Looking for Co-Conspirators

No matter how famous they get, the forward-thinking artists of today aren’t just looking for fans or passive consumers of their work, they looking for potential collaborators, or co-conspirators.

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, p. 126

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Be Interesting, Be Interested

Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you. Don’t waste your time reading articles about how to get more followers. Don’t waste time following people online just because you think it’ll get you somewhere. Don’t talk to people you don’t want to talk to, and don’t talk about stuff you don’t want to talk about.

If you want followers, be someone worth following. Donald Barthelme supposedly said to one of is students, ‘Have you tried making yourself a more interesting person?’ This seems like a really mean thing to say, unless you think of the word interesting the way writer Lawrence Weschler does: For him, to be ‘interest-ing’ is to be curious and attentive, and to practice ‘the continual projection of interest.’ To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested (pp. 129, 131).

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, pp. 129, 131

I also happen to be reading Barry Hannah’s book, Boomerang, right now. The foreword actually mentions that it was Hannah who made this comment to one of his students. Interestingly, Hannah grew up in the town I now live in, and I happened to have been in contact with Barthelme’s brother just this week. Small world.

If you want to be interesting, be interested. And not just in people like you. Be interested in people, and stuff, that you aren’t naturally interested in.

Give Credit

If you share the work of others, it’s your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit. Crediting work in our copy-and-paste age of reblogs and retweets can seem like a futile effort, but it’s worth it, and it’s the right thing to do. You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care…

…If you fail to properly attribute work that you share, you not only rob the person who made it, you rob all the people you’ve shared it with. Without attribution, they have no way to dig deeper into the work or find more of it…

Another form of attribution that we often neglect is where we found the work that we’re sharing. It’s always good practice to give a shout-out to the people who’ve helped you stumble onto good work and also leave a bread-crumb trail that people you’re sharing with can follow back to the sources of your inspiration (pp. 84-85).

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, pp. 84-85

This picks up on my post from yesterday. By giving attribution for an idea, you are allowing other people to go search out the source. It allows people to search what Kleon calls ‘family trees’ instead of just one person. If I quote somebody, you can search out that person and find out about them; if you like them you can find out who influenced them and keep digging deeper.

Remember that we are not called to spread our own fame and apply that to everything.

Share Your Influences, Spread Fame

Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do – sometimes even more than your own work.

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, p. 77

I appreciate people who share their influences. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been helped by a couple of people who simply took the time to make a recommended reading list. That’s why I put one on this blog. I once threw a book across the room because it kept quoting people but didn’t give references for the quotes. By giving credit to the people that influence you, you allow others not only to see what has shaped you, but to dig deeper and maybe be shaped themselves.

There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that I would give a reference for if I knew where it came from (I got it from John Piper). Lewis is talking about the author of the Canterbury Tales. He says, “Poets are, for Chaucer, not people who receive fame, but people who give it.”

We should want to bring fame to those who have helped us. Don’t take other people’s ideas and simply make them your own. That makes those ideas die with you. Tell people where you got the ideas so that they can visit the source and be helped when you’re not around.

When you’re at a party, tell people about what your reading. Tell them about the people who are helping you. This way you’re not talking about yourself, but you’re letting them get to know you nonetheless. Share it on social media. Kleon says, “Don’t show yourself, show your work.” Instead of posting a selfie, recommend a book. Brag about a book or an author instead of bragging about yourself. More on this to come…

More on this to come…

Amateurs

Kleon notes that the French word ‘amateur’ means ‘lover.’ He quotes Clay Shirky:

On the spectrum of creative work, the difference between the amateur and the good is vast. Mediocrity, however is still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something (pp. 15-16)

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, pp. 15-16

An amateur is a lover. That’s not a knock. More professionals need to be amateurs. Love something.

Scenius

There are a lot of destructive myths about creativity, but one of the most dangerous is the ‘lone genius’ myth…There is a healthier way of thinking about creativity that musician Brian Eno refers to as ‘scenius.’ Under this model, great ideas are often birthed by a group of creative individuals – artists, curators, thinkers, theorists, and other tastemakers – who make up an ‘ecology of talent.’ If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of ‘a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at teaching other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas, and contributing ideas.’ Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals; it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, pp. 9, 11

To be a part of a ‘scenius’ you have to recognize what is happening in your field and be a part of the give and take. You then have to figure out what is lacking in what is happening and see if you can contribute to fill in that gap.

You might replace the idea of scene with ‘movement.’ Folks are fond, especially within Christianity these days, of calling things movements, though I’m not really a fan of that term. The idea is to figure out the big movements, take what you can from them, and contribute what you can based on what you’ve seen to be lacking.

If your a writer or artist or even preacher, do you have a scene? Are you a part of something? Biblical theology is a major scene at the moment. Have you looked at that scene hard enough to see what’s lacking? Everyone recognizes the need for narrative-makers. What’s lacking in that? How can you take other people’s ideas and contribute what’s lacking?

The idea is that you may not, and don’t have to be, a genius. But you can be part of a scenius. You can make a big contribution if you can read the times we live in and contribute something that is needed. And you don’t have to do it alone. If there is an ‘ecology of talent,’ then adding one little thing to it can change the environment, just as adding frogs to a frogless habitat can change the environment. What can you add?

Blogging Through ‘Show your Work’

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-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work

I have a lot of posts sitting in my drafts to get through before the end of the month (I hope). I have to try to do some blogging as the next few months will be frantic with work, my last semester at RTS (staring Feb. 1), seeking a church-call, graduation, etc.

I have been reading a lot of short stories (of the minimalist variety) and a lot of essays and interviews about writing. I need to write about those. But at the moment I am going to start posting some select quotes from, and thoughts about, Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

I found this book to be extremely helpful. It scratches a major itch I’ve had for a while: how do you share what you’re doing without being a self-promoter? That’s a major question for any Christian, but especially for a preacher, and a preacher who really likes to write at that.

I have barely begun applying the ideas of the book, but writing through them will be a part of the process. If you’d like an idea of what the book is about, you can watch a talk the author gave HERE.