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Book: Show Your Work

Vikrant Duggal
Vikrant Duggal
• 20 min read

After reading Steal Like an Artist, I had to check out Show Your Work, and I've ordered the Steal Like an Artist Audio Trilogy. I noticed I highlighted more in Show Your Work than Steal Like an Artist.

While Steal Like an Artist felt like a daily companion book, Show Your Work felt more like a mindset-oriented book that I may come back to every few months.

My favorite quote

We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it. If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.

What I've changed my mind on
I can share at whatever frequency I want, maybe I'll share more! The Roger Ebert example was eye opening. I hadn't thought of the idea of knowing I could die tomorrow to be connected to sharing at a higher frequency.

What I liked most about the book

Where Steal Like an Artist connected to the tactical, I felt this one really complemented it well by focusing more on mindset.

What I liked least about the book

I wish there had been questions at the end (like exercises) to help build the mindset.

What I didn't agree with
Austin stated he was attempting to "create a kind of beginner’s manual for this way of operating, so here’s what I came up with: a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion."

I think the book requires some work for the interested reader. I see this more as a prelude to the manual. It's really a mindset book without any of the support to ingrain the mindset.

I've included over 120 highlights from my reading.

You can pick up Show Your Work here.


“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.” —John Cleese (Location 19)

You don’t really find an audience for your work; they find you. But it’s not enough to be good. In order to be found, you have to be findable. I think there’s an easy way of putting your work out there and making it discoverable while you’re focused on getting really good at what you do. (Location 24)

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. (Location 26)

Instead of wasting their time “networking,” they’re taking advantage of the network. 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. (Location 30)

I wanted to create a kind of beginner’s manual for this way of operating, so here’s what I came up with: a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. (Location 32)

Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog. (Location 37)

Imagine being a student and getting your first gig based on a school project you posted online. (Location 38)

Or imagine something simpler and just as satisfying: spending the majority of your time, energy, and attention practicing a craft, learning a trade, or running a business, while also allowing for the possibility that your work might attract a group of people who share your interests. All you have to do is show your work. (Location 40)

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.” —Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (Location 45)

If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “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.” (Location 55)

If we forget about genius and think more about how we can nurture and contribute to a scenius, we can adjust our own expectations and the expectations of the worlds we want to accept us. We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others. (Location 62)

“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.” —Charlie Chaplin (Location 71)

Because they have little to lose, amateurs are willing to try anything and share the results. They take chances, experiment, and follow their whims. Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries. “In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities,” said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. “In the expert’s mind, there are few.” (Location 74)

Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. (Location 77)

“The stupidest possible creative act is still a creative act,” writes Clay Shirky in his book Cognitive Surplus. “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. (Location 78)

Amateurs might lack formal training, but they’re all lifelong learners, and they make a point of learning in the open, so that others can learn from their failures and successes. (Location 82)

They’re just regular people who get obsessed by something and spend a ton of time thinking out loud about it. (Location 85)

The world is changing at such a rapid rate that it’s turning us all into amateurs. (Location 91)

Even for professionals, the best way to flourish is to retain an amateur’s spirit and embrace uncertainty and the unknown. (Location 92)

When Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke was asked what he thought his greatest strength was, he answered, “That I don’t know what I’m doing.” Like one of his heroes, Tom Waits, whenever Yorke feels like his songwriting is getting too comfortable or stale, he’ll pick up an instrument he doesn’t know how to play and try to write with it. (Location 93)

“Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.” — Dan Harmon (Location 103)

Blogging became his primary way of communicating with the world. “On the web, my real voice finds expression,” he wrote. (Location 114)

Ebert knew his time on this planet was short, and he wanted to share everything he could in the time he had left. “Mr. Ebert writes as if it were a matter of life and death,” wrote journalist Janet Maslin, “because it is.” Ebert was blogging because he had to blog—because it was a matter of being heard, or not being heard. A matter of existing or not existing. (Location 116)

It sounds a little extreme, but in this day and age, if your work isn’t online, it doesn’t exist. (Location 119)

We all have the opportunity to use our voices, to have our say, but so many of us are wasting it. If you want people to know about what you do and the things you care about, you have to share. (Location 119)

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.” —Steve Jobs (Location 122)

