Austin Kleon | ISBN: 0761169253 & 978-0761169253 | Finished: 11/2014 | Rating: 10/10
Steal Like an Artist Summary
Austin Kleon is a New York Times bestselling author for Steal Like an Artist. He is known for his wonderful Newspaper Blockout art and his books on art and creativity. In this review, I will give my take on the different sections of Steal Like an Artist.
1. Steal Like an Artist.
If you aren’t stealing like an artist, you aren’t growing. The stigma is, copying other people is bad. Your parents told you this, your teachers told you this, and society told you this.
What they didn’t tell you is, the best artists all steal. Take a look at any great artist, and you will see influence from the people that came before them.
I am NOT saying you should copy a painting stroke for stroke, or write a song with the exact same lyrics. That would defeat the point.
What I am saying is, be influenced by the people who inspire you. Take styles that you like and experiment with them. Look at the artists who influenced you and see who influenced them.
Nothing is original
Every piece of creative work has influences from other places. Artists are often much so concerned with being original that they become stuck and hit a creative roadblock.
Instead of trying to be original all the time, try mixing the styles of those that influence you, and discovering something uniquely yours.
The Genealogy of Ideas
Your art is the cumulation of things you encounter every day. You decide who you surround yourself with along with all the media you consume. The music, movies, books, plays, and TV shows all influence the ideas you have.
Let those ideas direct your art. No one else experiences life the same way you do, so use that to your advantage. Make sure your influences shine through in your work.
Climb Your Own Family Tree
This is a fantastic idea that never occurred to me until I read this book. The idea here is to select one creative, and study everything there is to know about them. This includes their style, thought process, and influences. Once you’ve done that, you find three people that creative loved, and learn everything about them.
This will lead you through an amazing tree of influences. It allows you to dig into the minds of many great creative thinkers, and it will give you a way to explore in places you would not have before. You will become part of a great lineage of creators.
The mistake many people, not just artists, make is ending their education when they stop going to school. A lot of people become complacent once their formal education ends and no longer want to learn and grow. Don’t make this same mistake.
Learning is one of the most important elements towards becoming a better artist and person. It gives you a leg up on the competition and allows you to see things that most people won’t.
Find topics that interest you and Google them. Collect and read books ferociously. Don’t let school be the end of your studies.
Save Your Thefts for Later
Ever since I started collecting things my life has become much richer. I carry a small notepad with me wherever I go. I use Evernote to keep track of just about everything I consume. This includes articles I’ve read, podcasts I’ve listened to, things I’ve written, and notes to myself to explore later.
This has led to exactly what you see here. My thoughts have all been grabbed from various sources. Don’t trick yourself into thinking you will remember everything. You won’t. Saving your inspirations allows you to come back to them and refresh your mind on different ideas. Keep any and every idea worth stealing.
2. Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started.
Everyone has this preconceived notion of what it is to “make it”. You see people in the same industry as yourself and wonder “How did they become successful?”
The first thing you need to do is realize who you are. What makes you tick? What type of work inspires you? What kind of work makes you feel alive?
The only way to figure out the answer to all these questions is to just get started. Those artists didn’t wait around twiddling their thumbs, wondering how they can become successful. They became successful by taking action.
Fake it til you make it
Once you know who you are, you need to fake it til you make it. Unless you act like a successful artist, you will never reach your full potential. No matter how talented you may be, you can only make it so far if you don’t have the attitude to match. Confidence breeds confidence. If you need proof, watch this wonderful TED talk Amy Cuddy.
Every successful artist begins by copying their heroes. What better way to improve than by learning from the best. The key to copying like an artist is by tapping into the mind of the artist you are imitating. Instead of trying to steal their style, try to figure out what inspired that style. Make it your own. Don’t just stick to one artist either. Learn from every artist that inspires you.
Evolve from copying
The beauty of copying from many people is, eventually you will adapt their ideas to suit you. You will notice what works and what doesn’t. You will start mixing ideas and concepts, and it will evolve into something that is entirely your own. Once you’ve become successful enough, people will begin imitating you. It’s all a part of this grand artistic cycle.
3. Write the Book You Want to Read.
Common wisdom says you should write about what you know. While this may sound like a good idea, in practice it makes for uninteresting or boring work. Do people want to read about the label business? That’s what I happen to know best.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, the answer is no. People would much rather read about something that interests them. That is why I turned to writing about marketing instead. I am endlessly fascinated by what drives people to create and buy art.
