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Show Your Work by Austin Kleon Summary

“Show Your Work!” is a guidebook for artists, creators, and anyone involved in creative work. 

Kleon argues that sharing your work-in-progress, not just polished final products, is essential for building an audience and making meaningful connections. He encourages being generous with your ideas, embracing the ‘scenius’ (collaborative creativity), and documenting your process. The book emphasizes finding your voice through sharing, learning from others, and overcoming the fear of putting yourself out there in the digital age.

Summary

The book acts as a roadmap for creatives navigating the complexities of visibility and community building in an ever-evolving digital landscape. 

Here’s a deeper dive into its key concepts:

The Importance of Process over Product

Kleon’s central premise challenges the conventional wisdom of presenting only finished, polished works. 

He advocates for embracing vulnerability by sharing various stages of your creative process. Documenting your journey—the struggles, the wins, the sources of inspiration—not only offers valuable insights to your audience but also invites them to participate and engage more fully.

You Don’t Have to Be a Genius

“Show Your Work!” aims to dismantle the myth of the solitary genius. 

Instead, Kleon celebrates the concept of “scenius”—the idea that great ideas emerge from a network of interconnected individuals. Sharing your work fosters collaboration, invites feedback, and opens avenues for unexpected connections and opportunities.

Think Process, Not Platform

Rather than obsessing over the latest social media trends, Kleon emphasizes a timeless philosophy: value lies in the consistency and genuineness of sharing your journey. 

Whether it’s through a traditional blog, a quirky email newsletter, or short-form videos, focus on documenting what excites you and building a space where your audience feels like participants, not just spectators.

Teach What You Know

Sharing your process invariably involves sharing your knowledge, skills, and expertise. 

Don’t hesitate to become a teacher – explaining techniques, offering tutorials, or simply demonstrating how you think and solve problems builds immense value for your audience while solidifying your own understanding.

The Vampire Test

Kleon introduces a clever analogy: avoid becoming a “vampire” who feeds off others’ work without contributing anything of substance in return. Engagement should be a two-way street. 

Connect with other creators, offer support, and be genuinely invested in the work of those who inspire you.

Find Your People

Sharing your work draws in like-minded individuals, fostering a sense of community and belonging. 

“Show Your Work!” urges you to actively seek out your “tribe” – the people who share your passions, values, and creative sensibility. Nurturing these connections is invaluable for inspiration, validation, and long-term growth.

Keep Going

The process of building an audience and finding your creative voice is a marathon, not a sprint. Consistency and perseverance are key. 

Don’t let setbacks derail you; keep documenting, sharing, and connecting. 

As Kleon puts it, “the only way to find your voice is to use it.

Key Lessons

The Power of “Work-in-Progress” Sharing

  • Lesson: Sharing unfinished work, sketches, behind-the-scenes glimpses, and even your struggles invites your audience into your creative journey. This fosters deeper engagement and breaks down the illusion of perfect, effortless creation.
  • Application:
    • Post early drafts or snippets of writing on a blog.
    • Share “progress shots” of artwork or design projects in development.
    • Livestream parts of your creative process, showcasing your methods.
    • Be open about challenges you face and how you navigate them.

2. Building Your “Scenius”

  • Lesson: Creativity thrives in communities, not in isolation. Embracing the collaborative nature of ideas and generously engaging with others is key to growth.
  • Application:
    • Network both online and in-person with creators you admire in your field.
    • Offer genuine support and commentary on others’ work, fostering a sense of reciprocity.
    • Look for opportunities to collaborate on projects, however small, to tap into collective wisdom.
    • Find mentors or be a mentor, actively sharing knowledge and experience.

3. Documenting as a Path of Discovery and Growth

  • Lesson: Documenting your work isn’t just about showcasing it – it becomes a tool for self-reflection, idea generation, and recognizing your own progress.
  • Application:
    • Maintain a creative journal, however messy, to track ideas and influences.
    • Blog regularly, even if it’s informal, to articulate your evolving thoughts on your work.
    • Create a digital portfolio or archive, allowing you to see the trajectory of your creative development.
    • Embrace tools like mind-maps or note-taking apps to visualize connections between your ideas.

4. Embracing the “Curator” Mindset

  • Lesson: It’s not just about the work you create, but also about the things that inspire you. By becoming a thoughtful curator of influences, ideas, and interesting finds, you share your unique perspective and create a valuable resource for your audience.
  • Application:
    • Create a “recommended reading” list related to your field.
    • Start a Pinterest board showcasing visual inspiration or examples of work you admire.
    • Share insightful articles or podcasts related to your niche, adding your own commentary.
    • Offer “tools I love” roundups detailing software, supplies, or resources you find useful.

5. Learning to Take Criticism Constructively

  • Lesson: Putting your work out there means opening yourself to feedback, both positive and negative. Cultivating a resilient attitude towards critique allows you to sift out valuable insights that can fuel improvement.
  • Application
    • Reframe critique as information, not a personal attack.
    • Ask clarifying questions when feedback is vague or overly negative.
    • Don’t be afraid to respectfully disagree with opinions that don’t align with your goals.
    • Develop a trusted circle of peers or mentors whose opinions you genuinely value for constructive feedback.
Show Your Work Summary

Final Thoughts

“Show Your Work!” unlocks a refreshingly attainable approach to finding your creative voice. Kleon’s philosophy celebrates the beauty of process, the power of connections, and the long game of sharing authentically. It’s a reminder that being a “finished” artist isn’t the goal. 

Instead, growth lies in being a perpetually curious, perpetually sharing work-in-progress.

If the fear of exposure or the pressure to be effortlessly brilliant has paralyzed you, this book is an antidote. 

It empowers you to embrace your ongoing-ness, find genuine connection with your audience, and create a fulfilling, community-driven practice – one step, one sketch, and one shared blog post at a time.

Sharing is Caring!

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