• Keep Going


    Title: Keep Going

    Author: Austin Kleon

    Read In: 2023

    Description:

    Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)


    Favorite Quotes:

     

    “I think I need to keep being creative, not to prove anything but because it makes me happy just to do it . . . I think trying to be creative, keeping busy, has a lot to do with keeping you alive.
    —Willie Nelson


    Life is short and art is long.


    When I’m working on my art, I don’t feel like Odysseus. I feel more like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill. When I’m working, I don’t feel like Luke Skywalker. I feel more like Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day.


    In a moment of despair, Phil turns to a couple drunks at a bowling alley bar and asks them, “What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?”

    It’s the question Phil has to answer to advance the plot of the movie, but it’s also the question we have to answer to advance the plot of our lives.

    I think how you answer this question is your art.


    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. “Even after you have achieved greatness,” writes musician Ian Svenonius, “the infinitesimal cadre who even noticed will ask, ‘What next?'”

    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. They have all identified what they want to spend their time on, and they work at it every day, no matter what. Whether their latest thing is universally rejected, ignored, or acclaimed, they know they’ll still get up tomorrow and do their work.

    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 might seem like a stretch, but I really think the best thing you can do if you want to make art is to 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.


    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.


    “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”
    —Annie Dillard


    “Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane.”
    —Christoph Niemann


    There will be good days and bad days. Days when you feel inspired and days when you want to walk off a bridge. (And some days when you can’t tell the difference.)

    A daily routine will get you through the day and help you make the most of it. “A schedule defends from chaos and whim,” writes Annie Dillard. “It is a net for catching days.” When you don’t know what to do next, your routine tells you.


    “every day” goethe screenshot


    I suppose for some people a strict routine sounds like prison. But aren’t we all, in a sense, “doing time?” When rapper Lil Wayne was in prison, I found myself envying his daily routine, which consisted of waking up at II a.m., drinking coffee, making phone calls, showering, reading fan mail, having lunch, making phone calls, reading, writing, having dinner, doing push-ups, listening to the radio, reading, and sleeping. “Man, I’lI bet I could get a lot of writing done if I went to prison,” I joked to my wife. (When I visited Alcatraz, I thought it would make the perfect writer’s colony. What a view!)

    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.

    Best of all, I think, is that when your days pretty much have the same shape, the days that don’t have that shape become even more interesting. There’s nothing like a good prison break, and playing hooky isn’t as fun if you never go to school.


    Lists bring order to the chaotic universe. I love making lists. Whenever I need to figure out my life, I make a list. A list gets all your ideas out of your head and clears the mental space so you’re actually able to do something about them.

    When I’m overwhelmed, I fall back on the old-fashioned to-do list. I make a big list of everything that needs to get done, I pick the most pressing thing to do, and I do it. Then I cross it off the list and pick another thing to do. Repeat.


    “how to be happy” screenshot


    When I’m stuck in the morning and I don’t know what to write about in my diary, I’ll modify the pros-and-cons list. I’ll draw a line down the middle of the page, and in one column I’ll list what I’m thankful for, and in the other column, I’ll write down what I need help with. It’s a paper prayer.


    When the sun goes down and you look back on the day, go easy on yourself. A little self-forgiveness goes a long way. 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.


    “disconnect” screenshot


    “It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing your self in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how to best say it, without getting the hell out of it again.
    —Tim Kreider


    In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell said everyone should build a “bliss station”:

    “You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something eventually will happen.”


    “The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning, we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think.
    —Thomas Merton


    “Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense.”
    —Gertrude Stein


    In 1852, Henry David Thoreau complained in his diary that he had started reading a weekly newspaper and he felt that now he wasn’t paying enough attention to his own life and work. “It takes more than a day’s devotion to know and to possess the wealth of a day,” he wrote.


    My writing teacher used to joke that the first rule of writing is to “apply ass to chair.”


    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.


    “I paint with my back to the world.”
    —Agnes Martin


    “I don’t know what I am. I know that I am not a category. I am not a thing—a noun. I seem to be a verb, an evolutionary process.”
    —R. Buckminster Fuller


    The writer Kurt Vonnegut wrote a letter to a group of high school students and assigned them this homework: Write a poem and don’t show it to anybody. Tear it up into little pieces and throw them into the trash can. “You will find that you have already been gloriously rewarded for your poem. You have experienced becoming, learned a lot more about what’s inside you, and you have made your soul grow.” That, said Vonnegut, was the whole purpose of making art: “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake.” Vonnegut repeated variations of that advice throughout his life. He would suggest to his daughter Nanette that she should make a piece of art and burn it “as a spiritual exercise.” (There’s something cathartic about burning your work: Artist John Baldessari, disgusted by his previous work, had it all cremated and put in a ceremonial urn.)


