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Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

Rating: 7/10

Date Read: May 14, 2020

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My Thoughts

This is a good, solid read. I wouldn’t call it life-changing for me, more life up-keeping. For some people, it can be life-changing though.

In this book, Austin argues that we should all share our work. He will share a lot of useful advice for doing work in public. Austin is very convincing. If you never considered sharing your work, this book will change your mind.


There are 10 main ideas in the book:

1. You Don’t Have to Be a Genius.

You can start sharing whatever your skill level is. In fact, the best level to do that is the beginner level. Sharing your work, while you are a beginner is a fantastic way to get to the expert level.

There are many advantages of sharing your work early on. It is more likely you will find people like you and will have more support and accountability. Furthermore, you are more likely to meet people who are more knowledgeable than you. They can become your mentors.

2. Think Process, Not Product.

When you are learning somethings it not about the final goal, it is about the journey. The only way to learn is to go through the process. There is no way around that. The final product is something visible to all, but if your goal is to learn, then the journey is more important. It is easier to focus on what has to be done today, than dream about the final product. This is akin to what James Clear is saying in his awesome book Atomic Habits. Each day you make a vote for you you want to be.

From the previous point, the huge point of sharing your work is attracting the right people. Those “right” people care about the process more than they care about the final product. People love seeing the creative process in action. That’s the most beautiful part of any process, how it happens.

3. Share Something Small Everyday.

It’s all about consistency. The only way to imprint this style of work and learning is by sharing something small every day. Again, I want to compare this to James Clear’s Atomic Habits book. There on the first pages, he talks about one of the most important concepts of learning. Compound learning is a concept that can apply to almost anything. In this scenario, by sharing something every day you compound the effect of both learning and sharing. By the end of the year, you will be much better and would have gained a huge audience. It might not happen in the first year, but at some point, the compounding will start to show the result.

4. Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities.

All those things you collect in life, don’t hoard them. Share them with the world, don’t be a hoarder. This will help your audience to understand who you are.

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.

Your work does not happen in a vacuum. The work that you produce is always some form of other people’s work. Each day you get inspired, you consume other people’s work. If you use this work to produce something bigger, tell people about it.

If you share the work of others, you have to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit.

5. Tell Good Stories.

If you are going to share your work, you might as well do it well. This is easy to say, and hard to do, but still, it is important. One way to improve your storytelling ability is to add structure. The most important part of a story is its structure. People are going to read your work for enjoyment. There is nothing joyful in getting through an unstructured thought dump. This applies to any type of sharing, be it writing, audio, or video.

6. Teach What You Know.

Often, people are secretive about their trade secrets. They worry that someone will still their success recipe. In some cases it can make sense, but more often this will only attract more attention to your work. The easiest example to think of is chefs who write cookbooks. It may seem silly to share their recipes, as it is their bread & butter (pun intended). But if they didn’t share, you wouldn’t know about them.

The lesson here is to not worry about sharing your ideas, your work, and your knowledge. It will pay out great dividends throughout your life.

7. Don’t Turn Into Human Spam.

Earlier we talked about hoarding and why you shouldn’t do it. There is also a bad quality on the other side of the spectrum, and that is spamming. If you are only sharing without giving back, you are a spammer. If you want people to help you, you need to think about helping people back. This can take many forms. Helping people with lower skill level than you. Answering questions on communities, commenting on the work of others. If you want to be helpful, there are a ton of ways to do that.

As every writer knows, if you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.

8. Learn to Take a Punch.

The title speaks for itself here. Internet is full of nasty people. These people will start harassing and trolling you once you start getting some attention. It doesn’t take much to get noticed by these people. Unfortunately, this is the case, and you will have to deal with it. So, prepare to take a punch.

9. Sell Out.

If you are going to be doing all this work you need to keep it sustainable. The easiest way to do this is to get paid. If you have people following your work, some of them would be happy to pay you for your work. Don’t be afraid to ask. Also, remember that you are not alone in such a situation, we all need money to live. If you follow someone’s work, help them out with a donation. Your donation will help them continue doing the work that you follow. It is a new circle of life.

10. Stick Around.

Just keep going. It may be hard sometimes, you might get demotivated, anything can happen, but don’t quit. It helps to keep your end goal in mind. That said, it pays to take regular breaks from your work. We all need to offload, sometimes. Breaks can be short (a couple of hours) or long (a whole year), the main thing is that you take time to relax and refresh.


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

“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.”

“The only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into you. Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.”

“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

“Become a documentarian of what you do. Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot a video of you working. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you. Take advantage of all the cheap, easy tools at your disposal—these days, most of us carry a fully functional multimedia studio around in our smartphones. Whether you share it or not, documenting and recording your process as you go along has its own rewards: You’ll start to see the work you’re doing more clearly and feel like you’re making progress. And when you’re ready to share, you’ll have a surplus of material to choose from.”

“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.”

“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.”

“Always be sure to run everything you share with others through The “So What?” Test. Don’t overthink it; just go with your gut. If you’re unsure about whether to share something, let it sit for 24 hours. Put it in a drawer and walk out the door. The next day, take it out and look at it with fresh eyes. Ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my boss or my mother seeing?” There’s nothing wrong with saving things for later. The save as draft button is like a prophylactic—it might not feel as good at the moment, but you’ll be glad you used it in the morning.”

“More than 10 years ago, I staked my own little Internet claim and bought the domain name I was a complete amateur with no skills when I began building my website: It started off bare-bones and ugly. Eventually, I figured out how to install a blog, and that changed everything. A blog is an ideal machine for turning flow into stock: One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work. My blog has been my sketchbook, my studio, my gallery, my storefront, and my salon. Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet.”

“Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people into who you are and what you do—sometimes even more than your own work.”

“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

“The minute you learn something, turn around, and teach it to others. Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorials and post them online. Use pictures, words, and video. Take people step-by-step through part of your process. 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.”