Today we are talking about a tiny book called Show Your Work by Austin Kleon, which is about the power of sharing your work with the world, getting yourself noticed, and other nicely crafted bits of tips on HOW and WHY you should get yourself out there and let the others see your creative work.
One thing I wanted to mention is that you can read the book in under an hour. Which is obviously high utility for your invested time.
You Don't Have to Be a Genius
The book is divided into 10 key ideas, and you will have timestamps in the description down below.
But starting with the key idea number 1 is that You Don't Have to Be a Genius.
The author starts talking about this myth about creativity, which is the myth of the 'lone genius'.
The 'lone genius' is a person with superhuman gifts and talents that essentially pops up out of nowhere at specific points throughout history. And when the inspiration strikes, that lone genius will start producing astonishing work out of nowhere, only to share it with the world later and also being cherished afterward.
But what if we can replace the myth of the Genius and come up with a new word that can include us, the mortals, as well?And that world should be Scenius.
Now, when thinking about creativity through the lenses of a Scenius (instead of a Genius) what you will notice is that great ideas often come to life from an actual group of individuals connecting and interacting with each other.
And this is how the word Scenius was born and coined by a music producer called Brai Eno.
He started drawing the traditional model of the genius by using the example of the symphony orchestra.
At the top of the pyramid you had the Muse (or God), then you had the composer, the conductor, various musicians, and music instruments merging together into a sparkling cocktail of love and song, and then you also had the audience.
And all of these elements combined together will create the Scenius.
And if you think about it, everyone adds something to the Scenius.You do not have to be a professional music player to appreciate music, to bring on positive vibes and feelings.
You can think about poets, painters, coders, curators, thinkers, and much more.
And these people end up creating an 'ecology of talent'
Genius is an EGOsystem. Scenius is an ECOsystem.
If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.”
Think process, not product
The next key idea is to think about the Process and not about the Product.
What you need to think about is documenting your process along the way and sharing it with the world.
If we go back and look at the pre-digital era, we can see that various artists such as painters, composers, writers had to come up with a finished product in order to share it with the world.
It wouldn't be productive for say Mark Twain to start sharing one page or one chapter of his upcoming book in something like a newspaper. And it would make more sense to share the whole book at once.
But we are living in a digital era. So what a writer might do nowadays is to start sharing his process with the world using the abundance of the internet.
The writer might share a couple of passages on Twitter, an illustration on Instagram, and even a teaser video on YouTube. This is how you can keep people engaged.
A lot of books in the digital era started by being mere blog posts or even YouTube scripts.
And taking people behind the scenes with you, sharing what you are currently working on, the status of your project, the resources you are using might be indeed the best thing to do.
And there is this interesting idea about becoming a curator instead of a creator.
And you can start doing that by, again, sharing a snap of what you are currently reading, scribbling your books, hunting for quotes, digesting and filtering email newsletters, and processing and sharing all of that information with the world.
So you can stop thinking about what is the actual goal of me sharing a random quote on Twitter, as there is no specific goal tied to it. You have no end product in mind. It is just you sharing ideas, watching them interact with each other, and forming an interconnected web.
Share something small everyday
The key idea number 3 is also related to our previous one. And this one outlines that you should share something small with the world every day.
And again, the internet has made this easier than ever. You have all these means and channels you can use to start sharing your projects, your writing, your photos, your code.
And you can actually start doing this right now. And it will take some time and you will have some typing to do, but trust me, it will pay off.
You have the abundance of the digital space and the unlimited potential of Google that will support your next internet searches.
You must remember that you are a node in a network. And what you do and share can actually have a tremendous impact on a person that might even be on the other facet of the planet.
And even if you think that what you are sharing has already been said, just remember that what might be common for you might be mind-blowing to others as every single one of us is in a different state on our life's journey.
Open up your cabinet of curiosities
Now, key idea number 4 about opening op your cabinet of curiosities.