The point being, people want to read about what you like, not just what you know. The reason should be clear. Why do we make art? Because we love art.
When you have emotional investment in a subject, you are much more likely to see it through. It forces you to write better, it forces you to explore more, and it forces you to do more.
Instead of investing in something you are kinda interested in, invest in something that makes your world go round. It will not only interest your audience, but it will interest you.
4. Use Your Hands.
This is admittedly something I don’t do enough of. Sometimes you have to just walk away from the computer. Computers are wonderful tools for doing research, finding inspiration, and editing your thoughts, but you shouldn’t chain yourself to your desk.
There’s just something liberating about working with your hands. It gives you a greater connection to the physical world. You are working parts of the brain that you don’t use when you are on the computer.
Even as a digital artist, it can be incredibly helpful to work with your hands. I personally like to doodle, draw, and write away from the computer. It helps get your mind working outside the confines of a computer screen.
I would also recommend doing improv. This works a completely different side of your brain. It is not art in the traditional sense, but it is an incredible form of creation. It can not be replicated, nor should it be.
Remember, being an artist should be fun. If you can’t experiment and play with your art, why bother?
5. Side Projects and Hobbies are Important
Practice productive procrastination
One thing that gets lost in the hustle and bustle of the modern world is taking time to stop and relax. We are constantly in a state of FOMO (fear of missing out), and this causes us to work tirelessly trying to out hustle everyone else.
I am not immune to this myself. I am constantly reading articles and exploring the artwork of others. I listen to podcasts while I drive, while I cook, and while I clean. I am always starting new projects in the hopes that it will stick.
Believe me, there is a lot you can learn by trying to always be busy. That being said, you also need to have projects where you just get to mess around. They aren’t there for making money or impressing people. They are there so you don’t have to stress out about your work.
You also need time where you can just do nothing. People have found great awareness through meditation or just giving your mind some time to reflect on things. In order for your brain to work at full strength, you have to let it rest.
Don’t throw any of yourself away
One thing that happens far too often is trying to tuck away parts of ourselves that don’t fit into everyone’s ideal of us. There is this pre-conceived notion that everything we must do should be polished. We shouldn’t experiment with things that don’t sell. I’ve asked myself “What does my improv have to do with my art?”
This is the wrong way to look at our hobbies. Will we ever make money from doing them? Probably not, but they are an enormous part of who we are. They help to form our opinions and views of the world.
Improv has been enormously helpful in opening my mind to different worlds of possibilities. Where else will you find a story of two librarians in a toy store looking for secret treasure. I just played that story out in my class the other night. Imagine what great works can be inspired by that scenario.
If anything, I haven’t been using my hobbies enough in my art. There is no one else in the world who has your worldview and does exactly what you do. Embrace that and let it inspire your art.
6. The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It with People.
In the Beginning, Obscurity is Good
Everyone is in a rush to be discovered. They want to skip all the steps and become instantly famous and recognizable.
This may seem like a good idea in theory, but you don’t want attention too early. If you’ve just graduated and are expecting to find success right away, you need to reset your expectations. Likewise, if you’ve only just begun creating art, you’ll want to hold off on all that attention.
The reason is, people don’t care what you think. Just think of your own life. Do you really have time to listen to someone who hasn’t gained your trust? Sure, you can build up that trust, but it takes time.
Unless you have something worthwhile to tell, having a small audience can be a blessing in disguise. It gives you time to work without pressure and experiment with your ideas. You aren’t held to high or lofty expectations.
Once your audience becomes large and start paying you money, there is no turning back. You are held to the highest standards, and if you disappoint, they will be gone forever.
So enjoy this time as an unknown. Experiment. Refine your work. Hone your craft. Figure out what value you can give to the world, because once you have everyone’s attention, you can’t afford to make the same mistakes.
The Not-So-Secret Formula
There is no way to guarantee that you will become a famous or well known artist. You can create the greatest art in the world, and people still might not find you. Those are the facts of life.
You can, however, do everything in your power to try and make it happen. The best way to do this is make great work, constantly improve, and share it with others. Create art based on things you are passionate about, and you will draw in others who are passionate about it too.
Put your work online and talk about your progress. Those same people who are interested in your subject matter will want to know more about it.
Everyone is looking for a place to belong, and finding people who have the same interests as us are naturally going to come together to talk about it. Just look at online forums. Thousands of people gather together in one place to talk about subjects they are interested in.