    If you’ve lost your playfulness, practice for practice’s sake. You don’t have to go to such dramatic lengths as combustion. Musicians can jam without making a recording. Writers and artists can type or draw out a page and throw it away. Photographers can take photos and immediately delete them.


    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.


    “No artist can work simply for results; he must also like the work of getting them.”
    —Robert Farrar Capon


    “the ordinary + extra attention” screenshot


    Finding God in all things is one of the tasks of the believer, and [Mary Corita] Kent found God in advertising, of all things.


    It is easy to assume that if only you could trade your ordinary life for a new one, all your creative problems would be solved. If only you could quit your day job, move to a hip city, rent the perfect studio, and fall in with the right gang of brilliant misfits! Then you’d really have it made.

    All this is, of course, wishful thinking. You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extraordinary work. Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.

    René Magritte said his goal with his art was “to breathe new life into the way we look at the ordinary things around us.” This is exactly what an artist does: By paying extra attention to their world, they teach us to pay more attention to ours. The first step toward transforming your life into art is to start paying more attention to it.


    To slow down and pay attention to your world, pick up a pencil and a piece of paper and start drawing what you see. (The pencil’s best feature is that it has no way of interrupting you with texts or notifications.) You might find that this helps you discover the beauty you’ve missed.


    “Drawing is the discipline by which I constantly rediscover the world. I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when I start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle.”
    —Frederick Franck


    “For anyone trying to discern what to do with their life: PAY ATTENTION TO WHAT YOU PAY ATTENTION TO. That’s pretty much all the info you need.”
    —Amy Krouse Rosenthal


    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.


    We pay attention to the things we really care about, but sometimes what we really care about is hidden from us. I keep a daily diary for many reasons, but the main one is that it helps me pay attention to my life. By sitting down every morning and writing about my life, I pay attention to it, and over time, I have a record of what I’ve paid attention to. Many diarists don’t bother rereading their diaries, but 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.


    “To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.”
    —Mary Oliver


    If art begins with where we point our attention, a life is made out of paying attention to what we pay attention to. Set up a regular time to pay attention to what you’ve paid attention to. Reread your diary. Flip back through your sketchbook. (The cartoonist Kate Beaton once said if she wrote a book about drawing she’d call it Pay Attention to Your Drawings.) Scroll through your camera roll. Rewatch footage you’ve filmed. Listen to music you’ve recorded. (The musician Arthur Russell used to take long walks around Manhattan, listening to his own tapes on his Walkman.) 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.

    If you want to change your life, change what you pay attention to. “We give things meaning by paying attention to them,” Jessa Crispin writes, “and so moving your attention from one thing to another can absolutely change your future.”


    “Tell me to what you pay attention and I will tell you who you are.”
    —José Ortega y Gassett


    “The purpose of being a serious writer is to keep people from despair,” writes Sarah Manguso. “If people read your work and, as a result, choose life, then you are doing your job.”


    “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


    “The world needs you at the party starting real conversations, saying, I don’t know, and being kind.”
    —Charlie Kaufman


    Most everybody alive is so obsessed with what’s new that they all think about the same things. If you’re having trouble finding people to think with, seek out the dead. They have a lot to say and they are excellent listeners.

    Read old books. Human beings have been around for a long time, and almost every problem you have has probably been written about by some other human living hundreds if not thousands of years before you. The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca said that if you read old books, you get to add all the years the author lived onto your own life. “We are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all,” he said. “Why not turn from this brief and transient spell of time and give ourselves wholeheartedly to the past, which is limitless and eternal and can be shared with better men than we?” (He wrote that almost two thousand years ago!)


    Cartoonist Kevin Huizenga makes the point that having your studio organized does not mean it needs to look organized. “If papers everywhere on the floor makes working easier right now, because you need to constantly refer to them, then they should stay there.”

    There’s a balance in a workspace between chaos and order. My friend John T. Unger has the perfect rule: 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. Some pieces of art I made were utter happenstance, where a couple items came together in a pile and the piece was mostly done. But if you can’t lay your hands right on the tool you need, you can blow a day (or your enthusiasm and inspiration) seeking it.”


