Show Your Work

Austin Kleon
Read Time
Solid star iconSolid star iconSolid star iconSolid star iconSolid star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star iconOpaque star icon
More Info
A short book full of inspiring advice on how to share your work online.

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

A New Way of Operating

Almost all of the people I look up to and try to steal from today, regardless of their profession, have built sharing into their routine.

They’re open about what they’re working on, and they’re consistently posting bits and pieces of their work, their ideas,

You Don't Have to Be a Genius

Find a Senius

There are a lot of destructive myths about creativity, but one of the most dangerous is the “lone genius” myth

Scenius — a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.

Good work isn’t created in a vacuum. Creativity is always a collaboration and the result of a mind connected to other minds.

We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.

Be An Amateur

Watching amateurs at work can also inspire us to attempt the work ourselves.

A trait of amateurs—they’ll use whatever tools they can get their hands on to try to get their ideas into the world.

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.

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

You Can't Find Your Voice If You Don't Use It

The only way to find your voice is to use it. It’s hardwired, built into 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.

Read Obituaries

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.

Obituaries are like near-death experiences for cowards. Reading them is a way for me to think about death while also keeping it at arm’s length.

They all started out as amateurs, and they got where they were going by making do with what they were given, and having the guts to put themselves out there. Follow their example.

Think Process Not Product

Take People Behind The Scenes

There’s “painting,” the noun, and there’s “painting,” the verb.

To you, and you alone, what matters is the process: the experience of shaping the artwork.

Become a Documentarian of What You Do

Whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art, if only you presented it to them in the right way.

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.
  • Shoot video of you working.

Share Something Small Everyday

Send Out a Daily Dispatch

If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress.

If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned. If you have lots of projects out into the world, you can report on how they’re doing—you can tell stories about how people are interacting with your work.

I like the tagline at “What are you working on?” Stick to that question and you’ll be good.

Don’t worry about everything you post being perfect. Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that 90 percent of everything is crap. The same is true of our own work. The trouble is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react.

The "So What?" Test

Don’t post things online that you’re not ready for everyone in the world to see.

The act of sharing is one of generosity—you’re putting something out there because you think it might be helpful or entertaining to someone on the other side of the screen.

Always be sure to run everything you share with others through The “So What?” Test. Don’t overthink it; just go with your gut. If you’re unsure about whether to share something, let it sit for 24 hours.

Ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my boss or my mother seeing?”

Turn Your Flow Into Stock

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets.

Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search.

The magic formula is to maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background.

In my experience, your stock is best made by collecting, organising, and expanding upon your flow.

You have to flip back through old ideas to see what you’ve been thinking.

When you detect these patterns, you can start gathering these bits and pieces and turn them into something bigger and more substantial.

Small things, over time, can get big.

Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities

Don't Be a Hoarder

All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste,”

  • Where do you get your inspiration?
  • What sorts of things do you fill your head with? What do you read?
  • Do you subscribe to anything?
  • What sites do you visit on the Internet?
  • What music do you listen to?
  • What movies do you see?
  • Do you look at art?
  • What do you collect?
  • Who’s done work that you admire?
  • Who do you steal ideas from?
  • Do you have any heroes?
  • Who do you follow online?
  • Who are the practitioners you look up to in your field?

No Guilty Pleasures

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

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.

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

Tell Good Stories

Work Doesn't Speak For Itself

When shown an object, or given a food, or shown a face, people’s assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it.

Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.

Our audience is a human one, and humans want to connect. Personal stories can make the complex more tangible, spark associations, and offer entry into things that might otherwise leave one cold.

Structure Is Everything

The most important part of a story is its structure. A good story structure is tidy, sturdy, and logical.

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, _____.”

Fortunately, there’s a way to tell open-ended stories, where we acknowledge that we’re smack-dab in the middle of a story, and we don’t know how it all ends.

Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fund-raising request—they’re all pitches. They’re stories with the endings chopped off.

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.

  • Act 1: where you’ve been—what you want, how you came to want it, and what you’ve done so far to get it.
  • Act 2:  where you are now in your work and how you’ve worked hard and used up most of your resources.
  • Act 3: where you’re going, and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there.

Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this story shape effectively turns your listener into the hero who gets to decide how it ends.

Teach What You Know

Share Your Secrets

Think about what you can share from your process that would inform the people you’re trying to reach. Have you learned a craft? What are your techniques? Are you skilled at using certain tools and materials? What kind of knowledge comes along with your job?

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. Use pictures, words, and video. Take people step-by-step through part of your process. As blogger Kathy Sierra says, “Make people better at something they want to be better at.”

Don't Turn Into Human Spam

Shut Up And Listen

If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.

I call these people human spam. They’re everywhere, and they exist in every profession. They don’t want to pay their dues, they want their piece right here, right now.

You should feel pity for these people and their delusions. At some point, they didn’t get the memo that the world owes none of us anything.

If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong. You have to be a connector.

You Want Hearts Not Eyeballs

To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.

Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.

The Vampire Test

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.” — Derek Sivers

The Vampire Test: a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life.

If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire.

If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.

Learn to Take A Punch

Let 'Em Take Their Best Shot

When you put your work out into the world, you have to be ready for the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more people come across your work, the more criticism you’ll face.

No one has ever died from a bad review.

Strengthen your neck. The way to be able to take a punch is to practice getting hit a lot. Put out a lot of work.

Roll with the punches. Keep moving. 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.

Protect your vulnerable areas.

Keep your balance.

Don't Feed The Trolls

A troll is a person who isn’t interested in improving your work, only provoking you with hateful, aggressive, or upsetting talk.


Keep A Mailing List

You should always be collecting email addresses from people who come across your work and want to stay in touch.

Write a little bit of copy to encourage people to sign up. Be clear about what they can expect, whether you’ll be sending daily, monthly, or infrequent updates. Never ever

Make More Work For Yourself

What really matters is doing good work and taking advantage of every opportunity that comes your way.

Yet a life of creativity is all about change—moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers.

Stick Around

Don't Quit Your Show

The people who get what they’re after are very often the ones who just stick around long enough. It’s very important not to quit prematurely.

Chain Smoke

If you look to artists who’ve managed to achieve lifelong careers, you detect the same pattern: They all have been able to persevere, regardless of success or failure.

Here’s how you do it: Instead of taking a break in between projects, waiting for feedback, and worrying about what’s next, use the end of one project to light up the next one.

“The minute you stop wanting something you get it.” — Andy Warhol

Start Over. Begin Again.

When you feel like you’ve learned whatever there is to learn from what you’re doing, it’s time to change course and find something new to learn so that you can move forward.

So don’t think of it as starting over. Think of it as beginning again. Go back to chapter one and become an amateur. Look for something new to learn, and when you find it, dedicate yourself to learning it out in the open.

Document your progress and share as you go so that others can learn along with you.

Image credits: Show Your Work by Austin Kleon