If all this sounds scary or like a lot of work, consider this: 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. (Location 126)

And I thought, if you could walk around like that all the time, to really have that awareness that it’s actually going to end. That’s the trick.” (Location 137)

It’s for this reason that I read the obituaries every morning. 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. (Location 141)

Try it: Start reading the obituaries every morning. Take inspiration from the people who muddled through life before you—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. (Location 145)

“A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome.” —Michael Jackson (Location 150)

But today, by taking advantage of the Internet and social media, an artist can share whatever she wants, whenever she wants, at almost no cost. (Location 163)

But human beings are interested in other human beings and what other human beings do. “People really do want to see how the sausage gets made.” (Location 171)

That’s how designers Dan Provost and Tom Gerhardt put it in their book on entrepreneurship, It Will Be Exhilarating. “By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.” Audiences not only want to stumble across great work, but they, too, long to be creative and part of the creative process. (Location 172)

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen—really seen.” —Brené Brown (Location 177)

But 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. (Location 190)

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. (Location 191)

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. (Location 193)

“No one is going to give a damn about your résumé; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers.” (Location 196)

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. This isn’t about making art, it’s about simply keeping track of what’s going on around you. Take advantage of all the cheap, easy tools at your disposal—these days, most of us carry a fully functional multimedia studio around in our smartphones. (Location 197)

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. (Location 201)

“Put yourself, and your work, out there every day, and you’ll start meeting some amazing people.” —Bobby Solomon (Location 205)

Focus on days. (Location 209)

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. (Location 211)

Where you are in your process will determine what that piece is. (Location 212)

If you’re in the very early stages, share your influences and what’s inspiring you. (Location 213)

If you’re in the middle of executing a project, write about your methods or share works in progress. (Location 213)

If you’ve just completed a project, show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned. (Location 214)

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. (Location 215)

A daily dispatch is even better than a résumé or a portfolio, because it shows what we’re working on right now. (Location 217)

When the artist Ze Frank was interviewing job candidates, he complained, “When I ask them to show me work, they show me things from school, or from another job, but I’m more interested in what they did last weekend.” (Location 218)

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. (Location 221)

Don’t be afraid to be an early adopter—jump on a new platform and see if there’s something interesting you can do with it. If you can’t find a good use for a platform, feel free to abandon it. (Location 227)

A lot of social media is just about typing into boxes. What you type into the box often depends on the prompt. Facebook asks you to indulge yourself, with questions like “How are you feeling?” or “What’s on your mind?” Twitter’s is hardly better: “What’s happening?” I like the tagline at “What are you working on?” Stick to that question and you’ll be good. Don’t show your lunch or your latte; show your work. (Location 231)

Science fiction writer Theodore Sturgeon once said that 90 percent of… (Location 235)

That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and… (Location 236)

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.” You find time the same… (Location 238)

You might have to miss an episode of your favorite TV show, you might have to miss an hour of sleep, but you can… (Location 241)

Of course, don’t let sharing your work take precedence over actually doing your work. If you’re having a hard time balancing the two, just set a timer for 30 minutes. Once the timer goes off,… (Location 243)

“One day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy: It requires incredible support and… (Location 245)

“Make no mistake: This is not your diary. You are not letting it all hang out. You are picking and choosing… (Location 248)

Ideally, you want the work you post online to be copied and spread to every corner of the Internet, so don’t post things online that you’re not… (Location 251)

Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share absolutely everything. There’s a big, big… (Location 254)

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… (Location 257)

Always be sure to run everything you share with others through… (Location 260)

Ask yourself, “Is this helpful? Is it entertaining? Is it something I’d be comfortable with my… (Location 262)

“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. 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. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans… (Location 267)

In my experience, your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and… (Location 272)

You have to flip back through old ideas to see what you’… (Location 275)

Once you make sharing part of your daily routine, you’ll notice themes and trends emerging in what you share. You’… (Location 275)

For example, a lot of the ideas in this book started out as tweets, which then became blog posts, which then became book chapters.… (Location 278)

“Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments… (Location 280)

nothing beats owning your own space online, a place that you control, a place that no one can take away from you, a world… (Location 283)

