Sunday, January 26, 2014

a good book.

I’ve become very frustrated with my writing lately. Well, the lack thereof to be more precise. I imagined having all this time to work on my book, living in a little bubble here with nothing else to distract me and coming home with a finished manuscript. But the reality is I’m just as lazy and come up with just as many excuses here as I do at home and I’ve not put in more than a couple of hours work on the book all told.

And then earlier this week I saw this book posted on Jessica Day George's Goodreads page. She’d praised it so highly I figured I’d give it a shot. It had a hold list on it but came up a lot faster than I’d expected and I was a little frustrated because I was already in the middle of two other library books. The problem with the Nook is you can’t keep them longer and pay a late fee or anything, they’re just sucked back into the ‘net when the due date comes and you’re out of luck. So I didn’t know if I’d get to it before the two week loan period was up. However, when I downloaded it I noticed it was only 43 pages and decided I’d glance through it…and proceeded to read nearly half of it in the first sitting. I’ve since read it straight through 3 times and skipped around re-reading favorite parts again and again.

It’s not that there’s anything really new in it, but it’s everything I needed to hear right now. Some parts are validation and encouragement while others are a swift kick in the pants. The author, Austin Kleon, touches on the struggles to create, the mindsets and expectations vs the realities. He gives practical advice for doing your best and learning when to ignore the critics and the outside world and when to ignore your own inner voice (which is often your worst critic!) And the crux of the book and the idea behind the title is in knowing the difference between stealing and plagiarism (plagiarism is trying to pass of someone else’s work as your own, stealing is being inspired by that work to create something new, improved or complimentary) and how to 'steal' effectively, encouraging you, as the reader, to surround yourself with examples of great work from your heroes and let that influence what you create.

Written as a set of simple instructions and ten ‘life lesson’ type mini-essays, he sets out to tell you what he’d wished someone had told him and what he’s learned along the way. His own words are heavily emphasized with examples and quotes from artists of all fields. While I found myself agreeing with nearly every word there were a few that particularly stood out. Here are a few of my favorite quotes.

Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal; bad poets deface what they take, and good poets make it into something different. The good poets welds his theft into a while of feeling which is unique, utterly different from that from which it was torn.  ~T.S. Eliot

The question every young writer at some point asks is: "What should I write?" And the standard answer is, "Write what you know." This advice always leads to terrible stories in which nothing interesting happen...The best advice is not to write what you know, it's to write what you like.  ~Austin Kleon

In the digital age, don't forget to use your digits! ~Lynda Barry

Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn't.  ~Craig Damrauer

Figure out what time you can carve out, what time you can steal, and stick to your routine.  Do the work every day, no matter what...Work gets done in the time available.  ~Austin Kleon

Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying...The way to get over [that] creative block is to simply place some constraints on yourself. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom.  ~Austin Kleon

And a few of the bits of advice 
  • don't wait until you know who you are to get started
  • step away from the screen/use your hands
  • indulge in productive procrastination
  • don't throw any of your stuff away
  • start a swipe file
  • build your own world
  • keep a logbook
  • know what to leave out
This little volume will be one of the first things I purchase when I’m back in the States so I can re-read it, highlight it, mark it up and keep it as a ready reference and inspiration for those times when I find myself blocked and stalled in my writing. I highly recommend it for anyone who considers themselves an artist or spends any time consistently (or sporadically) creating.

What have you been reading lately?


  1. Ooooo. I like the sounds of this one. Thanks for sharing!

  2. Hmm, interesting recommendation. What is a swap file? What should you put in your log book? Maybe I should read the book instead of asking you? :) I've been reading a book called "1,000 Days in Venice," a memoir with beautiful descriptions but only mediocre story-telling. Also just finished a YA trilogy called the Bartimaeus Trilogy by Jonathan Stroud. There's always a stack of books somewhere in the house waiting to be read. :)

    1. Definitely look it up. I could tell you all about them but he does it better (and quicker). Alexandria library has it on ebook so you could take it with you on your trip (which I can't wait to hear about!) Too many books and not enough time...always!