Steal Like an Artist

You've all heard the quote before:

"Good artists borrow, great artists steal"

The book, Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon explores how to be creative. I love this book. It's short and can be read in a couple of hours or less. But it's packed full of useful advice. It's the type of book you pull out when you're feeling unmotivated and unsure about where the next creative idea is going to come from.

Here are some of the notes I pulled from the book:

"Enjoy your obscurity while it lasts. Use it."

It's hard to work when you have someone constantly looking over your shoulder. These past few months I filtered out way to much of my work. I stopped building apps (working solely on and not fulfilling my creative urge to work on side projects), stopped writing blog posts, even stopped tweeting. I'm not sure what I was afraid of, but I was paralysed. Then I realised nobody is really watching my every move. Don't get trapped. Put your work out there.


“Distance and difference are the secret tonic of creativity. When we get home, home is still the same. But something in our mind has been changed, and that changes everything.”

Possibly one of my favorite passages in the book, it talks about the need to change ones surroundings. I believe travel is an incredible source of creativity. When you return from a 3 months stint overseas, you'll look at things differently. And after all, creativity is just seeing things from a different angle.

"Your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. You need to make it uncomfortable."

On Friends and Mentors

A major theme in the book is about surrounding yourself with people you admire and look up to. Thanks to the internet it's easy to follow mentors all over the world.

"The best way to make friends on the Internet? Say nice things about them."

Make a point to tweet, blog, like the work of your mentors. They'll appreciate it. When I receive a nice email from a user, it doesn't just make my day, it usually makes my entire week!

"I recommend public fan letters. The Internet is really good for this. Write a blog post about someone’s work that you admire and link to their site."


"Amassing a body of work or building a career is a lot about the slow accumulation of little bits of effort over time."

I have this concept called "the streak". I use it to keep motivated. Every day I write 750+ words, and I track it. Currently I'm up to a 9 day streak (although I've been into the hundreds of days previously, but forgot to save one days writing :( ). I'm motivated to keep writing just to keep the streak alive.

It's the same with Building an app. It's about slowly adding functionality, stream lining or removing unnecessary bulk. It happens over many months. Tumblr was a success after a few early years of relative obscurity. It takes time. Most investors and journalists forget this. So it's up to the founder to push through the hard times and keep building day after day.

And Finally...

“If you ask yourself ‘What’s the best thing that happened today?’ it actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection that pulls up from the recent past things to write about that you wouldn’t otherwise think about"

Keep track of what you do. But don't just ask yourself "what did I do today". Force yourself to think about the good things that happened.

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