If you create great work about something you are interested in, you will find success. Just find people who have the same interests as you and join in on the conversation. Don’t shove your work down people’s throats. Form genuine relationships and bonds with these people, and you may find some fans.
7. Geography Is No Longer Our Master.
Build Your Own World
There’s no reason to let the confines of your studio limit your work or creativity. Many people think confined space is a limitation to creativity. That doesn’t have to be true.
The great thing about having a space for your art is, you can do anything you want to it. Decorate it as you please. Collect business cards, flyers, and pamphlets. Print out things that inspire you. Cut them out and re-arrange them on the walls. Buy books with great photos or design and keep them nearby.
Everything you read, touch, and see can be inspiration for your projects. Don’t let a sterile environment be the thing that holds you back. Your inspiration can come from anywhere in the world. Just because you can’t physically go out and see the world doesn’t mean the world can’t come to you.
8. Be Nice. (The World Is a Small Town.)
Make Friends, Ignore Enemies
There are times when you’ll want to just scream at someone who makes a nasty comment about you or your art. This is natural but unproductive. Instead focus on the people who build you up instead of pull you down.
Stand Next to the Talent
If you want to be successful, you need to seek out those who will make you better. In order to be the best, surround yourself with the best. Luckily, we are living in the world of the internet. Even if you aren’t physically near them, you can still learn from them. Find those who can make you better, study what they’ve done, and use those things to help you grow.
Write Fan Letters
Everyone in this world could use some praise. We seek it and feel validated whenever receive it. If you like what someone is doing, let them know.
After creating these things, I just let the authors know. I have gotten some exposure from these posts, but your goal shouldn’t be seeking validation. Your idols are busy people, so they may not respond. Just know they appreciate you. Who knows, some day it will be you receiving the praise.
Keep a Praise File
If you are doing things right, you will get lots of compliments and some scorn. That is the nature of having a strong opinion and voice in the world. When you hit one of those days where you feel nothing is going right, just look back on all the praise you’ve received. Keep track of the nice things being said about you or your work, so you can make it through the dark days.
9. Be Boring. (It’s the Only Way to Get Work Done.)
Take Care of Yourself
Society tells us that artists live these unusual lifestyles. They envision us as rock stars sleeping around and partying or as a painter barely scraping by.
We all know these things aren’t true. Most artists are just like everyone else: living normal everyday lives. How could it be any other way?
Creativity takes up much of our energy. Creation is not something that can just be done on a whim. It takes constant thought, practice, and action to create something great.
Don’t let society tell you how you’re supposed to live. In order to live a long, fulfilling life, you need to take care of yourself like everyone else. This includes eating well, exercise, and getting good sleep.
Stay Out of Debt
If you want to continue to make work without scrounging around for money, don’t get caught up buying material things. If you have the money to buy them, feel free to, but don’t let yourself get into debt. One of the best things you can do as an artist is live within your means until you have money to spend.
Keep Your Day Job
This may not be something you want to hear, but if you can’t sustain yourself from your art, you’ll want to keep your day job. Having a steady income while you work on your art is a necessity if you want to make it as an artist.
It is better to be able to live comfortably with a day job that is not your passion then it is to scrounge around for every penny. Your day job will allow you to learn and establish a routine.
The most important thing will be finding a time every day where you can work on your creative project. If you work on your art every day, no matter what, you can build up momentum. This will lead to more creativity and more consistent work.
The best way to do this is find a day job that pays decently and you don’t dread going to. There, you will be able to sustain yourself and figure out how to create a daily routine.
Keep a Logbook
Many of us get trapped by the idea of a to-do list. Things continually pile up. It feels like you’ll never get to them all. If you feel bogged down by all the tasks in your to-do list, try keeping a done list instead.
A done list is exactly what it sounds like. It’s a list of all the things you accomplished each day. I happen to split my done list in two separate places.
In Evernote, I save every article I read that day, every podcast I listened to, everything I’ve written, and every piece of art I’ve created. This gives me a place to look when I want to see what I’ve accomplished over the past week, month, and year. I also have a physical gratitude journal where I write down three things I was grateful for that day. This is a great way to figure out what makes you happy, and keeps the positivity in your life.
The combination of these two has helped me realize how much I get done each day. Looking through your daily notes is a great way to see how much you can accomplish.
