Posted in [writer resources]

[Resource Review] “Steal Like an Artist” by Austin Kleon

Full Title: Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative
Author: Austin Kleon
Published: February 2012 by Workman Publishing
Genres: Nonfiction, Arts & Photography, Art Therapy, Study & Teaching
Edition Details: 160 pages, trade paperback
Source: {Purchased – Used}
Rating: {3.5/5 stars}

First Glance

I ran across this book in the thrift store, tucked between old textbooks and random nonfiction. I didn’t have to read more than a couple of points from the back cover before I decided to purchase it. Why? Because the back cover is a numbered list, and #3 says “Write the book you want to read.” (That’s my favorite piece of writing advice.)

Positive Bits

This book is a ridiculously quick read. I finished it all in one lunch break (less than an hour), and I didn’t skip or skim anything. The artsy visuals throughout really make the ideas presented in the text quick and easy to conceptualize.

There were so many good nuggets of information! One of the best things about Kleon’s tips is that they were applicable to any kind of creative effort. While I enjoy a good writer’s guide, I like to think that creativity isn’t so narrowly focused that we have to read ONLY writer’s books or ONLY photography blogs. Creativity’s core focus is to create. Anyone who embraces that idea is alright with me.

Kleon had many functional ideas that fit with habits I already have. For example, he tells you to collect books even if you don’t intend to read them immediately. I’m a proud bookdragon, and my hoard is wonderous! He also reminds us to collect praise as much as we collect critiques, because there will always come a time when you need a reminder about why you write in the first place. My own “praise file” includes messages from a boy and his mom, asking to use one of my poems for a presentation in school. It still makes me smile!

Less Enjoyable Bits

There’s an entire section that speaks against the use of computers (or digital creativity methods in general). As a digital native, my creativity is enhanced by using electronics. I can type faster than I can handwrite! One valid point was that the temptation to delete the things you create and hate is too great (oh god, like that rhyme!) when all it takes is a click. But it only took a week or so of actively practicing the habit of NOT deleting anything I wrote to remove that temptation from my writing habits. [link to blog post about this here]

Kleon also talks about the disconnect an artist feels from things created on a glass screen… but I don’t experience that problem. Sure, I love a good printout of my newest story or poetry collection, but I can still sit in awe of a digitized piece with a wordcount beyond my starting goals. I guess I just take issue with anyone who disses the digital and insists that “old school” or “hands on” is the ONLY way to art. If you browse the photomanipulation section of a site like deviantART [link?], you’ll see why that attitude needs to head out the door. Digital is just a new medium, that’s all.

In a weird way, this book was almost too short. There’s a second book called “Show Your Work” [get full title details] that sounds interesting, but I think they could’ve easily been one book instead of two. Then again, I could be wrong and the information could be incompatible. I haven’t read the other book, so I can only go by the description.

Tidbits Worth Repeating

(1) Steal like an artist.
(2) Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.
(3) Write the book you want to read.
(4) Use your hands.
(5) Side projects and hobbies are important.
(6) The Secret: Do good work and share it with people.
(7) Geography is no longer our master.
(8) Be nice. (The world is a small town.)
(9) Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)
(10) Creativity is subtraction.
{back cover}

We make art because we like art. We’re drawn to certain kinds of work because we’re inspired by people doing that work. All fiction, in fact, is fan fiction. The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best – write the story you want to read. {page 47}

Remember “garbage in, garbage out”? You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online – the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work. Pay attention to what they’re talking about, what they’re doing, what they’re linking to. {pages 102-104}

Is it worth the coin?

Maybe – but I think it’s too shallow on the topic of creativity to be worth the published price.


bookdragon, poet, witch

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