. The fact is, in our creative journey, we never arrive. While that may sound depressing, it actually means we’re constantly learning. Our process, the “journey”, is something we need to be comfortable with.
Routines are good
Adhering to a schedule may seem contrary to being creative, but:
- It helps when your time is limited.
- It helps when you feel unfocussed.
- It helps you not waste time.
“When you don’t know what to do next, your routine tells you.”
As many others have said, professionals show up. Hobbyists show up once in awhile.
Get things out of your head
Be ready to work, not staring at a blank sheet of paper. Get your ideas out of your head and into a list. Priorities change, so it’s ok to periodically edit lists. Maybe it was important when you wrote it, but not so much now. I use the Things app for my lists. It will sync between all my devices.
You are not a robot
Not every day will be a slam dunk. Some will suck. Get through the day and mentally scratch it off. Personally, I make notes on what went well and what didn’t—a “debrief”, basically. I do this so I don’t make the same mistake next time, but also because I forget, which happens often.
Make your command centre
Kleon talks about building your “bliss station”, and on that I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve had a bliss station since i was a kid … a folding card table, drafting table, etc … It’s also not just a place but a time. Maybe you’re more productive as a night owl. Or your schedule only allows you to work at a certain time. Pick a time and place and put a red rope around it (my words).
“Silence and solitude are crucial”.
Don’t wake up to the news. Trust me, if zombies attack, you’ll find out about it. There really was a time when we woke up and didn’t look at our phones. Put your phone on DND, at least for a bit. If you feel compelled to check social media, shop for shoes or research a trip, write it down on a “distraction” list. Look at it later when you’ve gotten some real work done.
While I generally like my workspace tidy, I will often clean when I’m unsure or upset. This may be “productive procrastination”, but I find it often helps clear my mind. As Kleon says, it can help you rediscover something you forgot. No need to go all Marie Kondo … that’s a bit creepy.
Misc things I liked
- Ignore the likes. YOU must like what you do.
- Slow down and draw things out. It forces you to see, and it’s ok to suck at it.
- You are allowed to change your mind. It means we’re thinking.
- And my favourite, the Dunning-Kruger prayer: “Let me be smart enough to know how dumb I am and give me the courage to carry on anyway.”
Wrapping things up
Like all Kleon’s books, I really enjoyed this one. It’s a “breezy” read, but not fluff. He speaks openly about the challenges, fears, and lives most creatives lead. I feel like he’s directly talking to me.
We sometimes approach “work” with a grim gravitas. We get consumed in likes, the news cycle, and worry that everything we make should be perfect. Let’s be nicer to ourselves, and enjoy the journey.