10. Creativity is Subtraction
As an artist, a blank canvas means endless possibilities. You can create anything you want. The entire world is at your disposal in the click of a button. You can draw inspiration from people, places, and things from around the world. It’s no wonder so many of us get creative block. We don’t want to make a mistake, so what do we do instead? Nothing.
One of the best ways to combat this paradox of choice is creating self-imposed limitations. Constraints may seem like a counter-intuitive way to spark creativity, but they can be extremely helpful when trying to break out of a funk. Constraints help you focus and create a singular goal for your art. Just make sure the constraints you choose don’t make it impossible to work.
Kleon used the great example of Green Eggs and Ham which Dr. Seuss wrote using only 50 different words!
If you can leave out the unnecessary, it will make your art much more interesting. Embrace limitations and see where they take you.
Kindle Highlights for Steal Like an Artist
Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
How does an artist look at the world? First, you figure out what’s worth stealing, then you move on to the next thing. That’s about all there is to it.
“The only art I’ll ever study is stuff that I can steal from.” —David Bowie
The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something “original,” nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved.
All creative work builds on what came before.
André Gide put it, “Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”
If we’re free from the burden of trying to be completely original, we can stop trying to make something out of nothing, and we can embrace influence instead of running away from it.
“What is originality? Undetected plagiarism.” —William Ralph Inge
Every new idea is just a mashup or a remix of one or more previous ideas.
You’re a remix of your mom and dad and all of your ancestors.
You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see.
You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. The German writer Goethe said, “We are shaped and fashioned by what we love.”
The artist is a collector.
indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. They only collect things that they really love.
You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.
Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.
“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination.
Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.”
Marcel Duchamp said, “I don’t believe in art. I believe in artists.”
Instead, chew on one thinker—writer, artist, activist, role model—you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them.
School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap. Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education.
You have to be curious about the world in which you live.
Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question.
Always be reading.
Collect books, even if you don’t plan on reading them right away. Filmmaker John Waters has said, “Nothing is more important than an unread library.”
“Whether I went to school or not, I would always study.” —RZA
Carry a notebook and a pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations.
Go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure you always have paper on you.
keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. It can be digital or analog—it doesn’t matter what form it takes, as long as it works. You
“It is better to take what does not belong to you than to let it lie around neglected.” —Mark Twain
In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are.
You’re ready. Start making stuff.
It’s called “impostor syndrome.” The clinical definition is a “psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.”
Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from.
Fake it ’til you make it.
Pretend to be something you’re not until you are—fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want them to; or 2. Pretend to be making something until you actually make something. I love both readings—you have to dress for the job you want, not the job you have, and you have to start doing the work you want to be doing.
“You start out as a phony and become real.” —Glenn O’Brien
The point is: All the world’s a stage. Creative work is a kind of theater. The stage is your studio, your desk, or your workstation. The costume is your outfit—your painting pants, your business suit, or that funny hat that helps you think. The props are your materials, your tools, and your medium. The script is just plain old time.
“Start copying what you love. Copy copy copy copy. At the end of the copy you will find your self.” —Yohji Yamamoto
Nobody is born with a style or a voice.
In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.
Copying is about reverse-engineering. It’s like a mechanic taking apart a car to see how it works.
Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces.
Even The Beatles started as a cover band.
McCartney recalls, they only started writing their own songs “as a way to avoid other bands being able to play our set.”
As Salvador Dalí said, “Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.”
The songwriter Nick Lowe says, “You start out by rewriting your hero’s catalog.” And you don’t just steal from one of your heroes, you steal from all of them. The writer Wilson Mizner said if you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. I once heard the cartoonist Gary Panter say, “If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original!”
Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style.
You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.
The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds.
internalize their way of looking at the world.
“We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” —Francis Ford Coppola
At some point, you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them.
“There isn’t a move that’s a new move.” The basketball star Kobe Bryant has admitted that all of his moves on the court were stolen from watching tapes of his heroes.
In O’Brien’s words, “It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”
A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies.
Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different?
In the end, merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them.
“I have stolen all of these moves from all these great players. I just try to do them proud, the guys who came before, because I learned so much from them. It’s all in the name of the game. It’s a lot bigger than me.” —Kobe Bryant
The question every young writer at some point asks is: “What should I write?” And the standard answer is, “Write what you know.” This advice always leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting happens.
“My interest in making music has been to create something that does not exist that I would like to listen to. I wanted to hear music that had not yet happened, by putting together things that suggested a new thing which did not yet exist.” —Brian Eno
We make art because we like art.
