Austin Kleon is one of the most intriguing personalities on the internet. He’s that funky bearded guy living in Austin (coincidentally) who makes poems using a black sharpie and unused newspapers by redacting newspaper articles. His two books are massively devoured by many aspiring creators: Steal Like an Artist (Public Library)–his manifesto on the notion that creativity is a product of smart juxtaposition of everything circulating our lives and Show Your Work (Public Library)–a book that he wrote for “people who hate the very idea of self-promotion.” When Kleon shares what he knows about the world of creativity through those books, he doesn’t speak from a place of expertise, but from a place of wild curiosity as a lover of arts. His raw enthusiasm is positively contagious.
Alongside of his three published books, Kleon has a Blog which functions “as a portfolio, with new art, events, etc.” and his Tumblr which is “a scrapbook of other people’s stuff. But it’s also a notebook, and a place where I go to form ideas and sort of research in public.” Somewhere he said, “When you’re a writer in college, you have the ultimate luxury: a captive audience. Your teachers get paid to read your writing and your classmates pay to read your writing. And then, suddenly, you get out of college, and nobody gives a crap anymore. So you start a blog!”
On his Tumblr, Kleon has a forum that he calls “office hours”, a place in which his readers can ask him any question about his work and his life. Among many valuable advice that he generously offers to his readers, below, I have gathered some of my personal favorites straightly taken from his tumblr.
On designing an ideal education for students:
Q: If you were teaching a class to a group of college freshmen who are mostly environmental science and hospitality students, what advice would you give them?
A: I have the same advice for all students: Go into as little debt as possible, because that will give you more options when you graduate. Get the education you need for as cheap as you can get it. Spend as much time in the library as you can and read as much as you can. Soak it up.
On finding the drive to create:
Q: What advice can you give to someone who needs a bit of a push to pursue his purpose and not his ambitions?
A: One day you’ll be dead. Get to work.
Elsewhere on his tumblr, Kleon addresses an identical question about how he finds his drive to keep creating regardless of anything that happens in his life. He writes:
“I read the obituaries. Seriously. Knowing that I’ll be dead one day makes me want to get up and do something. They say having a near-death experience gives you a new lease on life (briefly), but I’m too cowardly and comfortable to tempt death or do any death-defying stunts, so reading the obituaries is enough for me.”
On humans’ creative delusion:
Q: Do you feel all people have an intrinsic creative ability and a real story to share or are we diluting ourselves in thinking this way since our journals have become public through the internet (blogs, Facebook, twitter, etc.) Any thoughts or should I google it?
A: The delusion is not that we’re all creative and we have something to share. The delusion is that we should expect anything in return–whether it be fame, fortune, sex, drugs, etc.
On how to resist the temptation to measure success using popular metrics such as Facebook likes or Twitter retweets:
Q: Do you monitor your likes, hearts, favs, retweets, etc? Do you or have you obsessively checked your stats? Does it hurt your feelings if something you love doesn’t get an overwhelming response? How can I stop doing these things?
A: Oh sure I do. Everybody does. But I do it like this: the best thing to do is click publish and walk away. Close the laptop and go back to work. In the morning, you can return, like a hunter checking his traps, to see if anybody has taken the bait.
You don’t have any control over what people think about your work. You can only put it out there. It seems like whenever I post something I really love, crickets chirp, and whatever I post something dumb or obvious to me, it gets a million likes (My favorite poems rarely get the most Instagram favs).
The work is yours when you’re making it, but it’s not yours anymore once it’s out in the world. Then it has a life of its own. The only solution is to set more traps! Make more stuff! See what spaghetti sticks to the wall, etc.
From more advice on how to lead a creative life, visit Kleon’s wonderfully curated tumblr and just type or click “#officehours”.