    “tidying is exploring” screenshot


    I keep one of Brian Eno and Peter Schmidt’s “Oblique Strategies” on a big sign above my desk:

    WHEN IN DOUBT, TIDY UP.

    Note that it says “when in doubt,” not “always.” Tidying up is for when I’m stalled out or stuck. Tidying up a studio is—sorry, Ms. Kondo—not life-changing or magical. It’s just a form of productive procrastination. (Avoiding work by doing other work.)

    The best thing about tidying is that it busies my hands and loosens up my mind so that I either a) get unstuck or solve a new problem in my head, or b) come across something in the mess that leads to new work. For example, I’ll start tidying and unearth an unfinished poem that’s been buried in a stack of papers, or an unfinished drawing that was blown across the garage by the air conditioner.

    The best studio tidying is a kind of exploring. I rediscover things as I work my way through the clutter. The reason I tidy is not really to clean, but to come into contact with something I’ve forgotten which I can now use.

    This is a slow, dreamy, ruminative form of tidying. When I come across a long-lost book, for example, I flip to random pages and see if they have anything to tell me. Sometimes scraps of paper fall out of the book like a secret message from the universe.

    I often stop tidying because I get swept up in reading. This is the exact opposite of what Marie Kondo prescribes. When going through your books, she says, “Make sure you don’t start reading it. Reading clouds your judgment.” Heaven forbid!

    Tidying in the hope of obtaining perfect order is stressful work. Tidying without worrying too much about the results can be a soothing form of play.

    When in doubt, tidy up.


    “Naps are essential to my process. Not dreams, but that state adjacent to sleep, the mind on waking.”
    —William Gibson


    Scientists and philosophers have long wondered about sleep and what it’s for. They’re slowly catching up to what artists have known all along: Sleep is an excellent tool for tidying up your brain. 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.

    Naps are the secret weapon of many artists. “It’s mostly napping,” says filmmaker Ethan Coen of his and his brother Joel’s creative process. I consider naps to be another form of magical tidying that seems unproductive but often leads to new ideas.


    That’s right: One of our most popular living authors estimates that he spends three to eight hours a day in the service of waste management. [David] Sedaris has picked up so much trash that the locals literally named a garbage truck after him: “Pig Pen Sedaris.” He’s best known to his neighbors as a litter picker. When the West Sussex County Times wrote about him, they didn’t even mention he was a writer.

    What’s funny is that Sedaris’s litter picking totally fits into his writing work. Sedaris, like many artists, is a scavenger. He collects the discarded debris from the chaos of life—overheard bits of dialogue and overlooked experiences—and recycles them into essays. (His collection of diaries is appropriately titled Theft by Finding.) Some of his diaries, which he prints out and binds into books every season, contain pieces of the trash he comes across on his walks.


    Art is not only made from things that “spark joy.” Art is also made out of what is ugly or repulsive to us. Part of the artist’s job is to help tidy up the place, to make order out of chaos, to turn trash into treasure, to show us beauty where we can’t see it.


    “I walked myself into my best thoughts.”
    —Soren Kierkegaard


    Walking really is a magic cure for people who want to think straight. “Solvitur ambulando,” said Diogenes the Cynic two millennia ago. “It is solved by walking.”


    “No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk,” said director Ingmar Bergman to his daughter, Linn Ullmann. “The demons hate it when you get out of bed. Demons hate fresh air.”


    After being a nun in Los Angeles for thirty years, Corita Kent moved across the country to Boston so she could live quietly and make her art. Her apartment had a big bay window and a maple tree out front, and she liked to sit there and observe the tree changing throughout the seasons. (Something much harder to do in Los Angeles, or here in Austin, Texas, where we have two seasons: hot and hotter.)

    “That tree was the great teacher of the last two decades of her life,” her former student Mickey Myers said. “She learned from that tree. The beauty it produced in spring was only because of what it went through during the winter, and sometimes the harshest winters yielded the most glorious springs.”

    A journalist came to visit her and asked what she’d been up to. “Well . .. watching that maple tree grow outside. I’ve never had time to watch a tree before,” she said.

    She talked about how she moved into the apartment in October when the tree was in full leaf, and how she watched it lose its leaves for the rest of the fall. In the winter, the tree was covered in snow. In the spring, little flowers came out and the tree didn’t look like a maple tree at all. Finally, the leaves became recognizable, and the tree was itself again.