In the past, wealthy people use to have a so-called cabinet of curiosities that came in simply as an actual cabinet or could even extend to a room filled with all sorts of interesting things such as old books, journals, minerals, strange jewels, exotic stones, and artifacts.
And what this type of activity did was fueling the possessor's imagination. And you can view the stuff you are collecting and curating as fuel for your future work. And the diversity of it can even be extreme. I remember watching a Breaking Bad episode where one of the characters there was reciting a poem. And that particular character was a great chemist. But he was also fond of poetry. Poetry fueled his creative engine so that he could produce great work.
Don't let anyone make you feel bad about the things you really enjoy. If you like it, you like it.
Everyone likes different things.
And sharing all of these different things with the world while also crediting and labeling what you are sharing will come back in your favor.
Tell good stories
Another thing you might think about improving when sharing your work is learning to tell good stories.
And you can follow the story cycle model outlined in the book, which is the one Dan Harmon uses. Dan Harmon is the co-creator of Rick and Morty.
But you can also find variations of this online as well.
But essentially, if you want to tell good stories, you might want to follow a cycle where
The character starts in a zone of comfort, but she or he wants something. In order to achieve that something, they must get out of their comfort zone and enter an unfamiliar situation, learn and adapt, get what they want but, of course, paying an oftentimes heavy price for it, only to return back to their home and an overall stable and familiar situation, but has changed.
Now, this is an invisible structure you can use to tell your stories, either in a video format, in a portfolio, piece of writing, and even live when talking to people. People are subconsciously attracted to this invisible structure because it works.
Teach what you know
Another key point I wanted to highlight is that you should teach people what you already know.
And I believe this is indeed a nice tactic one can follow to first, crystalize what you already know by explaining it to someone. And second, to expand and add up on what you already know. When you are talking and chatting to people and speaking about your processes and the tools you use, you might be surprised that even people who are on the other side of the spectrum in terms of what you do, even THEY will have something to say about your work. You are building interconnected feedback loops that will catapult both you and the audience forward. You and they have nothing to lose.
A few things you can do to start this is to start building an email list, sending a newsletter sharing things you are passionate about.And even if your mom is the only person reading it, it can still be a very useful writing exercise you can perform every week or month.
You can also start a blog for free and adjust it along the way.
In fact, this is what I did when I started my personal newsletter. I first had the blog, which was in my native language, and then I decided to switch to English so that I can reach more people. And slowly, you will see that you will start building small pieces of assets and content and also a personal writing history that can be useful if you want to do a yearly review and see how and why you evolved.
Non-shameless plug, you can sing up for my Friday Treats newsletter in the description and pinned comment down below, and each Friday you’ll get a short email from me sending you off to your weekend with a few fun and useful stuff to ponder and try such things related to tech, productivity, pieces of research on building better mental frameworks, noticing confusion, rationality and other tactical advice you can use.
Don’t turn into human spam
Now, the next point is related to not turning into what the author calls 'human spam'.
And the word spam and spammer, I believe, started once emails got more and more popular and when people started sending irrelevant messages that you didn't sign up.
And if we apply the same label to us, humans, we can, indeed, sometimes behave like spam.
We want to push more content, we want to show ourselves to the world, we want to be everywhere and nowhere.
But what we can do instead is to learn to be part of a community where we can share ideas, interact, exchange thoughts and give feedback instead of simply pushing and pointing people to your work all the time. It is not about you, but more about US.
And this is where you should see yourself as an open node, being ready to both receive and give back.
One should also learn to behave like a human and being considerate when talking to people in your community. This organic approach will most likely lead you to create a real connection with the person who's at the end of the line and, someday, who knows, meet them in real life as well!
So you should give give give give give and then you can do the ask.
Learn to take a punch
And when doing the ask you will need to learn how to take a punch.And a punch can come in various forms. A punch can be the criticism in the YouTube comment section, a tag on Twitter, memes about your name, face, or hair. An anonymous email sent to you at 2 AM.a
And when sharing your work online, this will happen quite a lot. And learning to take it, absorb it, and ultimately let it fuel you is indeed a meta-skill you might want to start working on.
