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10 Enlightening Quotes from ‘Steal Like An Artist’ by Austin Kleon

Creatives tend to work in solitude; therefore it's important that they have a few ways to get "a little boost" on the days we may feel a lack of motivation or question the path I'm on and my abilities and so on. I recently re-read the book, 'Steal Like An Artist' (2014) by Austin Kleon and I got a lot of value from the 10 brief chapters. I am reminded that there is no such thing as a true original idea; creatives learn to remix and over time develop their own styles. This book is about taking other ideas and making them your own or finding a unique pathway to present them. This means there is risk involved and mistakes will be made; it will take failures to produce the prize. I have handpicked 10 quotes that I will share and briefly discuss today.

Before I share the 10 quotes or concepts that really stood out to me; let me present you with the table of contents; here are the 10 Chapters from 'Steal Like An Artist,' by Austin Kleon

1. On page 14, the author states, "Your job is to collect good ideas.” As someone embarks on the journey of acquiring a new skill, particularly as a beginner, the emphasis is on absorbing the classics, the noteworthy content. In the initial stages, when a person may not have an abundance of their own work to share online, it's a beneficial practice to share favorite ideas, items, books, movies, and more. This allows individuals to showcase their refined taste in art, music, or movies, gradually integrating their original work over time.

2. Moving to page 81, the statement "Bob Ross taught people how to paint. He gave his secrets away” is highlighted. The author confesses to having harbored the belief for most of their life that keeping a good idea secret was essential to prevent others from taking it and profiting. However, the author suggests the opposite approach: openly sharing not only your best ideas but also your process and even mistakes. This recommendation may seem counterintuitive, especially as adults often dislike public failure. The paradox explored in the book is that improvement requires embracing failure and learning by doing. The author, having once adhered to a mindset of showcasing only their very best artwork while concealing sketches and failed experiments, notes the shift in perspective emphasized in the subsequent book, 'Show Your Work!' (2014), published two years after 'Steal Like An Artist.' (2012).

3. On page 30, the phrase "Pretend to be making something until you actually make something” resonates with me. Currently, I am embodying this concept by pretending to be a writer, a role I aspire to fully embrace. I wholeheartedly connect with the author's suggestion to pretend until it transforms into reality, akin to the popular saying 'fake it 'til you make it.' In fact, I've gone so far as to rename my file to 'Pretend Projects.'
The idea of pretending to create projects has remarkably liberated my mind. It prompted me to contemplate developing a short story graphic novel featuring eccentric characters enacting existential scenarios. While the realization of this project remains uncertain, the essence lies in the generation of new ideas. This experience underscores the significant roles that visualization and imagination play not only in creativity but also in the realm of spirituality.

4. On page 42, the phrase "Write the book you want to read” encapsulates a mindset that strongly resonates with me. Confronted with the challenge of choosing among various ideas, each appealing in its own right, I find myself in a similar dilemma to a child in a toy store—spoiled for choice. This dilemma often leads to analysis paralysis, heightened by the information overload of the current age. However, adopting the mindset of writing a book for myself, even if the topic is obscure or unconventional, helps overcome this barrier.

This quote also serves as a reminder that there is no impediment preventing me from penning the book I wish to read. It encourages a focus on personal interest and the freedom to explore unique and niche subjects without external constraints. This short quote also reminds me that there is no one and nothing stopping me from writing the book I want to read! 

5. On page 108, the directive "Write Fan Letters” introduces a genius writing exercise embedded with a built-in safety feature. The premise is straightforward: compose a letter to someone you admire—be it a hero, favorite author, songwriter, or content creator. I've found myself typing up lengthy emails at times, only to save them without sending. In a way, this mirrors the empty chair technique in psychology (as a licensed therapist, I'm familiar with this), where I engage in a conversation with Austin Kleon as if he were sitting in an empty chair, tapping into our imaginative faculties.

This exercise often unveils surprising phrases and ideas. It's akin to the phenomenon where offering solutions to others seems easier than applying the same advice to oneself. By writing a fan letter filled with praise and examples of problem-solving, I generate a reservoir of positive energy and solutions—things that have worked out. The safety feature lies in the fact that there's no obligation to send these letters. As I embark on this fan letter journey, my hope is to gain clarity and feedback about myself.

The book also suggests selecting the top three heroes and delving deep into their lives, struggles, and accomplishments. For me, this exploration begins with three notable figures: Albert Einstein, Carl Jung, and Miles Davis.

