Show Your Work!

Website as Sandbox

I started reading Show Your Work! by Austin Kleon this afternoon. I really liked his last book, Steal Like an Artist, and this one’s proving even more helpful to me.


It’s why I’m back on my blog today after neglecting it for a couple of months!

Here are the specific words that got me back here:

“Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of air as a self-invention machine. Online, you can become the person you really want to be. Stick with it, maintain it, and let it change with you over time.”


I love that: Website as sandbox.

Kleon’s basic point is that artists and entrepreneurs today have the opportunity, and possibly the responsibility, to show their work. The connections and feedback that we receive through the process of sharing can help guide and enrich our work.

Better, it can help artists and entrepreneurs forge connections with an audience of people who appreciate what they’re doing — before the “Big Break” hits.

Showing work is a literal expression of the concept of committing to process over product.

And boy, I’ve been needing a lot of reminders about that lately. Making art is at its core about connection. It’s not about Getting an Agent, or Getting Published, or Getting Acclaim. I’ve been focused on those things over the last two and half years, especially since getting my Creative Workforce Fellowship. “I’ve got to support myself as a writer! ASAP! By writing perfect books that are really successful!”

That thinking, unsurprisingly, caused me a lot of anxiety. (This is no fault of the Fellowship itself, I should note. It was my own psychology.)

The weird thing is, I’ve been wanting maintain a more active website for a while now. Something kept me from it, though. A feeling that blogs are frivolous, maybe, or that they inevitably become a burden. The “Ah, crap, I gotta blog again” syndrome.

To the first problem, Kleon presents a nice solution: The So-What Test. “Ask yourself,” he writes, “‘Is this helpful? Is it entertaining?'” If the answer is no or maybe not, axe the post or save it for editing.

For the second problem, I have a couple ideas of my own.

1. Scrapping the schedule. Whenever I’ve blogged in the past, I’ve put myself on a schedule. A lot of bloggers do this and have success — Chris Guillebeau, for one, whom I admire. Maybe I’ll get there at some point, but for me right now the idea of a schedule stresses me out. So at first, I’m just going to blog when I feel like it. (Maybe I’ll surprise myself and decide I want to post every day!)

2. Short posts are fine. I like words, and it’s easy for me to come up with a lot of them. I’d like to remind myself that short can be sweet, too. And time-saving for me and the reader.

3. Write about whatever-the-heck. I’ve often tried to confine myself to themes or topics in the past. There’s not much fluidity there. I want my website, instead, to be a place to explore. As Kleon writes, there’s no such thing as guilty pleasures. Someone else probably has them too, and will find them useful!

And now, in the spirit of my #2 resolution above, I’m out.

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