    “That, in a way, is very much how I feel about my life,” she said. “Whether it will ever be recognizable by anyone else I don’t know, but I feel that great new things are happening very quietly inside me. And I know these things have a way, like the maple tree, of finally bursting out in some form.”

    For Kent, the tree came to represent creativity itself. Like a tree, creative work has seasons. Part of the work is to know which season you’re in, and act accordingly. In winter, “the tree looks dead, but we know it is beginning a very deep process, out of which will come spring and summer.”


    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. “Live in each season as it passes, wrote Henry David Thoreau, “and resign yourself to the influences of each.”


    I don’t want to know how a thirty-year-old became rich and famous; I want to hear how an eighty-year-old spent her life in obscurity, kept making art, and lived a happy life. I want to know how Bill Cunningham jumped on his bicycle every day and rode around New York taking photos in his eighties. I want to know how Joan Rivers was able to tell jokes up until the very end. I want to know how in his nineties, Pablo Casals still got up every morning and practiced his cello.

    These are the people I look to for inspiration. The people who found the thing that made them feel alive and who kept themselves alive by doing it. The people who planted their seeds, tended to themselves, and grew into something lasting.

    I want to be one of them. I want to make octogenarian painter David Hockney’s words my personal motto: “I’ll go on until I fall over.”


    “There is no measuring with time, no year matters, and ten years are nothing. Being an artist means, not reckoning and counting, but ripening like the tree which does not force its sap and stands confident in the storms of spring without the fear that after them may come no summer. It does come. But it comes only to the patient, who are there as though eternity lay before them, so unconcernedly still and wide. I learn it daily, learn it with pain to which I am grateful: patience is everything!”
    —Rainer Maria Rilke


    The outer demons I mentioned in the last chapter—the men who are hell-bent on wrecking this planet, carving it up for profit like cartoon Lex Luthors—they’re not going to last forever. They are going to leave this place just like us. They might take us with them, for sure. 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.


    garden screenshot


    I don’t know for sure what kinds of flowers I’m planting with my days on this planet, but I intend to find out, and so should you.

    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.” None of us know how many days we’ll have, so it’d be a shame to waste the ones we get.


    “This is precisely the time when artists go to work. There is no time for despair, no place for self-pity, no need for silence, no room for fear. We speak, we write, we do language. That is how civilizations heal. I know the world is bruised and bleeding, and though it is important not to ignore its pain, it is also critical to refuse to succumb to its malevolence. Like failure, chaos contains information that can lead to knowledge—even wisdom. Like art.”
    —Toni Morrison


    Whenever life gets overwhelming, go back to chapter one of this book and think about your days. Try your best to fill them in ways that get you a little closer to where you want to be. Go easy on yourself and take your time. Worry less about getting things done. Worry more about things worth doing. Worry less about being a great artist. Worry more about being a good human being who makes art. Worry less about making a mark. Worry more about leaving things better than you found them.

    Keep working. Keep playing. Keep drawing. Keep looking. Keep listening. Keep thinking. Keep dreaming. Keep singing. Keep dancing. Keep painting. Keep sculpting. Keep designing. Keep composing. Keep acting. Keep cooking. Keep searching. Keep walking. Keep exploring. Keep giving. Keep living. Keep paying attention.

    Keep doing your verbs, whatever they may be.

    Keep going.

  • Show Your Work

    Title: Show Your Work

    Author: Austin Kleon

    Read In: 2023 + 2021

    Purchase: Bookshop.org


    Favorite Quotes:

     

    “Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”
    —John Cleese


    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.

    Almost all of the people I look up to and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine.


    “Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”
    —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow


    We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs, but in fact, today it is the amateur—the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love (in French, the word means “lover”), regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career—who often has the advantage over the professional. Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims. Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities, ” said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. “In the expert’s mind, there are few.”


    The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.


    When the late film critic Roger Ebert went through several intense surgeries to treat his cancer, he lost the ability to speak. He lost his voice—physically and permanently. Here was a man who made a great deal of his living by speaking on television and now he couldn’t say a word. In order to communicate with his friends and family, he’d have to either scribble responses on a pad of paper, or type on his Mac and have the awkward computer voice read it out loud through his laptop speakers.

