4 min read

Rating: 9 / 10
Author: Austin Kleon
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Below are the notes from the first third of the book is fantastic. The rest of the book was more or less familiar. The book gives you permission to not be a slave to originality.

He writes “It’s one of my theories that when people give you advice, they are just talking to themselves in the past”.

Where do you get your ideas? The honest artist answers “I steal them”. There’s only stuff worth stealing and stuff not worth stealing.

Nothing is original. You don’t just know the references that are behind the music or art that you’re looking at.

A good artist knows all creative work builds on what came before.

There is nothing new under the sun
— Ecclesiastes 1:9.

Everything that needs to be said has already been said. Since no one was listening, everything must be said again
— Andrew Gide.

If we free ourselves from the burden of trying to be completely original (let go of the guilt), we can embrace influence.

You have a mother and father. You possess features from both of them genetically. You’re a remix of Mom and Dad — but the sum of you is greater than the individual parts.

The artist is a collector. He collects selectively. Your job is to create good ideas (swipe file). The more of them you create, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.

Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your soul. If you do this, your work (and theft) will be authentic.
— Jim Jarmusch

Try to chew on one thinker — artist, writer, activist, role model — that you really love. Then go deeper and find who influenced that person and learn about them. Climb the tree up. Once you built the tree — start your own branch.

See yourself intertwined with a creative lineage (standing on the shoulder of giants).

Hang influences or pictures of your favorite artists. Let them be friendly ghosts that sit with you as you work.

Carry a notebook and pen wherever you go (voice recorder in my case).

Copy your favorite passages out of books. Doodle when you need to.

Keep a swipe file. It’s a folder to keep track of the good stuff you swiped from others. Digital or analog — it doesn’t matter.

Don’t wait until you figure yourself out

It is the act of making things and doing work that we figure out who we are.

You are what you do. A man is defined by his actions, not his memory.
— Kuato from Total Recall (1990)

You’re ready. Start making stuff.

Imposter syndrome? That’s how everyone starts. The creatives don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing every day.

Start copying.

Start copying what you love. Nobody is born with a style of voice. We learn by pretending to be our heroes. We learn by copying (Jack London) — also a large part of the characters in Mastery by Robert Greene.

I don’t mean plagiarism. I mean so that you soak in the style of the artist you are copying through writing or drawing. That style will meld into your existing styles.

The Beatles started as a cover band.

I emulated Buddy Holly, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lew, Elvis. We all did.
— Paul McCartney

Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing
— Salvador Dali

Copy your heroes. (Copy the cool writing style. The digital artwork style. The course organization. The video effects. The vocal narration).

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism. If you copy from many, it’s research.
— Wilson Mizner

If you rip off [the style of] a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original!
— Gary Panter

At first — steal the style. Second — dive deeper and figure out the thinking behind the style. Hopefully you’ll get a glimpse into their minds.

“There isn’t a move that’s a new move” — Kobe Bryant said all his moves came from watching tapes of his heroes.

Kobe had to adapt the moves he ‘stole’ to his own body structure. He made them part of him.

A wonderful flaw about human beings is that we’re incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover where our own thing lives. That’s where creativity comes out.

Copy your heroes but add something to the mix that is yours.

The trouble with creative work is that by the time people catch on to what’s valuable about what you do, you’re either bored to death with it, or you’re dead. You can’t solely look for validation externally.

Keep a praise file. Validation still helps! When you get good messages sent to you. Save them. They will be eye bleach when you get a really nasty criticism that you can’t shake off. Keep it around when you need a lift.