Book review: Show Your Work

Author: Austin Kleon

Recommended by: Ali Abdaal

Starting a podcast has done wonders for me. Sure, I make it mainly for you, dear listener. But I would be lying if I denied the massive benefits that come along for me. I am able to clarify my own thoughts, document my insights, and contribute to others. In the long run, I also see a book and several courses coming out of the brainstorming and writing I have already done for the podcast.

We have this idea that we should only show the final product of our work to others. The process is less interesting. The process is a distraction. But if you have ever enjoyed watching behind-the-scene videos, or have indulged in watching what’s-in-my-bag videos, you know that’s furthest from the truth. Yes, we like to see the end product, but we also like to feel connected to the person who made the product.

Show your work is a book that encourages you to share your process. It encourages you to create a daily/weekly/monthly habit of sharing what fascinates you. By doing that, you will build a substantial body of work to start a larger project from (if I had to write a book on emotional intelligence, I have 30+ episodes of the podcast already written), engage deeper with what you’re reading and learning, and also make some friends along the way.

In Show Your Work, Austin Kleon gives you a comprehensive guide on getting yourself out there. I highly encourage you to read this book and start showing your work.

Notable quotes and random notes:

There’s a healthier way of thinking about creativity that the musician Brian Eno refers to as “scenius.”

In the book, he (Austin, the author) talks about how creativity is not a lone pursuit. The “lone genius” is a myth. Instead, he argues that every so-called genius was part of a scene where they got their ideas. The “scenius” might be a better word!

The best way to get started on the path to sharing your work is to think about what you want to learn, and make a commitment to learning it in front of others.

I posted my guitar learning journey on this blog a few months ago. I now wished I had documented the process as I learned the instrument from scratch, document all those strange noises I made at the beginning, instead of posting a long summary article at the end.

“Stock and flow” is an economic concept that writer Robin Sloan has adapted into a metaphor for media: “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist. Stock is the durable stuff.

The stock and flow concept is a good way to think about your work. You are building toward a bigger product. In my case I am completing a DPhil in psychology. But if I were to show my work, I would post small snippets of my work which will give me all the benefits of showing my work (connecting with people who are interested in similar things, documentation, clarity of thought, etc.)