6. On page 113, the advice to "Keep a Praise File” is introduced, where the author suggests maintaining a repository of old letters or emails expressing gratitude or compliments regarding your work. This particular concept became the focus of my recent blog post (). Initially, I hadn't considered the idea, perhaps due to a potential hesitation in my ego, thinking it might come across as self-centered. However, upon reflection, I recognized that earning compliments is a form of validation and deserves acknowledgment.

It's a common human tendency to remember criticisms more vividly than compliments. While my praise file is currently modest, I've started taking screenshots of uplifting text from chats or emails, with the intention of expanding it over time. This evolving repository could potentially include pictures and even videos in the future.

7. On page 60, the author introduces the idea of having "two desks ... analog and digital.” Interestingly, I was already implementing this concept before reading the book, but the author's insight provides valuable reinforcement. The advice centers around maintaining momentum by recognizing when fatigue or staleness sets in and strategically switching between modes.

The author suggests transitioning from digital to analog, utilizing tools like notes, index cards, a creative journal, and physical books. This resonates with my practice of alternating between my laptop and a standing desk situated nearby throughout the day. Both digital and analog modes have their respective pros and cons, but the crucial takeaway is to ensure the continuous flow of the creative process and momentum.

8. On page 124, the author emphasizes the significance of routine, stating, "Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time.” Time management used to be a challenge for me until I experimented and discovered what works best. For many artists and writers, the struggle isn't with doing the work itself but rather with initiating tasks and avoiding distractions or falling into the trap of productive procrastination.

I've experimented with various approaches, such as timing myself for 90-minute work sessions followed by 15-minute breaks or creating a detailed daily schedule in 15-minute increments. However, I found that simplicity and flexibility work best for me. After tending to my morning tasks, I dive into work with the goal of entering the flow state during creative sessions. At times, I focus on working smart by exploring different ways to change up my workflow.

It's worth noting that I face the challenge of wanting to work incessantly, necessitating self-imposed limits to ensure I don't inadvertently skip essential breaks like lunch. When engrossed in creating art, my aim is to disconnect from the collective and temporarily pause real-world events, allowing me to immerse myself in my own little world—my ‘happy place.’

9. This concept resonates with my personal struggle of making creative decisions. Often, I find myself caught in a loop of weighing pros and cons, leading to decision paralysis. The intriguing examples of musicians adapting to physical limitations, such as the guitarist from Black Sabbath and Ravi Shankar, highlight the transformative power of constraints in fostering creativity.

Reflecting on my experience with a Tascam 4-track recorder, where I could only overdub over previously recorded tracks, I recognize the value of limitations. In contrast, a contemporary guitarist in a studio today has a plethora of options for effects. The idea of pretending to make a project, as seen in the success stories of Dr. Seuss and the movie Predator, demonstrates the effectiveness of imposing constraints. Dr. Seuss, challenged to write a successful book using a limited number of letters, created the timeless classic "Green Eggs and Ham." Similarly, the concept for the movie Predator originated as a joke about the next Rocky sequel involving a fight against an alien.

While there are various approaches to overcoming writer's block, this technique stands out for its simplicity and proven effectiveness.

10. The tenth quote on page 138: "Don't make excuses ... make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now” resonates strongly, emphasizing the empowering idea that you have the choice to work and improve at this very moment. While this concept is undeniably true, it's also acknowledged that putting it into practice is easier said than done.

I've personally adopted the practice of writing three pages by hand without interruption, which I refer to as my daily pages (similar to morning pages in The Artist’s Way). Over time, this routine has heightened my awareness of avoidance behaviors and prompted deeper exploration into the underlying reasons.

The temptation to embrace a perfectionist mindset often looms large. It's a common trap to delay starting a project until every conceivable condition is perfect—an alignment of planets that rarely occurs. I've found myself engaged in internal negotiations, fabricating excuses or reasons that seemingly justify avoidance.

This internal struggle can lead to what I term "productive procrastination." Engaging in smaller, seemingly necessary tasks like organizing art supplies or checking emails becomes a distraction, eroding momentum and, ultimately, allowing avoidance of the core creative tasks, whether it be making art or writing blog posts.

The call to action is clear: seize the moment, live your dream, and do the best you can today. This serves as a reminder to break free from the cycles of procrastination and perfectionism, encouraging immediate and meaningful action. So go for it, live your dream, do the best you can today with what you’ve got.

You don’t learn to walk by following rules. You learn by doing, and by falling over.” --Richard Branson 

Art by Brent Skillicorn


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