Stefan Knapen

PhD-student – Co-assistent

Show Your Work – Austin Kleon

I read the book Show Your Work!: 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered by Austin Kleon. Here are my notes and thoughts.

Show Your Work – Austin Kleon


ISBN: 076117897X
Read: January 2015
Amazon page for more details and reviews. page page for Dutch people.


This is a lovely little book. It is easy to read, it looks great (especially on an e-reader) and the content is inspiring. Good backstories, applicable quotes and a lot of shareable information. The writer also wrote “Steal like an Artist”, a book I haven’t read (yet). Definitely worth your time and money.

All these notes are directly from the book, cursive texts are my thoughts.

My notes

Comedian Steve Martin famously dodges these questions with the advice, “Be so good they can’t ignore you.” If you just focus on getting really good, Martin says, people will come to you. This is exactly what Cal Newport talked about in his book So Good They Can’t Ignore You. Check out my notes on that book, on of the best books I’ve read.

Creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.

Online, everyone—the artist and the curator, the master and the apprentice, the expert and the amateur—has the ability to contribute something.

“On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.” Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing.

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. Interesting concept, especially in the field of academia.

Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.

Talk about the things you love. Your voice will follow.

It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.

If all this sounds scary or like a lot of work, consider this: One day you’ll be dead.

In fact, sharing your process might actually be most valuable if the products of your work aren’t easily shared, if you’re still in the apprentice stage of your work, if you can’t just slap up a portfolio and call it a day, or if your process doesn’t necessarily lead to tangible finished products.

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.

“Put yourself, and your work, out there every day, and you’ll start meeting some amazing people.” —Bobby Solomon

The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that. Gotta love the circadian rhythm!

Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that 90 percent of everything is crap.

I like to work while the world is sleeping, and share while the world is at work.

I had a professor in college who returned our graded essays, walked up to the chalkboard, and wrote in huge letters: “SO WHAT?” She threw the piece of chalk down and said, “Ask yourself that every time you turn in a piece of writing.” It’s a lesson I never forgot. Is this helpful? Why should anybody care?

Sloan says the magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background. Where flow is the feed and stock is the durable content.

Online, you can become the person you really want to be.

“The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually, you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. . . . Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.” —Paul Arden

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

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f—ing like something, like it.” —Dave Grohl

More than 400 years ago, Michel de Montaigne, in his essay “On Experience,” wrote, “In my opinion, the most ordinary things, the most common and familiar, if we could see them in their true light, would turn out to be the grandest miracles . . . and the most marvelous examples.”

Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.

You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care.

Without attribution, they have no way to dig deeper into the work or find more of it.

Don’t share things you can’t properly credit. Find the right credit, or don’t share.

Our work doesn’t speak for itself: Human beings want to know where things came from, how they were made, and who made them. The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work effects how they value it.

If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.

‘The cat sat on a mat’ is not a story. ‘The cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is a story.” —John le Carré

A good pitch is set up in three acts: The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future.

Everybody loves a good story, but good storytelling doesn’t come easy to everybody. It’s a skill that takes a lifetime to master. So study the great stories and then go find some of your own. Your stories will get better the more you tell them.

Strike all the adjectives from your bio.

People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.

These artists acknowledge that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that the experience of art is always a two-way street, incomplete without feedback.

If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community.

Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you.

For him, to be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.”

If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

“being good at things is the only thing that earns you clout or connections.”

I come pre-hated.

Even if you don’t have anything to sell right now, you should always be collecting email addresses from people who come across your work and want to stay in touch. This is something I am considering right now on this website.

The people who holler “Sellout!” are all hollering “No!” They’re the people who don’t want things to ever change.

If an opportunity comes along that will allow you to do more of the kind of work you want to do, say Yes. If an opportunity comes along that would mean more money, but less of the kind of work you want to do, say No.

At some point, you have to switch from saying “yes” a lot to saying “no” a lot.

You just have to be as generous as you can, but selfish enough to get your work done.

“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 gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”

Writer Gina Trapani has pointed out three prime spots to turn off our brains and take a break from our connected lives:

  • Comute.

  • Exercise.

  • Nature.

“If you never go to work, you never get to leave work.”

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough,” writes author Alain de Bo

My thoughts

Great book. The book is especially applicable to the creative industries, but I think I can find some ways to implicate this in an academic field as well. The concept of not being scared to share the process, share everything (including the attribution) and building up a community around what you do can be very interesting. Especially as I am fairly trained in sharing the process on my blog, but not at all in the research field. Writing up thoughts, sharing resources and discussing possible implications can be a big win in both the academic world and the medical world. Now the only part is exploring implementation. That’s something I’m gonna work on.

Simple book, easy to read, and the stories around these highlights are interesting enough to buy this book for.

Check it out on Amazon or on Bol!