Recommendation: Three Books By Austin Kleon

I get stuck. Nothing feels right. Nothing feels like it is working the way I want it to. I think most people who are trying to create something have similar feelings.

Many writers have been known, partly, for their mental anguish. I’m no stranger to that experience. This time of year, I am often…unhappy. I don’t know if it is seasonal affective disorder, a lack of vitamin D or what. I get irritable, angry, easily distracted.

If I’m not careful…despair overtakes me and getting out of bed in the morning starts to become the greatest achievement of the day. When I realize that the ship is headed into a nosedive, I have a variety of practices that I use to pull up before I crash and burn. Sleep, exercise, laying off carbohydrates and listing to Nine Inch Nails at ear bleed volume are the basics.

Three books that have helped me work through some of these periods were written by Austin Kleon. Austin is a writer and artist. Besides his newspaper blackout poetry, he has written three books about being creative, sharing your creativity and staying creative when you don’t feel like it.

I am a big fan of all three of the books in this series. I recommend all three. They sit in a prominent place on my shelf. I often pick one up and open it to a random page. Sometimes I just look at the back cover where the book designer put the list of 10 things he wrote. It is a nice reminder.

I was fortunate to be able to see him when he was doing a tour for his last book. That was back before, well… you know.

It was a good talk.

No, he’s not describing my job at the warehouse. Austin Kleon talking about his book Keep Going at the Parma branch of the Cuyahoga County Library in 2019.

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.

If you were to buy just one of the books, I would suggest Steal Like An Artist. The main idea is that being creative is as much (maybe more) about what you let in as what you put out. It is a well known maxim among writers, artists, philosophers, historians, and theologians that nothing is original. Hence, the title of the book. If you want to be creative, you have to steal. There is an ethical way to do that of course and Austin goes into how that works in the book.

There are a number of recommendations in Steal Like An Artist that I took to heart and have found very helpful.

One of the concepts that has been massively helpful to me is to work in both analog and digital. I have one corner of my office that has an old school writing desk. I bought it second hand for $40. I keep journals, a whiteboard, notecards, a desk drawer full of pens and paper but nothing that runs on electric but the lamp. When I have an idea, that’s where I do most of the development. It starts there. I write things out long hand. I scribble, scratch, and doodle until I have a clear mental image of what I’m doing and then I bring it over to the computer to write it out. This blog post was an outline in a cheap composition notebook before it was typed up. Working that way reduces distraction, and allows me to experiment in a way that is helpful before I get down to producing a finished thing.

Show Your Work: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered

Show Your Work is a book with a list of 10 ideas about how to do creative work, help other people find it and maybe find an audience for that work.

The big idea of Show Your Work is that creating is about process not product. Focusing on the verb and not the noun helps us to actually create. People want to know how we create as much as they want to see what we’ve actually created. That’s why “making of” and “behind the scenes” documentaries are popular. Through the act of generously sharing your process, you can find an audience.

This book is where I picked up the term Scenius. A Scenius is the group of people who contribute ideas, encourage each other, borrow ideas from other people in their scene. Some of the best works of art have come from a Scenius. 1920’s Paris. CBGB in New York City. The Comedy Store in LA. The Second City in Chicago.

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad

My mental state this week has me reaching for this book.

Austin said that (ironically) the success of his second book in combination with the cultural climate, spurred him to create this one. He was struggling with a lot of negative emotions and needed to get his head right. In this book, he shared 10 ideas for doing just that.

One of the reasons I like listening to Nine Inch Nails when I’m feeling existential angst, anger about how shitty the world seems and all the rest is that it reminds me that I am not alone. Other people have those feelings too. We all get mad.

There isn’t one of us who doesn’t look around sometimes and think in the most critical way possible, “What the actual fuck is going on here.” One of the good things about this book is when I’m on the road to Despair, it helps to know that other people have felt that and they’ve used those feelings to make something.

A big take away from this one was item #3 on the list. Forget the noun, Do the verb.

Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.

Keep Going by Austin Kleon

There’s something here for Everyone!

I am reluctant to make such a statement because it is rarely true. I think that in this case everyone could pick up any one of these books and find something useful to consider. I have personally gotten a lot of benefit from each of these books

Whether you are trying to figure out where creativity comes from, how to find an audience for your creations or how to keep going when your creativity seems to be failing you, I think you’ll find something in one of these books that will help..

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