Book Summary / Review

My Thoughts on Austin Kleon’s ‘Show Your Work’

This is more than your average self-help book.

I didn’t expect myself to be here writing book summaries / reviews after a decade of graduating from middle school (yes, it has been that long). But this is a really good book, and I figured why not take this opportunity to make some notes for myself and simultaneously inspire others who happen to be reading this.

Couple of weeks ago, I planned to read Austin Kleon’s ‘Steal Like an Artist’, but ‘Show Your Work’ caught my eye, and since I’m on this blogging journey, reading the latter first seemed more apt.

What is this book about? 📖

‘Show Your Work’ is a brilliantly written 224 pages long, pocket-sized book containing 10 chapters filled with timeless quotes and practical advice accompanied by impactful illustrations (most of which I call them newspaper poems) to literally, show your work, without shoving it up people’s noses, and using the network, instead of wasting time networking. Austin’s idea revolves around the concept of “stealing” — by generously letting readers into his creative process, he allows them to “steal” from him, and from there, grows a like-minded audience while gaining feedback, fellowship and even, patronage.

For a person who is private about her work, I thought that is quite an interesting concept.

What are my thoughts after reading this? 👀

Initially, I thought the only way to promote one’s work was to actually get things done. Even better, accumulate a mountain of things and gradually (read: stingily), share them bit-by-bit (pun intended) on the internet. This misconception has held me back from setting an online presence more times than one. One of the best takeaways I’ve learnt was that our work is a never-ending process — we can (and should) share the various stages of our creative process from start to finish, this includes our thoughts, the things and people that inspire us, our interests, obstacles on the journey, the final product, etc., — which was what I did recently.

On a research network, I openly shared for the first time ever, what I was up to — what exam I was studying for and what research topic I planned to work on. To my pleasant surprise, within a week of updating my profile, I received an email from a professor asking if I were interested in collaborating with him based on my field of interest.

“Huh,” I thought to myself, “this book really works.”

Who should be reading this book? 😁

  • Anyone who is interested in creating an online presence
  • To the painfully shy who needs a nudge to step out of their comfort zone
  • To the networking enthusiast with no idea where to start
  • Anyone with anything to share — if you think at least one person on this earth will benefit from it (or even put a smile on their face), then by all means, get your content out there. (I think Ali Abdaal said this)❤️

If you identify with any of the above (or even none at all), this book is bound to show you wonders.

My favorite quotes & some takeaways 💖

Disclaimer: Each chapter has multiple sub-headings; I selected a one to two concepts that deeply resonated with me.

Chapter 1: You don’t have to be a genius. 😜

Rather, be an amateur.

There’s a certain beauty to being an amateur — for one, you’ve newly experienced a phase (or currently on it) of a journey that others are about to embark. As the things you’ve just learnt are still fresh, you’ll be able to teach it far better than an expert, who has long forgotten these struggles.

Besides,

“Raw enthusiasm is contagious.” — Austin Kleon.

By making the effort of learning in the open and sharing your progress and enthusiasm, others with the same interest will end up finding and learning from you.

Chapter 2: Think process, not product. 💭

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen — really seen.” — Brene Brown

Have you ever wondered how your favorite YouTuber creates their videos? What about your favorite comic artist and their stories — where did they get their ideas from? How do they design their characters?

Humans are naturally curious creatures — by unfolding what goes on behind the scenes, you’re connecting with your audience, not only with your work, but also as another human being. So, become a documentarian: start documenting the process of your work. Even if you’re not sharing it. This puts what you’re doing into perspective, allowing you to see how far you’ve come and appreciate the simple things in life.

“And when you’re ready to share, you’ll have a surplus of material to choose from.” — Austin Kleon

Now, how wise is that!

Chapter 3: Share something small every day. 💝

“Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments you can make with your time.” — Andy Baio

I’ve been a passive bystander almost my entire life, which is quite ironic, given I’m the ‘radio’ in the family: constantly telling stories over dinner during my primary school days. Makes me wonder how I’ve lost that spark…

When I stumbled upon Ali Abdaal’s blog on an interview with David Perell, he mentioned, “To spend your life as a passive consumer and never step into the arena as an active creator is setting yourself up for a life of regret.That quote hit me hard. And that’s how I started writing on Medium. 😄

Besides, by putting your work out there, you know what sucks and what doesn’t. Over time, you’ll perfect your craft from the feedback and reaction you receive, and eventually meeting amazing people.