My blog has been my sketchbook, my studio, my gallery, my… (Location 288)

Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I… (Location 289)

Over the years, you will be tempted to abandon it for the newest, shiniest social network. Don’t give in. Don’t let it fall into neglect. Think about it in the long term. Stick with it, maintain it, and let it change with you over time. (Location 297)

If you happened to be wealthy and educated and alive in 16th- and 17th-century Europe, it was fashionable to have a Wunderkammern, a “wonder chamber,” or a “cabinet of curiosities” in your house—a room filled with rare and remarkable objects that served as a kind of external display of your thirst for knowledge of the world. (Location 309)

We all have our own treasured collections. (Location 314)

There’s not as big of a difference between collecting and creating as you might think. (Location 319)

“I’m basically a curator,” says the writer and former bookseller Jonathan Lethem. “Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.” (Location 321)

“All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste,” says public radio personality Ira Glass. “But there is this gap. 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. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer.” Before we’re ready to take the leap of sharing our own work with the world, we can share our tastes in the work of others. (Location 323)

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? What’s inside your scrapbook? What do you pin to the corkboard above your desk? What do you stick on your refrigerator? 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? (Location 327)

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f---ing like something, like it.” —Dave Grohl (Location 335)

When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. (Location 351)

Another form of attribution that we often neglect is where we found the work that we’re sharing. It’s always good practice to give a shout-out to the people who’ve helped you stumble onto good work and also leave a bread-crumb trail that people you’re sharing with can follow back to the sources of your inspiration. (Location 365)

Online, the most important form of attribution is a hyperlink pointing back to the website of the creator of the work. (Location 370)

Close your eyes and imagine you’re a wealthy collector who’s just entered a gallery in an art museum. On the wall facing you there are two gigantic canvases, each more than 10 feet tall. Both paintings depict a harbor at sunset. From across the room, they look identical: the same ships, the same reflections on the water, the same sun at the same stage of setting. You go in for a closer look. You can’t find a label or a museum tag anywhere. You become obsessed with the paintings, which you nickname Painting A and Painting B. You spend an hour going back and forth from canvas to canvas, comparing brushstrokes. You can’t detect a single difference. (Location 377)

In their book, Significant Objects, Joshua Glenn and Rob Walker recount an experiment in which they set out to test this hypothesis: “Stories are such a powerful driver of emotional value that their effect on any given object’s subjective value can actually be measured objectively.” First, they went out to thrift stores, flea markets, and yard sales and bought a bunch of “insignificant” objects for an average of $1.25 an object. Then, they hired a bunch of writers, both famous and not-so-famous, to invent a story “that attributed significance” to each object. Finally, they listed each object on eBay, using the invented stories as the object’s description, and whatever they had originally paid for the object as the auction’s starting price. By the end of the experiment, they had sold $128.74 worth of trinkets for $3,612.51. (Location 390)

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. (Location 407)

“‘The cat sat on a mat’ is not a story. ‘The cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is a story.” —John le Carré (Location 409)

The most important part of a story is its structure. A good story structure is tidy, sturdy, and logical. Unfortunately, most of life is messy, uncertain, and illogical. (Location 413)

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, _____.” (Location 418)

Philosopher Aristotle said a story had a beginning, a middle, and an end. Author John Gardner said the basic plot of nearly all stories is this: “A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives at a win, lose, or draw.” (Location 421)

I like Gardner’s plot formula because it’s also the shape of most creative work: You get a great idea, you go through the hard work of executing the idea, and then you release the idea out into the world, coming to a win, lose, or draw. (Location 423)

There’s the initial problem, the work done to solve the problem, and the solution. (Location 426)

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: (Location 430)

The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future. The first act is where you’ve been—what you want, how you came to want it, and what you’ve done so far to get it. The second act is where you are now in your work and how you’ve worked hard and used up most of your resources. The third act is 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. (Location 431)

Whether you’re telling a finished or unfinished story, always keep your audience in mind. (Location 436)

Speak to them directly in plain language. Value their time. Be brief. Learn to speak. Learn to write. Use spell-check. You’re never “keeping it real” with your lack of proofreading and punctuation, you’re keeping it unintelligible. (Location 437)

Your stories will get better the more you tell them. (Location 440)

