I’ve been struggling a lot to keep writing, to keep creating, to find the inspiration and the focus I need to do my job. A lot of it is related to my Depression, but there comes a point when the difference between being a professional and a hobbyist is actually doing the work, even — especially — when it’s hard.
So this weekend, Anne and I took the kids up to Santa Barbara to celebrate our birthdays (which are all in the next two weeks), and to get a change of scenery for a couple of days. It was a gorgeous trip, emotionally and spiritually, and while it didn’t give me the magic bullet to suddenly break through the struggle I’ve been having, I made a ton of progress, because I read a book that I took with me. Here’s my review that I posted to my Goodreads thingy:
Steal Like an Artist, by Austin Kleon, is essential reading for all artists.
It’s a quick read that you can finish in one sitting, but the ideas and advice it contains will stay with you long after you’ve put it down. Some of Austin’s suggestions will validate what you’re already doing, some will challenge you to fundamentally change a creative practice, others will inspire you to grab a notebook and get to work immediately.
Because it’s such a small and accessible book, you’ll want to go back to it from time to time. Just like Stephen King’s On Writing, as you change and grow as an artist, it reveals new ideas and inspirations to you that you may have missed on a previous read.
This is a fantastic addition to your library, and a wonderful gift for any creative person in your life.
I’ve been profoundly inspired by Austin’s book, because he reaffirmed things I’ve already been doing as an artist, but mostly because he gave me permission to think about the entire creative process differently.
For a long time, I have felt like a travel writer who never leaves the house, and Steal Like An Artist helped me find the door so I can get back on the road.
31 thoughts on “Steal Like an Artist”
Hey, I mentioned this book (and his next one, Share Your Work) in the comments on the previous post! I loooove both books! They’ve helped me get over Imposter Syndrome and I’m Just An Amateur Syndrome. And yes, I frequently go back to parts of both books to help remind me that I can create the art I want to create the way I want to create it.
It was your comment that made me pick up his book, Josh! So thank you for that!!
Thanks for the recommendation, will definitely check it out! I haven’t read On Writing in over ten years, so I think I will give that another read too.
What great timing. Here I sit struggling with the same problems with my writing as you are Wil and notification of your blog post pops up in my email. Guess what I just bought for my Kindle? Off to grab a nice cold drink and sit in my comfy chair for a bit. Thanks so much for sharing!
I love this book as well: simple yet profound. Thank you for the reminder to return to it for inspiration. Off topic but I wanted to be sure to leave this link somewhere on your blog in the off chance you haven’t seen it since your hiatus from Twiitter…thought of you immediately…this is an article from Atlas Obscura on how the choose-your-own-adventure stories were mapped out…have you thought about writing your own CYOA? I’d bet good money you’d come up with something awesome!
Perhaps you should write a book about depression someday
Happy birthday to all of you!
I really enjoy his work. I subscribe to his newsletter and it always has something thought provoking. Here is the link if anyone is interested. https://austinkleon.com/newsletter/
I second his newsletter. It’s a terrific resource for inspiration and technique.
waves pompoms I love it when creators I love find other creators I love! Austin is awesome (I’ve met him at a couple book events now) and his newsletter is like my weekly shot of do-something-do-anything-let-it-suck-just-DO. I LOVE both his books (and second everyone, especially Josh smiles) telling you to find Share Your Work. Keep both of them within reach of where you write or create the most often. It can be a life-saver. The red one that’s really good. Not the clear one that tastes like a sad pineapple. 🙂
The pineapple ones are definitely the sad trombone of Life-Savers. 🙂
And now I have a sound to associate with eating clear life-savers for the rest of time. Thank you, Josh. 🙂
My work here is done. exit, pursued by a bear
I LOVE that book. I’m a book cover designer and picked it up at Powell’s a couple of years ago. You’re right! It’s one of those things that I keep going back to when I need a little artistic fuel.
I guess I crossed a line. Fair enough.
Hmmmm, thanks for the recommendation. It sounds like it might still be a great source of inspiration and assurance. I’ll have to check it out. Happy birthday to all y’all. Now to go sign up for the newsletter!
Definitely good stuff. I taught it regularly to college art students when I was in grad school, starting from Austin’s original blog post that inspired the book. (That and Larry Lessig’s TED talks on copyright were a standard part of my curriculum.)
Would you recommend it for a book club read?
If you have a high percentage of artists, absolutely. It will spark a lot of conversation, for sure.
Good deal, thank you!
I’m not sure if this will help, but I thought I would put this out there. I have (at times really rubbish) anxiety and I use my creative practice manage that. But I also have ambitious ‘creative plans’ outside of that (like making a documentary from my kitchen table while working a full time job). Sometimes I find I just have to do the creative thing that feels good, (normally papercut and collage) that I can sink into and get involved and absorbed in the colours and the textures and not worry too much about the harder more ambitious stuff. So it does help me feel a bit better and less lethargic, but the unexpected side effect has been actually an opening up of a whole new way of thinking about some of those other projects, which, while left of field, feels more authentic to me. I’m not at all sure if that is helpful, I was wondering if anyone else had experienced similar.
I have a lot of story ideas in my head, but I often find writing fiction a difficult process and I get anxious about writing it in the first place. Writing poetry and making cut-ups (with my own writing and other people’s) that I tweak and rewrite are much easier creative activities for me and if I’m feeling blocked when it comes to writing fiction, I’ll do more poetry and cut-ups to keep up the writing and to soothe myself. It’s that the kind of thing you’re talking about?
Yes exactly that? I was meant to spend the day working on a documentary I am working on but I’ve been super tired this week (I have a relatively emotionally stressful job) and ended up tinkering with bits of paper all day. I think stepping into so part of your creative process that feels easier or better can be really helpful, really important,even if it’s not ‘the plan’ for the day. I do think it takes a bit of practice to give yourself permission to not feel rubbish about not following ‘the plan’. But we can get there with a few kind thoughts. 🙂
Not surprisingly, Austin Kleon posted a quote from Lynda Barry about this: https://austinkleon.com/2017/01/26/glue-one-thing-to-another/ 🙂
That’s perfect! It’s cutting hundreds of free form flowers from bits of paper in front of the telly for me. I have been circling round the Steal like an artist’ book for a while. Looks like I’ll have to read it now. 🙂
The Amazon Kindle version of Steal like an Artist is $1.81 right now. Austin Kleon also acknowledged Wil’s review in his weekly newsletter. I love synchronicity.
I got to meet him at a conference once and immediately stocked up on all of his books, including the journal.
Thanks for the recommendation. I adore King’s “On Writing” and will definitely check this out. Oh, and by the way – happy birthday!
Happy Wheaton Birthdays!
And thanks for the rec: I just added it to my Amazon wishlist! https://www.amazon.com/gp/registry/wishlist/3LMX7ENB3CWRG/ref=cm_wl_huc_view (not that anyone reading here is going to order it for me, but NOT asking is the same as a NO, right?)
I’m glad you’re finding your way out of your D, Wil. I think I may be skirting the edges of one?
Hey Wil, I’m struggling to find my place in the career path that I’ve chosen, and was deciding whether or not to add this book to my next Book Depository order. Your post made me decide it’s an immediate purchase. I look forward to reading it. Thank you!
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