The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. The same principle applies to your life and your career:
Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?”
When we love a piece of work, we’re desperate for more. We crave sequels. Why not channel that desire into something productive?
Think about your favorite work and your creative heroes. What did they miss? What didn’t they make? What could’ve been made better? If they were still alive, what would they be making today? If all your favorite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew?
Go make that stuff.
The manifesto is this: Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.
“We don’t know where we get our ideas from. What we do know is that we do not get them from our laptops.” —John Cleese
We need to move, to feel like we’re making something with our bodies, not just our heads.
Work that only comes from the head isn’t any good.
You need to find a way to bring your body into your work.
“I have stared long enough at the glowing flat rectangles of computer screens. Let us give more time for doing things in the real world . . . plant a plant, walk the dogs, read a real book, go to the opera.” —Edward Tufte
It wasn’t until I started bringing analog tools back into my process that making things became fun again and my work started to improve.
When I was making the poems, it didn’t feel like work. It felt like play.
The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not really good for generating ideas.
The computer brings out the uptight perfectionist in us—we start editing ideas before we have them.
Try it: If you have the space, set up two workstations, one analog and one digital. For your analog station, keep out anything electronic. Take $10, go to the school supply aisle of your local store, and pick up some paper, pens, and sticky notes. When you get back to your analog station, pretend it’s craft time. Scribble on paper, cut it up, and tape the pieces back together. Stand up while you’re working. Pin things on the walls and look for patterns. Spread things around your space and sort through them.
Once you start getting your ideas, then you can move over to your digital station and use the computer to help you execute and publish them. When you start to lose steam, head back to the analog station and play.
“The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.” —Jessica Hische
One thing I’ve learned in my brief career: It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around.
I think it’s good to have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce between them.
Practice productive procrastination.
Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing.
As the artist Maira Kalman says, “Avoiding work is the way to focus my mind.”
Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.
Keep all your passions in your life.
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.” —Steve Jobs
Tomlinson suggests that if you love different things, you just keep spending time with them. “Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen.”
Now, I’m starting to feel whole. And the crazy thing is, rather than the music taking away from my writing, I find it interacting with my writing and making it better—I can tell that new synapses in my brain are firing, and new connections are being made.
It’s so important to have a hobby. A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy.
Don’t throw any of yourself away. Don’t worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don’t worry about unity—what unifies your work is the fact that you made it.
I sympathize with them. There is a kind of fallout that happens when you leave college. The classroom is a wonderful, if artificial, place: Your professor gets paid to pay attention to your ideas, and your classmates are paying to pay attention to your ideas. Never again in your life will you have such a captive audience.
most of the world doesn’t necessarily care about what you think.
As the writer Steven Pressfield says, “It’s not that people are mean or cruel, they’re just busy.”
There’s no pressure when you’re unknown.
Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it.
You’ll never get that freedom back again once people start paying you attention, and especially not once they start paying you money.
Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. Use it.
If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people.
Make stuff every day. Know you’re going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better.
Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you. You should wonder at the things nobody else is wondering about.
The more open you are about sharing your passions, the closer people will feel to your work.
There’s no penalty for revealing your secrets.
People love it when you give your secrets away, and sometimes, if you’re smart about it, they’ll reward you by buying the things you’re selling.
When you open up your process and invite people in, you learn.
You don’t put yourself online only because you have something to say—you can put yourself online to find something to say.
The Internet can be more than just a resting place to publish your finished ideas—it can also be an incubator for ideas that aren’t fully formed, a birthing center for developing work that you haven’t started yet.
A lot of artists worry that being online will cause them to make less work, but I’ve found that having a presence online is a kick in the pants.
Whenever I’ve become lost over the years, I just look at my website and ask myself, “What can I fill this with?”
Find people on the Internet who love the same things as you and connect with them.
You don’t have to share everything—in fact, sometimes it’s much better if you don’t.
Think about what you have to share that could be of some value to people.
“Don’t worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you’ll have to ram them down people’s throats.” —Howard Aiken
most of my thinking and conversation and art-related fellowship is online.
You don’t have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in.
Surround yourself with books and objects that you love. Tape things up on the wall. Create your own world.
Franz Kafka wrote, “It isn’t necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don’t even listen, just wait. Don’t wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you.”
All you need is a little space and a little time—a place to work, and some time to do it; a little self-imposed solitude and temporary captivity.
“Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.” —Jonah Lehrer
At some point, when you can do it, you have to leave home. You can always come back, but you have to leave at least once.
Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable.
Personally, I think bad weather leads to better art. You don’t want to go outside, so you stay inside and work.
It helps to live around interesting people, and not necessarily people who do what you do.
You have to find a place that feeds you—creatively, socially, spiritually, and literally.
Even if you set up a new home, you need to leave it now and then. And at some point, you might need to just move on. The
There’s only one reason I’m here: I’m here to make friends.
The golden rule is even more golden in our hyperconnected world.
The best way to make friends on the Internet? Say nice things about them.
“There’s only one rule I know of: You’ve got to be kind.” —Kurt Vonnegut
“The only mofos in my circle are people that I can learn from.” —Questlove
You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online—the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work.
“Find the most talented person in the room, and if it’s not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful.”
If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.
You’re going to see a lot of stupid stuff out there and you’re going to feel like you need to correct it.
instead of wasting my anger on complaining or lashing out at people, I try to channel it into my writing and my drawing.
So go on, get angry. But keep your mouth shut and go do your work.
Hugh MacLeod says, “The best way to get approval is to not need it.”
If you truly love somebody’s work, you shouldn’t need a response from them.
Make something and dedicate it to your hero. Answer a question they’ve asked, solve a problem for them, or improve on their work and share it online.
The important thing is that you show your appreciation without expecting anything in return, and that you get new work out of the appreciation.
“Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” —Craig Damrauer
You can’t go looking for validation from external sources. Once you put your work into the world, you have no control over the way people will react to it.
Ironically, really good work often appears to be effortless. People will say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” They won’t see the years of toil and sweat that went into it.
get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored—the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.
Yes, validation is for parking, but it’s still a tremendous boost when people say nice things about our work.
I put every really nice e-mail I get in a special folder.
When those dark days roll around and I need a boost, I open that folder and read through a couple e-mails.
Use it sparingly—don’t get lost in past glory—but keep it around for when you need the lift.
“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.” —Gustave Flaubert
The thing is: It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.
Do yourself a favor: Learn about money as soon as you can.
The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture.
The truth is that even if you’re lucky enough to make a living off doing what you truly love, it will probably take you a while to get to that point.
Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art.
Bill Cunningham says, “If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.”
A day job puts you in the path of other human beings. Learn from them, steal from them.
I can learn things that I can use in my work later—my
Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time.
Inertia is the death of creativity. You have to stay in the groove.
simple: Figure out what time you can carve out, what time you can steal, and stick to your routine. Do the work every day, no matter what.
Work gets done in the time available.
Amassing a body of work or building a career is a lot about the slow accumulation of little bits of effort over time.
A calendar helps you plan work, gives you concrete goals, and keeps you on track.
Get a calendar. Fill the boxes. Don’t break the chain.
Just as you need a chart of future events, you also need a chart of past events. A logbook isn’t necessarily a diary or a journal, it’s just a little book in which you list the things you do every day.
“If you ask yourself ‘What’s the best thing that happened today?’ it actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection that pulls up from the recent past things to write about that you wouldn’t otherwise think about. If you ask yourself ‘What happened today?’ it’s very likely that you’re going to remember the worst thing, because you’ve had to deal with it—you’ve had to rush somewhere or somebody said something mean to you—that’s what you’re going to remember. But if you ask what the best thing is, it’s going to be some particular slant of light, or some wonderful expression somebody had, or some particularly delicious salad.” —Nicholson Baker
“She rescued me. I’d be playing in a steak house right now if it wasn’t for her. I wouldn’t even be playing in a steak house. I’d be cooking in a steak house.” —Tom Waits, on his wife and collaborator, Kathleen Brennan
Relationships are hard enough, but it takes a real champion of a person to be married to someone who’s obsessed with a creative pursuit.
A good partner keeps you grounded.
In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them. Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying.
but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.
The right constraints can lead to your very best work. My favorite example? Dr. Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat with only 236 different words, so his editor bet him he couldn’t write a book with only 50 different words. Dr. Seuss came back and won the bet with Green Eggs and Ham, one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.
“Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want—that just kills creativity.” —Jack White
The artist Saul Steinberg said, “What we respond to in any work of art is the artist’s struggle against his or her limitations.”
You must embrace your limitations and keep moving.
creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out.
Some advice can be a vice. Feel free to take what you can use, and leave the rest. There are no rules.