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Author Austin Kleon says best way to get ahead is to share

Best-selling poet and writer Austin Kleon’s newest book encourages readers to share their creativity.
by Ken Raymond Published: March 16, 2014

Austin Kleon bounced onto the literary scene — yes, bounced, he’s that overflowing with creativity — four years ago with the publication of his first book, “Newspaper Blackout.”

It was an odd product, original poetry composed by redacting newspaper articles, covering long columns of words with black marker and leaving only a word or two exposed here and there. The remaining words, read together, spelled out his poems.

By the time the book came together, he was an expert at his task. His blackout poetry had been featured on NPR, in newspapers and on the Internet. It wasn’t a particularly novel idea — I’d done something similar with church bulletins throughout the endless religious services of my youth — but it was something that Kleon stuck with, perfected … and shared.

That last bit is the subject of the Austin, Texas, resident’s latest book, “Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered.” The book, released this month, is a follow-up to “Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.” That book spent six months on The New York Times’ best-seller list.

“‘Steal’ was about stealing influences from the community to make your own work,” Kleon told The Oklahoman in a recent phone interview. “‘Show Your Work’ is about sharing your ideas so people in the community can steal from you. I like to think of them as the Robin Hood box set.”

In the digital age, having a respectable resume isn’t enough to land you the best jobs. Getting hired these days is often like applying to a well-regarded university: Great grades nudge the door a crack, but extracurriculars open it wider.

“We all have access to tools that kind of let us manipulate our own media and how we’re shown to the world,” Kleon said. “I like to joke that everyone who has a smartphone basically has their own little multimedia studio. It’s just a question of what you decide to put out there.”

All of us are more than our job titles or work skills. We’ve all learned from countless teachers, tradesmen, mentors or more experienced colleagues. We’ve already taken from them; giving back shows not only what we’ve learned but that we’re willing to share it.

“The first step is to be around,” Kleon said. “Find a platform where you feel the people you want to hang around with are hanging out. Writers, for example, tend to congregate around Twitter. Think about some sort of daily dispatch … that you can send out to people that’s funny or interesting or helpful. Look at your everyday life. What kind of things are you working on that might be interesting to others? Nonfiction writers or journalists or reporters are constantly coming up with interesting facts and tidbits.”

Those in other professions will have access to other information to share. My father-in-law, for example, spends his off time restoring old cars and perusing websites about hot rods and car parts. With his decades of mechanical knowledge, he could be a great source for anyone involved in car projects. He’d just have to offer that knowledge to others online.

Why share what you’ve worked hard to learn? Why not? What does it cost you, and how much benefit could it provide?

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by Ken Raymond
Book Editor
Ken Raymond is the book editor. He joined The Oklahoman in 1999. He has won dozens of state, regional and national writing awards. Three times he has been named the state's "overall best" writer by the Society of Professional Journalists. In...
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