“Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to.”Austin Kleon
Reading a good book is one of my favourite things to do. But I passed with three different stages of reading love. I fell in love with reading sometime in high school. First, I loved it because it would immerse me in a whole different world. I enjoyed old-English novels and plays. I would open a book and all of a sudden I’m walking into someone’s castle in 1840s. It was magical and as close as it gets to time-travel.
Then, years later, when I decided to take my fiction writing passion seriously, I began reading to learn more about the techniques and how writers write. I was reading so I can write better.
The third stage is when I found that there are so many things that I need to learn which were not taught to me in school. So, I began to read non-fiction books; books about the things I need to learn to live better.
And since I have created this blog to share my journey and the things I learn along the way, I decided I will have a book recommendation post every once in a while, maybe once a month, to share my favourite books that contain helpful and useful tips and which inspire me through my journey (also a way to encourage myself to read more!). And hopefully those posts and those books would help and inspire whoever reads them too.
As the first post in 2019 (happy new year!) I thought I would start the year with something inspiring and motivating. So, in this post, I will share some ideas and tips from one really interesting book.
Steal Like An Artist by Austin Kleon: A New York Times best-selling manifesto for creativity in the digital age. The book is full of inspiring material; it is written in the form of short tips over ten chapters and a total of 160 pages (that’s the copy I’ve read).
I wouldn’t call this a book review, it is more of my reflection on the book. This post certainly does not contain all the material or all the ideas. I’m only briefly discussing here, in 5 points, the highlights of the parts that has affected my own way of thinking and approaching creativity. (All the quotes mentioned in this post are taken from the book.)
1. Nothing is Original
“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.”Andre Gide
The first bold statement this book makes is: Nothing is original.
It continues to elaborate that in order to truly be able to create things, you ought to embrace the fact that you are and will be inspired by other people’s ideas and that it’s okay to be inspired by them and use their ideas as a way to build your own unique creative product.
In Kleon’s words: When you look at the world this way, you stop worrying about what’s “good” and what’s “bad”– there’s only stuff worth stealing and stuff that’s not worth stealing.
“The only art I will ever study is stuff that I can steal from.”David Bowie
But that does not in anyway mean you should copy/paste ideas and claim them your own; however, it is about encouraging you to study your favourite successful people in your niche, those who achieved greatness and those who you are influenced by and aspire to be like and study everything they did, then go ahead and find who this person’s hero is and study everything they did, and then move to that person’s hero, and so on.
“You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.”Austin Kleon
This way you are not just stealing one idea from one person (which is plagiarism), you are collecting as many worthy ideas as you can from all the people that you find inspiring and the people they found inspiring!
You then move from the copying process to the creating process; from imitation to emulation. It is when you take everything you have learned and all the ideas you copied and try to create your own.
Kleon writes: Conan O’Brien has talked about how comedians try to emulate their heroes, fall short, and end up doing their own thing. Johnny Carson tried to be Jack Benny but ended up Johnny Carson. David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson but ended up David Letterman. And Conan O’Brien tried to be David Letterman but ended up Conan O’Brien.
“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.”Conan O’Brien
2. Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are
Start now. If you want to write a book, if you want to start a business, if you want to change careers, whatever it is that you dream of doing and just think that you are not qualified enough for it, or you should wait until the right moment comes, ditch those thoughts and start now. You will learn as you move, as you experiment, as you grow.
There’s this popular advice for writers that goes: Write what you know. In his book, Kleon says you need to “write what you like” instead. And asks this really interesting question to whoever is trying to create something: Think about your favourite work and your favourite heroes. If all your favourite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew?
“Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.”Austin Kleon
3. Obscurity Is Good
He goes on to discuss how young people or people who are just getting started in a certain business want to get discovered and become famous for what they do.
And directs your attention that while it is a good thing to be recognized and known in your niche, it is an advantage not to be so, especially in the beginning.
Because now you have the space to get better, to try and fail and experiment, without the pressure you would get if thousands of people were to view your content, or you got money at stake, or a public image you try to maintain, or critics waiting for your material/product to start pointing out the negatives.
You are free from all of it, and you will never have that freedom again once you have the attention. So, you might as well enjoy it while it lasts.
He then gives you the real, not-so-secret formula to becoming known: Do good work and share it with people.
You can either do so through the community around you, or simply share things online. The Internet has made it incredibly easy for anyone to share their content and ideas (hence: this blog), so it encourages you to find the group of people that share your same interests and with whom you can share your work.
“You don’t have to live anywhere other than the place you are to start connecting with the world you want to be in. If you feel stuck somewhere, if you’re too young or too old or too broke, or if you’re somehow tied down to a place, take heart. There’s a community of people out there you can connect with.”Austin Kleon
4. Go Make Something
To be able to create something meaningful, you first need to surround yourself with people who create meaningful things, people who are successful and talented in what they do. Go find the most talented person and stand next to them; pay attention to what they do.
“If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.”Austin Kleon
One thing he points out to is when along the way most of us would see things that are just wrong. That are stupid or things that we feel the need to correct. Instead of getting angry about what’s being done wrong or complaining about it, we ought to channel that feeling into creating something right instead.
“Complain about the way other people make software by making software.”Andre Torrez
5. Validation Is For Parking
“The trouble with creative work: Sometimes by the time people catch on to what’s valuable about what you do, you’re either a) bored to death with it, or b) dead.”Austin Kleon
When going about creating something, be it a book, a blog, a business, don’t try to look for validation from other people. Because not necessarily everyone will get what you’re doing or why you’re doing it.
Do the work you enjoy doing, share it, and let go of it.
Don’t stress over what people will think of it or how they will perceive it, because you do not have control over people’s reactions. The only thing you have control over is your process and the work you do.
Some of the reviews this book has received
“Immersing yourself in Steal Like An Artist is as fine an investment in the life of your mind as you can hope to make.”
“Filled with well-formed advice that applies to nearly any kind of work.”
“Equal parts manifesto and how-to, Steal Like An Artist aims to introduce readers to the idea that all creative work is iterative, no idea is original and all creators and their output are a sum of inspirations and heroes…”
“Skip about 10 years of trial and error as an artist.”
“Engaging, inspiring and practical advice on becoming a successful artist, advice that applies well beyond artistic pursuits… This is a quick, easily digestible read that is particularly relevant in today’s digital world.”
—School Library Journal
If you want to read this book
It is available as an ebook: Steal Like An Artist – Ebook
And as a hard copy: Steal Like An Artist – Paperback
I couldn’t find an audio book copy, but there is: Steal Like An Artist – Summary
If you don’t want feel like making the commitment of buying a book, you can Rent Steal Like An Artist
I have read this book 3 times so far. It is such an easy read. The writing style is simple and to the point. It gives you a different overview on creativity as a whole; a real, authentic advice for anyone with a passion.
Till next week, happy reading!