I got to know about a series of books written by Austin Kleon from Ali Abdaall’s YouTube channel. Ali introduced those three books as one of “10 Cheap Purchases that Improved my Life.” He said that anytime he’s in a bit of a slump, he just picks up one of those books (which always live on his desk), opens it to a random page, and always finds inspiration. In particular, Show Your Work was the book that most changed his life because it encouraged him to write online and share his works (through blog, YouTube, his own business, etc.). I have also been thinking about how to do more meaningful works and make an impact, in addition to through my normal job duties, such as writing scholarly papers and teaching students. So I wanted to get some ideas from those books.
On a side note, I recommend you to check out Ali Abdaall’s other videos because I found those enjoyable and informative, including “How to Stop Procrastinating,” “3 Books that Changed my Life,” and “Tiny Changes, Remarkable Results – Atomic Habits by James Clear”
Austin Kleon, “a writer who draws,” wrote several books about developing and sharing creativity. The first of his book series is Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative (2012) that provides insightful principles to discover your potential and build a more creative life. The second book (my favorite of the three books), Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered (2014) talks about sharing your work and getting yourself known. The last of the series is Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad (2019) giving advice on how to sustain a meaningful and productive life. At the moment I am writing this review, I finished two books and am reading the third one (Keep Going). Each book is quite light, 0.5-1 hour of reading, depending on whether or not you take notes and ponder about what you read.
Unlike its title, Steal Like an Artist isn’t just for artists. I found it very relevant and inspiring as a researcher/teacher. Some advices are even relieving and encouraging. Below I share what I learned most out of this book.
Nothing is original
What a good artist understands is that nothing comes from nowhere. All creative works builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.
It’s right there in the Bible: “There is nothing new under the sun.” (Ecclesiastes 1:9)
Steal like an artist. One day, someone will steal from you.
You are only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with. “Garbage in, garbage out”
School yourself: you have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else—that’s how you’ll get ahead.
Write what you want to read (the core of the other book, Show Your Work!, which I’ll share later)
The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. … whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, “What would make a better story?”
Don’t worry about unity. It’s good to have a lot of projects going at once
The work you do while you procrastinate is probably the work you should be doing for the rest of your life.
Take time to be board. When I get busy, I get stupid.
I get some of my best ideas when I’m bored, which is why I never take my shirts to the cleaners. I love ironing my shirts–it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas. If you’re our of ideas, wash the dishes. Take a really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can.
If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life.
Don’t worry about unity. One day, you’ll look back and it will all make sense.