    Cut off from everyday conversation, he poured himself into tweeting, posting to Facebook, and blogging at rogerebert.com. He ripped out posts at a breakneck speed, writing thousands and thousands of words about everything he could think of—his boyhood in Urbana, Illinois, his love for Steak ‘n Shake, his conversations with famous movie actors, his thoughts on his inevitable death. Hundreds and hundreds of people would respond to his posts, and he would respond back. Blogging became his primary way of communicating with the world. “On the web, my real voice finds expression,” he wrote.

    Ebert knew his time on this planet was short, and he wanted to share everything he could in the time he had left. “Mr. Ebert writes as if it were a matter of life and death,” wrote journalist Janet Maslin, “because it is.” Ebert was blogging because he had to blog—because it was a matter of being heard, or not being heard. A matter of existing or not existing.


    “Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.
    —Steve Jobs


    Thinking about death every morning makes me want to live.


    Unfortunately, I am a coward. As much as I would like the existential euphoria that comes with it, I don’t really want a near-death experience. I want to stay safe and stay away from death as much as I can. I certainly don’t want to taunt it or court it or invite it any closer than it needs to be. But I do somehow want to remember that it’s coming for me.

    It’s for this reason that I read the obituaries every morning. Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards. Reading them is a way for me to think about death while also keeping it at arm’s length.

    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.


    Take inspiration from the people who muddled through life before you—they all started out as amateurs, and they got where they were going by making do with what they were given, and having the guts to put themselves out there. Follow their example.


    Think process, not product.


    In fact, sharing your process might actually be most valuable if the products of your work aren’t easily shared, if you’re still in the apprentice stage of your work, if you can’t just slap up a portfolio and call it a day, or if your process doesn’t necessarily lead to tangible finished products.

    How can you show your work even when you have nothing to show? The first step is to scoop up the scraps and the residue of your process and shape them into some interesting bit of media that you can share. You have to turn the invisible into something other people can see. “You have to make stuff,” said journalist David Carr when he was asked if he had any advice for students. “No one is going to give a damn about your résumé; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers.”

    Become a documentarian of what you do.


    Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance. Building a substantial body of work takes a long time—a lifetime, really—but thankfully, you don’t need that time all in one big chunk. So forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.

    The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that.


    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. Where you are in your process will determine what that piece is. If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress. If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned. If you have lots of projects out into the world, you can report on how they’re doing—you can tell stories about how people are interacting with your work.

    A daily dispatch is even better than a résumé or a portfolio, because it shows what we’re working on right now.


    A good daily dispatch is like getting all the DVD extras before a movie comes out—you get to watch deleted scenes and listen to director’s commentary while the movie is being made.


    Don’t worry about everything you post being perfect. Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that 90 percent of everything is crap. The same is true of our own work. The trouble is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react. “Sometimes you don’t always know what you’ve got,” says artist Wayne White. “It really does need a little social chemistry to make it show itself to you sometimes.”

    Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for all this?” And I answer, “I look for it.” 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. I like to work while the world is sleeping, and share while the world is at work.

    Of course, don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actually doing your work. If you’re having a hard time balancing the two, just set a timer for 30 minutes. Once the timer goes off, kick yourself off the Internet and get back to work.


    Turn your flow into stock.


    “If you work on something a little bit every day, you end up with something that is massive.”
    —Kenneth Goldsmith


    “Stock and flow” is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.” Sloan says the magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background.

    In my experience, your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your fow. Social media sites function a lot like public notebooks—they’re places where we think out loud, let other people think back at us, then hopefully think some more. But the thing about keeping notebooks is that you have to revisit them in order to make the most out of them. You have to flip back through old ideas to see what you’ve been thinking. 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. You can turn your flow into stock. For example, a lot of the ideas in this book started out as tweets, which then became blog posts, which then became book chapters. Small things, over time, can get big.


    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.


    When she was young and starting out, Patti Smith got this advice from William Burroughs: “Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work. and if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.”

    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. Build a good domain name, keep it clean, and eventually it will be its own currency. Whether people show up or they don’t, you’re out there, doing your thing, ready whenever they are.


    “The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually, you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. . . . Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.”
    —Paul Arden


    There’s not as big of a difference between collecting and creating as you might think. A lot of the writers I know see the act of reading and the act of writing as existing on opposite ends of the same spectrum: The reading feeds the writing, which feeds the reading. “I’m basically a curator,” says the writer and former bookseller Jonathan Lethem. “Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.”


    Our tastes make us what we are, but they can also cast a shadow over our own work. “All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste,” says public radio personality Ira Glass. “But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.”