All the same principles apply when you start writing your bio. Bios are not the place to practice your creativity. We all like to think we’re more complex than a two-sentence explanation, but a two-sentence explanation is usually what the world wants from us. Keep it short and sweet. (Location 461)

“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” —Annie Dillard (Location 470)

When I got to talk to Aaron and his wife, Stacy, during a break in filming, they explained that the technique of barbecue is actually very simple, but it takes years and years to master. There’s an intuition that you only gain through the repetition of practice. Aaron told me that he trains all his employees the same way, but when he cuts into a brisket, he can tell you exactly who did the smoking. (Location 482)

In their book, Rework, Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson encourage businesses to emulate chefs by out-teaching their competition. “What do you do? What are your ‘recipes’? What’s your ‘cookbook’? What can you tell the world about how you operate that’s informative, educational, and promotional?” They encourage businesses to figure out the equivalent of their own cooking show. (Location 492)

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? (Location 495)

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.” (Location 497)

Author Christopher Hitchens said that the great thing about putting out a book is that “it brings you into contact with people whose opinions you should have canvassed before you ever pressed pen to paper. They write to you. They telephone you. They come to your bookstore events and give you things to read that you should have read already.” He said that having his work out in the world was “a free education that goes on for a lifetime.” (Location 503)

As every writer knows, if you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first. (Location 511)

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. (Location 532)

The writer Blake Butler calls this being an open node. If you want to get, you have to give. If you want to be noticed, you have to notice. Shut up and listen once in a while. Be thoughtful. Be considerate. Don’t turn into human spam. Be an open node. (Location 534)

“What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about. This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs.” —Jeffrey Zeldman (Location 537)

This seems like a really mean thing to say, unless you think of the word interesting the way writer Lawrence Weschler does: For him, to be “interest-ing” is to be curious and attentive, and to practice “the continual projection of interest.” To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. (Location 543)

It is actually true that life is all about “who you know.” But who you know is largely dependent on who you are and what you do, and the people you know can’t do anything for you if you’re not doing good work. “Connections don’t mean shit,” says record producer Steve Albini. “I’ve never had any connections that weren’t a natural outgrowth of doing things I was doing anyway.” 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.” (Location 546)

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. (Location 551)

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.” —Derek Sivers (Location 555)

Brancusi practiced what I call The Vampire Test. It’s a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life. (Location 563)

“Part of the act of creating is in discovering your own kind. They are everywhere. But don’t look for them in the wrong places.” —Henry Miller (Location 568)

As you put yourself and your work out there, you will run into your fellow knuckleballers. These are your real peers—the people who share your obsessions, the people who share a similar mission to your own, the people with whom you share a mutual respect. There will only be a handful or so of them, but they’re so, so important. Do what you can to nurture your relationships with these people. Sing their praises to the universe. Invite them to collaborate. Show them work before you show anybody else. Call them on the phone and share your secrets. Keep them as close as you can. (Location 579)

“It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others.” —Susan Sontag (Location 584)

Here’s how to take punches: (Location 609)

Relax and breathe. (Location 610)

Strengthen your neck. The way to be able to take a punch is to practice (Location 613)

Roll with the punches. (Location 616)

Protect your vulnerable areas. (Location 619)

Keep your balance. (Location 622)

“The trick is not caring what EVERYBODY thinks of you and just caring about what the RIGHT people think of you.” —Brian Michael Bendis (Location 624)

“I’d love to sell out completely. It’s just that nobody has been willing to buy.” —John Waters (Location 662)

The musician Amanda Palmer has had wild success turning her audience into patrons: After showing her work, sharing her music freely, and cultivating relationships with her fans, she asked for $100,000 from them to help record her next album. They gave her more than a million dollars. (Location 670)

There are certainly some strings attached to crowdfunding—when people become patrons, they feel, not altogether wrongly, that they should have some say in how their money is being used. It’s partly for this reason that my business model is still pretty old-fashioned: I make something and sell it for money. Instead of having a donate now button on my website, I have buy now and hire me buttons. But even though I operate more like a traditional salesman, I do use some of the same tactics as crowdfunders: I try to be open about my process, connect with my audience, and ask them to support me by buying the things I’m selling. (Location 672)