Always remember that you cannot make everyone on the planet agree with what you are saying or writing.
You might also want to remember that people in general only care about themselves. So even if someone might hate on you when writing a piece of harsh criticism. After they sent that out, they will most likely move on with their life and stop thinking about your for the rest of the day.
And this is exactly the reason why you should not care. Instead, you should focus on the positive energies and vibes you are getting from people who do really enjoy your work and with whom you can connect. This, of course, does not mean that you should remove yourself from full criticism, but only try scanning and finding the one that is really valuable and productive for your overall growth.
As Teddy Roosevelt put it:
"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat."
Now, within the abundance of the digital era, one needs to learn how and when to sell out.
Which is the next key point of the book.
The problem nowadays is that more and more people have ego-related issues. And they prefer to be starving artists instead of finding ways to convert their work into their daily bread.
But throughout history what you will notice is that the most well-known pieces of art were actually made for money.
The painter Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel only because the Pope commissioned him.
The Godfather was written by Mario Puzo because he was 45 and something like $20k dollars debt.
Learn and understand the Sex Cash Theory.
This is essentially a way of understanding that the creative person has two jobs.
The sexy one is the one you would do for free, the one you really enjoy, the one that fills you with joy and song, but then you will also have the cash-related one, the one that pays the bills. The idea is to get yourself into that sweet spot where you can cover both, but you will situations when this is not going to be the case.
You can think about an actor being in a huge movie that's targeted towards the general population and making money, and then doing an obscure indie film that only gonna be featured in a handful of countries, but will ultimately bring the actor the joy and the fulfillment he seeks.
So a cool piece of advice is to learn to understand the context of an artist and the why behind the artist's actions.
Of course, when just starting out, you should create a framework where you are sharing your stuff for free, and again, only when you feel like you want to give something that you put a lot of work in and you can also monetize, don't be afraid to do the ask.
If you are good at something, do not always do it for free.
Don’t quit. Keep doing your work, and keep sharing.
Don’t be afraid to change things up. It’s not really starting over. You’re still keeping everything you learned before. You’re just starting from chapter one again.
What we must understand that there's no ultimate recipe as change often comes from the compound effect of daily work that will, in the long run, change how we view and interact with the world.
Highlights I took out of the book
You don't have to be a genius.
Creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration.
Pay attention to what others are not sharing.
Look for voids that you can fill with your own efforts.
You can't find your voice if you don't use it.
Talk about the things you love.
Read obituaries. Thinking about death makes me want to live.
Document what you do. Share your process.
Turn the invisible into something other people can see.
Start a work journal. Keep a scrapbook. Shoot video of you working. Take photographs of your work at different stages.Focus on days. Blog, email, tweet, YouTube...
Don't show your lunch or your latte; show your work.
Find the time in the cracks between the big stuff.Anything you post to the internet becomes public.
Share work that you want feedback on, but not everything.Ask yourself "So what?" Is it helpful/interesting?
Unsure? Save it for later.
Flow = daily updates that remind people you exist
Stock = the lasting content you produce
Find patterns in your flow, turn flow into stock.
Give proper credit. Provide context, link back to the source.
Structure is everything. Keep your audience in mind.
Speak directly, in plain language. Be brief. Use spell-check.
Keep bios short and sweet. (2 sentences) Just state the facts.
Share your reading list, helpful reference materials.
Create tutorials. Use pictures, words, videos.
Avoid anything that drains your energy.
Protect your vulnerable areas. If it's too sensitive, keep it hidden.
Be ready for the good, the bad, and the ugly.
Relax and breathe. (Practice meditation.)
Put out a lot of work, keep putting it out there.
Roll with the punches. Keep moving.
Every criticism is an opportunity for new work.
Delete nasty comments. (or turn comments off completely)
Keep a mailing list. Collect email addresses.
Never add an email address without permission.
Be ambitious. Keep busy. Try new things. Take opportunities that allow you to do more of what you want to do.
Don't be content with mastery. Have the courage to rethink.