Chapter 4: Open up your cabinet of curiosities. 🚪

Similar to the old adage — “You are what you eat” — you create what inspires you: from the books you read to the music you listen. Don’t feel guilty liking what others think of as ‘garbage’.

I remember being made fun of for reading, “How to Win Friends and Influence People” by Dale Carnegie, to which I was called ‘a manipulator’. Looking back, it was nothing to be ashamed of. I had awkward social skills and needed some help. I’m proud to say this book has added much value to my life, and I even revisit it time after time.

We should have courage to keep loving our garbage — this makes us unique. By being honest and open about our interests, we not only unlock space for creativity, but also become a connector to people who care about the same things too. From there, we branch out into deeper topics and discover new ‘garbage’. ✨

Chapter 5: Tell good stories. 💬

Contrary to the famous quote, “a picture tells a thousand words”, by adding a personal story to your work, it allows your audience to understand it better, and depending on how much they resonate with your story, affects the extent they value your work.

This was such a powerful realization.

“Personal stories can make the complex more tangible, spark associations, and offer entry into things that might otherwise leave one cold.” — Austin Kleon

Chapter 6: Teach what you know. 📝

This chapter really hits close to home.

Growing up in a competitive environment, I used to think that if you share your ‘secrets’, you’re inviting more competition into your niche. However, during university, after attending numerous teaching sessions organized by my seniors, and even being coaxed into teaching, I realized that life is not a competition for fixed pie. There’s always room for everyone. And by sharing resources, we encourage others to do the same; by working together, we expand the pie and eventually everyone has more to eat.

“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.” — Austin Kleon

Chapter 7: Don’t turn into human spam. ⚡️

I recalled reading Dale Carnegie’s ‘How to Win Friends and Influence People’ in my first year of uni. An advice from the book stuck with me: “To get people to like you, first you must be genuinely interested in other people.” When I expressed my interest in what my peers were doing, listened attentively to their endeavors and checking up on them once in a while, they in turn started showing interest in my work.

“If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice.” — Austin Kleon

It’s a simple two-way street.

Chapter 8: Learn to take a punch. 👊

It’s often too easy to identify ourselves with our work — especially for creators. By putting our content for the world to scrutinize, we invite room for praises and criticisms. It’s important to remember that our work is something we do; it does not define who we are.

“The trick is not caring what EVERYBODY thinks of you and just caring about what the RIGHT people think of you.” — Brian Michael Bendis

Yes, receiving negative comments suck. But bad criticism isn’t the end of the world. 😌

“As far as I know, no one has ever died from a bad review. Take a deep breath and accept whatever comes.” — Austin Kleon

Chapter 9: Sell out. 🔥

Remember that when we make it, we should lift up those who have helped us along the way. Pay it forward. Get into a mindset of gratitude and generositywhatever you give abundantly, comes back unexpectedly.

“Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck — and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your goals. You owe a debt to the unlucky.” — Michael Lewis

Chapter 10: Stick around. 🙆

Persevere.

“The people who get what they’re after are very often the ones who just stick around long enough.” — Austin Kleon

It’s easy to burn out or feel like you’ve exhausted all your creative sources after actively churning out work after work around the clock. That’s when we should step away for a breather, to get inspired again.

Interestingly, when we feel as though we’ve learned all there is to learn, we shouldn’t be content with it. Rather, pick up something new. Become an amateur again. This helps us to keep growing and improving.

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough,” — Alain de Bottom
(creator of The School of Life on Youtube — his philosophies are eye-opening).

If this post doesn’t convince you to pick up a copy of Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work nor does it get you motivated to kick-start your dreams of becoming an active creator, perhaps this part from the book might:

“Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your resume because he already reads your blog. Imagine being a student and getting your first gig based on a school project you posted online… Imagine turning a side project or hobby into your profession because you had a following that could support you… All you have to do is show your work.” — Austin Kleon

Hopefully this post inspires you, like how I was after reading the book. 💖

Looking forward to sharing more things in the future!

Love, Alice

A Fudan University med grad sharing her journey in Shanghai and beyond. Since you’ve read all that, you might as well read on ;) Let’s connect on IG @alicehalim

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