Steal Like An Artist

Steal Like An Artist – 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

by Austin Kleon


This is a smart book on being creative and productive. It’s a short read, packed with wisdom about the creative process. Here are some of my favourite bits. Chapter titles are in bold.


Steal Like An Artist

All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again (Andre Gide)

Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.

Chew on one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you build your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.

School is one thing. Education is another. The two don’t always overlap.

Google everything. I mean everything. Google your dreams, Google your problems. Don’t ask a question before you Google it. You’ll either find the answer or you’ll come up with a better question.

Carry a notebook and pen with you wherever you go. Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations.

Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like – a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. It can be digital or analogue – it doesn’t matter what form it takes, as long as it works. You can keep a scrapbook and cut and paste things into it, or you can just take pictures of things with your camera phone.


Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are To Get Started

You’re ready. Start making stuff.

Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day.

Nobody is born with a style or a voice. We don’t come out of the womb knowing who we are. In the beginning, we learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying.

If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original! (Gary Panter)

Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.

A wonderful flaw about human beings it that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That is how we evolve.

So: Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work.


Write The Book You Want To Read

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the book you want to read, build the products you want to use – do the work you want to see done.


Use Your Hands

The computer is really good for editing your ideas, and it’s really good for getting your ideas ready for publishing out into the world, but it’s not really good for generating ideas. There are too many opportunities to hit the delete key.


Side Projects And Hobbies Are Important

It’s the side projects that really take off.

It’s good to have a lot of projects going on at once so you can bounce between them.

Take time to be bored.

Don’t throw any of yourself away. If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life.

The thing is, you can cut off a couple of passions and only focus on one, but after a while, you’ll start to feel phantom limb pain.

Don’t worry about a grand scheme or unified vision for your work. Don’t worry about unity – what unifies your work is the fact that you made it.


The Secret: Do Good Work And Share It With People

Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. Use it.

Do good work and share it with people.

Step 1: Wonder at something. Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.

You should wonder at things nobody else is wondering about.

When you open up your process and invite people in, you learn.

You don’t have to share everything – in fact, sometimes it’s much better if you don’t. Show just a little bit of what you’re working on. If you’re worries about giving your secrets away, you can share your dots without connecting them.


Geography Is No Longer Our Master

I always carry a book, a pen and a notepad, and I always enjoy my solitude…

Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything. (Jonah Lehrer)

At some point, when you can do it, you have to leave home. You can always come back, but you have to leave at least once.

Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable. You need to spend some time in another land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.

You have to find a place that feeds you – creatively, socially, spiritually and literally.


Be Nice. (The World Is A Small Town)

Stand next to the talent. You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with.

If you ever find that you’re the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.

Ironically, really good work often appears to be effortless. People will say, “Why didn’t I think of that?” They won’t see the years of toil and sweat that went into it.

Not everybody will get it. People will misinterpret you and what you do….So get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored. The trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.

Keep a praise file….I put every nice email I get in a special folder.


Be Boring. (It’s The Only Way To Get Work Done.)

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. (Gustave Flaubert)

Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time. Inertia is the death of creativity. You have to stay in the groove.

Do the work every day, no matter what.

Amassing a body of work or building a career is a lot about the slow accumulation of little bits of effort over time.

Get a calendar. Fill the boxes. Don’t break the chain.


Creativity Is Subtraction

Choose what to leave out.

In this age of information abundance and overload, those who get ahead will be the folks who figure out what to leave out, so they can concentrate on what’s really important to them.

The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying.

The way to get over creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself.

The right constraints can lead to your very best work. Dr Seuss wrote The Cat in the Hat with only 236 different words, so his editor bet him that he couldn’t write a book with only 50 different words. Dr Seuss came back and won the bet with Green Eggs and Ham, one of the bestselling children’s books of all time.