STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST 10 things nobody told you about being creative (Austin Kleon)


It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they’re really just talking to themselves in the past.

This book is me talking to a previous version of myself.

These are things I’ve learned over almost a decade of trying to figure out how to make art, but a funny thing happened when I started sharing them with others—I realized that they aren’t just for artists.  They’re for everyone.

These ideas apply to anyone who’s trying to inject some creativity into their life and their work.  (That should describe all of us.)

In other words:  This book is for you.

Whoever you are, whatever you make.

Let’s get started.

— STEAL LIKE AN ARTIST, 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative (Austin Kleon)


From the 10 secrets that Austin Kleon shared in the book, six are already familiar to me.  But they didn’t bore me, in fact, he reminded me again of things that I may have forgotten about how to put creativity into my work, even if my work is doing admin job.  And of these six that are familiar, Austin expounded on them, adding subtitles to the main title or topic which led me from one place to another, from something conventional to radical, from one familiar idea to a never-heard-before idea.  This book, I must say, is a mixed of comfort and surprise.

For example, in Secret no. 6, Austin shared that to be creative, you must “Do good work and share it with people.”  When I read that, I asked myself, what’s so secret about that?  Of course! But as I turned the page and saw these words typed in all capital letters “IN THE BEGINNING, OBSCURITY IS GOOD,” to further explain the main topic, I really paid attention. Here Austin shared:

“I get a lot of emails from young people who ask, “How do I get discovered?

“I sympathize with them.  There is a kind of fallout that happens when you leave college.  The classroom is a wonderful, if artificial, place:  Your professor gets paid to pay attention to your ideas, and your classmates are paying to pay attention to your ideas.  Never again in your life will you have such captive audience.

“Soon after, you learn that most of the world doesn’t really necessarily care about what you think.  It sounds harsh, but it’s true.  As the writer Steven Pressfield says, ‘It’s not that people are mean or cruel, they’re just busy.’

“This is actually a good thing, because you want attention only after you’re doing really good work.  There’s no pressure when you’re unknown.  You can do what you want.  Experiment.  Do things just for the fun of it.  When you’re unknown, there’s nothing to distract you from getting better.  No public image to manage.  No huge paycheck on the line.  No stockholders.  No emails from your agent.  No hangers-on.

“You’ll never get the freedom back again once people start paying you attention, and especially not once they start paying you money.

“Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts.  Use it.”

LOVE IT.  I love those words that he said.  Because I remember when I told a friend that I am a blogger, he asked if people are following my blogs.  I said, there are around five people, not that many really.  I also said that when I started blogging, that’s not my goal really, it’s not my goal to be “popular” online, even up to now.  I just wanted to have a venue for my love for writing, an emotional outlet, because even when I was young, before computers came to the Philippines, before the Internet, I would write down my thoughts and experiences in my journal.   And those journals from different periods of time are all gone now, I threw them away because my older brother liked to read them when I was not around.

Unlike a notebook journal where you are keeping things to yourself, in cyberspace (my online journal these past seven years which started in Friendster, then Multiply, and now, in WordPress), I still write about my thoughts and experiences for selfish reasons but this time, I am sharing it with people who would care enough to read them and learn from them. Because writing online is my way of letting it go – happiness, anger, frustration, longings, whatever!  And if one netizen happens to see my blog and he/she got inspired by it, enjoyed it, then I’m happy just thinking about it.  Writing online is also an act of bravery for me.  Because I know that I will be judged based on what I write.  Because I know that I am unknown, got no published books under my name, and I don’t have a college degree in English, Creative Writing, or Literature.  I only get my education on writing by reading books, magazines, and newspapers, listening to music and watching movies.  And the only words of wisdom that I always remind myself whenever I write is to be always true to myself.

And even if I never get to be known for my writing, I will continue to write.  One doesn’t need affirmation to continue what one loves doing.  If you believe that you’re very good in what you do – whether it’s singing, photography, organizing a party, hosting, dancing, cooking – then continue doing it.

A lesson I will never forget:  “Do not allow praises and criticisms get into your system.  Just let it slide.”  And I learned this from Francis Brew Reyes.  Because he sure does makes sense!  Because if you love what you do, continue doing it, share your talent, no matter what people say.  Continue improving yourself.  Because listening to praises could only make you arrogant, while listening to criticisms could only make you lose confidence, focus.  Again, DO NOT ALLOW PRAISES AND CRITICISMS GET INTO YOUR SYSTEM.  JUST LET IT SLIDE.  Now this is something that Austin should know too.

I’ve mentioned that six out of the ten secrets are already familiar to me and now only serve as reminders for me to guide me in whatever I do.  What about the other four that are, needless to say, brand new ideas to me coming from Austin?  Okay, here it goes:

Nobody told me this— WRITE WHAT YOU LIKE.

Austin explained: “The question every young writer at some point asks is:  ‘What should I write?’ And the standard answer is, ‘Write what you know.’  This advice always leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting happens.

“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.  The same principle applies to your life and your career:  Whenever you’re at a loss for what move to make next, just ask yourself, ‘What would make a better story?’

“The manifesto is this:  Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done.”

Wow.  All this time I’ve been guided by this conventional wisdom: “Write what you know.”  Jeez, thanks Austin, nobody told me that.

And here are another inspiring words from Austin to adult people everywhere who feel they are stuck in a boring job (and I feel I’m one of them).  Who believe that only creative people are the coolest people on earth because they’re “creating” something unlike us who just follow orders, do paperwork. Hey, don’t put yourself down.  Look at the bright side!  According to Austin, a boring job that pays decently, doesn’t make you want to vomit, and leaves you with enough energy to make things in your spare time is a good job.  So to sum it all up:


Austin said: “I’m a boring guy with a nine-to-five job who lives in a quiet neighborhood with his wife and his dog.  That whole romantic image of the creative genius doing drugs and running around and sleeping with everyone is played out.  It’s for the superhuman and the people who want to die young.  The thing is:  It takes a lot of energy to be creative.  You don’t have that energy if you waste it on other stuff.

“The truth is that even if you’re lucky enough to make a living off doing what you truly love, it will probably take you a while to get to that point.  Until then, you’ll need a day job.

“A day job gives you money, a connection to the world, and a routine.  Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art.  As photographer Bill Cunningham says, ‘If you don’t take money, they can’t tell you what to do.’

“The worst thing a day job does is to take time away from you, but it makes up for that by giving you a daily routine in which you can schedule a regular time for your creative pursuits.  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.  When you get out of the groove, you start to dread the work, because you know it’s going to suck for a while—it’s going to suck until you get back into the flow.”

Oh.  So that’s why.  Thanks Austin.  Because nobody told me that!


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