    “I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it.”
    —Dave Grohl


    There isn’t a big unifying principle to the collection, just what [Nelson] Molina likes.


    When you share your taste and your influences, have the guts to own all of it. Don’t give in to the pressure to self-edit too much. Don’t be the lame guys at the record store arguing over who’s the more “authentic” punk rock band. Don’t try to be hip or cool. Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.


    Words matter. Artists love to trot out the tired line, “My work speaks for itself,” but the truth is, our work doesn’t speak for itself. Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it.

    “Why should we describe the frustrations and turning points in the lab, or all the hours of groundwork and failed images that precede the final outcomes?” asks artist Rachel Sussman. “Because, rarified exceptions aside, our audience is a human one, and humans want to connect. Personal stories can make the complex more tangible, spark associations, and offer entry into things that might otherwise leave one cold.”

    Your work doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Whether you realize it or not, you’re already telling a story about your work. Every email you send, every text, every conversation, every blog comment, every tweet, every photo, every video—they’re all bits and pieces of a multimedia narrative you’re constantly constructing. 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.


    “Whatever we say, we’re always talking about ourselves.”
    —Alison Bechdel


    “The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”
    —Annie Dillard


    . . . they explained that the technique of barbecue is actually very simple, but it takes years and years to master. There’s an intuition that you only gain through the repetition of practice.


    As blogger Kathy Sierra says, “Make people better at something they want to be better at.”


    Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how to do your work, you are, in effect, generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.


    “When people realized they’re being listened to, they tell you things.”
    —Richard Ford


    No matter how famous they get, the forward-thinking artists of today aren’t just looking for fans or passive consumers of their work, they’re looking for potential collaborators, or co-conspirators. These artists acknowledge that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that the experience of art is always a two-way street, incomplete without feedback. These artists hang out online and answer questions. They ask for reading recommendations. They chat with fans about the stuff they love.


    . . . think of the word interesting the way writer Lawrence Weschler does: For him, to be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.” To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.


    “Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.”
    —Derek Sivers


    “It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others.”
    —Susan Sontag


    Yet a life of creativity is all about change—moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers. “The real risk is in not changing,” said saxophonist John Coltrane. “I have to feel that I’m after something. If I make money, fine. But I’d rather be striving. It’s the striving, man, it’s that I want.”


    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.


    “In our business you don’t quit,” says comedian Joan Rivers. “You’re holding onto the ladder. When they cut off your hands, hold on with your elbows. When they cut off your arms, hold on with your teeth.”


    “Work is never finished, only abandoned.”
    —Paul Valéry


    As every author knows, your last book isn’t going to write your next one for you. A successful or failed project is no guarantee of another success or failure. Whether you’ve just won big or lost big, you still have to face the question, “What’s next?”

    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. Director Woody Allen has averaged a film a year for more than 40 years because he never takes time off: The day he finished editing a film is the day he starts writing the script for the next. Bob Pollard, the lead singer and songwriter for Guided by Voices, says he never gets writer’s block because he never stops writing. 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. Singer/songwriter Joni Mitchell says that whatever she feels is the weak link in her last project gives her inspiration for the next.

    Add all this together and you get a way of working I call chain-smoking. 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 on 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.


    “We work because it’s a chain reaction, each subject leads to the next.”
    —Charles Eames


    When you feel like you’ve learned whatever there is to learn from what you’re doing, it’s time to change course and find something new to learn so that you can move forward. You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again. “Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough,” writes author Alain de Botton.

    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. “When you’re done telling jokes about airplanes and dogs, and you throw those away, what do you have left? You can only dig deeper. You start talking about your feelings and who you are. And then you do those jokes and they’re gone. You gotta dig deeper.” When you get rid of old material, you push yourself further and come up with something better. When you throw out old work, what you’re really doing is making room for new work.


    You have to have the courage to get rid of work and rethink things completely. “I need to sort of tear down everything I’ve done and rebuild from scratch,” said director Steven Soderbergh about his upcoming retirement from making films. “Not because I’ve figured everything out, I’ve just figured out what I can’t figure out and I need to tear it down and start over again.”

    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.

    So don’t think of it as starting over. Think of it as beginning again. Go back to chapter one—literally!—and become an amateur. Look for something new to learn, and when you find it, dedicate yourself to learning it out in the open. Document your progress and share as you go so that others can learn along with you. Show your work, and when the right people show up, pay close attention to them, because they’ll have a lot to show you.