Daniel's working notes

Show Your Work

Author: Austin Kleon


Being amateurs is okay. Your first stuff is rarely that good and it’s okay too. You need to collect feedback and improve your work. In Ultralearning feedback can be useful as a guidance on future learning. Yes, feedback is uncomfortable and sometimes harsh but you can always choose how to react.

Document your work and make it shareable. If you’re not sure your work is shareable, think again. There’s draft feature for it. (Use Daily Notes / Journal maybe?)

Share work of others with proper attribution.


“Be so good they can’t ignore you.”

But it’s not enough to be good. In order to be found, you have to be findable.

They’re cranking away in their studios, their laboratories, or their cubicles, but instead of maintaining absolute secrecy and hoarding their work, they’re open about what they’re working on, and they’re consistently posting bits and pieces of their work, their ideas, and what they’re learning online.

By generously sharing their ideas and their knowledge, they often gain an audience that they can then leverage when they need it—for fellowship, feedback, or patronage.

There’s a healthier way of thinking about creativity that the musician Brian Eno refers to as “scenius.” Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals—artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers—who make up an “ecology of talent.”

We’re all terrified of being revealed as amateurs, but in fact, today it is the amateur—the enthusiast who pursues her work in the spirit of love (in French, the word means “lover”), regardless of the potential for fame, money, or career—who often has the advantage over the professional.

Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public.

The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.” Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing.

Amateurs fit the same bill: They’re just regular people who get obsessed by something and spend a ton of time thinking out loud about it.

Sometimes, amateurs have more to teach us than experts. “It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can,” wrote author C. S. Lewis.

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

the only way to find your voice is to use it.

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

One day you’ll be dead. Most of us prefer to ignore this most basic fact of life, but thinking about our inevitable end has a way of putting everything into perspective.

When a painter talks about her “work,” she could be talking about two different things: There’s the artwork, the finished piece, framed and hung on a gallery wall, and there’s the art work, all the day-to-day stuff that goes on behind the scenes in her studio:

“By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers.

How can you show your work even when you have nothing to show? The first step is to scoop up the scraps and the residue of your process and shape them into some interesting bit of media that you can share.

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.

Whether you share it or not, documenting and recording your process as you go along has its own rewards: You’ll start to see the work you’re doing more clearly and feel like you’re making progress.

Overnight success is a myth. Dig into almost every overnight success story and you’ll find about a decade’s worth of hard work and perseverance.

So forget about decades, forget about years, and forget about months. Focus on days.

Once a day, after you’ve done your day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share. Where you are in your process will determine what that piece is.

The form of what you share doesn’t matter. Your daily dispatch can be anything you want—a blog post, an email, a tweet, a YouTube video, or some other little bit of media. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for everybody.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for all this?” And I answer, “I look for it.”

Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share absolutely everything.

There’s nothing wrong with saving things for later. The save as draft button is like a prophylactic—it might not feel as good in the moment, but you’ll be glad you used it in the morning.

“Stock and flow” is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist.

Small things, over time, can get big.

We all have our own treasured collections. They can be physical cabinets of curiosities, say, living room bookshelves full of our favorite novels, records, and movies, or they can be more like intangible museums of the heart, our skulls lined with memories of places we’ve been, people we’ve met, experiences we’ve accumulated.

For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not.

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.

“Dumpster diving” is one of the jobs of the artist—finding the treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reasons.

All it takes to uncover hidden gems is a clear eye, an open mind, and a willingness to search for inspiration in places other people aren’t willing or able to go.

::When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it.::

Don’t try to be hip or cool. 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.

Attribution is all about providing context for what you’re sharing: what the work is, who made it, how they made it, when and where it was made, why you’re sharing it, why people should care about it, and where people can see some more work like it.

Words matter. Artists love to trot out the tired line, “My work speaks for itself,” but the truth is, our work doesn’t speak for itself.

If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller.

Emma Coats, a former storyboard artist at Pixar, outlined the basic structure of a fairy tale as a kind of Mad Lib that you can fill in with your own elements: “::Once upon a time, there was __. Every day, __. One day, __. Because of that, __. Because of that, __. Until finally, __.::” Pick your favorite story and try to fill in the blanks. It’s striking how often it works.

Whether you’re telling a finished or unfinished story, always keep your audience in mind. Speak to them directly in plain language. Value their time. Be brief. Learn to speak. Learn to write.

You should be able to explain your work to a kindergartner, a senior citizen, and everybody in between.

Keep it short and sweet.

You’re a photographer. Don’t get cute. Don’t brag. Just state the facts.

Teaching doesn’t mean instant competition. Just because you know the master’s technique doesn’t mean you’re going to be able to emulate it right away.

The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorials and post them online.

Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it.

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.

::If you want followers, be someone worth following.::

Albini laments how many people waste time and energy trying to make connections instead of getting good at what they do, when “being good at things is the only thing that earns you clout or connections.”

Of course, The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.

Designer Mike Monteiro says that the most valuable skill he picked up in art school was ::learning how to take a punch::.

Relax and breathe. The trouble with imaginative people is that we’re good at picturing the worst that could happen to us.

Every piece of criticism is an opportunity for new work. ::You can’t control what sort of criticism you receive, but you can control how you react to it::.

If you spend your life avoiding vulnerability, you and your work will never truly connect with other people.

You want feedback from people who care about you and what you do.

Because, of course, the worst troll is the one that lives in your head. It’s the voice that tells you you’re not good enough, that you suck, and that you’ll never amount to anything.

Throw opportunities their way.

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

::“The minute you stop wanting something you get it.”::

Using our body relaxes our mind, and when our mind gets relaxed, it opens up to having new thoughts.

Disconnect from anything and everything electronic.

You can’t be content with mastery; you have to push yourself to become a student again.

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