Noted: ‘Steal Like an Artist’

Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by.—Steal Like an Artist

Austin Kleon is a writer and visual artist—collage and sketches and mashups—whose magical new little book is a smash hit, a New York Times bestseller. I’m eager to read it. Plus he’s from here in Ohio and attended an institution right down the road, Miami University of Ohio. His website and related pages, including blog, are worth your time.

Here are the principles enumerated in Steal Like an Artist:

1. Steal like an artist.

2. Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started.

3. Write the book you want to read.

4. Use your hands.

5. Side projects and hobbies are important.

6. The secret: do good work and share it with people.

7. Geography is no longer our master.

8. Be nice. (The world is a small town.)

9. Be boring. (It’s the only way to get work done.)

10. Creativity is subtraction.

Per the first point: Kleon says good theft honors, results from study, is diverse, credits, transforms, and remixes (versus degrades, skims, steals from one person, plagiarizes, imitates, and rips off).

My friend Paulette Bates Alden, a great freelance writing teacher and editor, happened to just tell me number three (regarding my memoir, which is kind of two books; pick the one you want to read, she said). As Kleon says, what humans know must be stated over and over again because no one was listening the first time.

And the last point about creativity being subtraction I should tattoo on my forehead. Everything becomes Moby-Dick with me! First I build a whole whale, then I pare it into the goldfish it always should have been. I end up covered with blood and guts—and, of course, I’m blubbering.


Filed under aesthetics, discovery, experimental, flow, modernism/postmodernism, NOTED

14 responses to “Noted: ‘Steal Like an Artist’

  1. Richard, just think what you’d have if you STARTED with a goldfish. Go Ahab!

  2. Thanks so much for this recommendation, Richard. I have ordered a copy, and can’t wait to read it. I’m sure this will be a book that I will happily suggest to my writing students, with whom I share many of your columns.

    I really appreciate all the useful things you have to say about writing–especially creative nonfiction and memoir.

    • Thank you, Susan. I sure appreciate your comments. And I hope you like the book. I have reserved a copy from my library but may have to just order one because it looks like a book I will want to keep.

  3. Thanks, Richard, sounds like a wonderful book! I would add No. 11 … read wonderful blogs that inspire and uplift. That encourage and sustain when creativity feels stifled or impossible.

    • Daisy, that means a lot—you are wise: I loved your Easter post. Comments were closed by the time I read it, but it really resonated for me. At some point, we have to be the change we want to see in the world. I think that’s why this book on creativity spoke so strongly to me. The message is both positive and timeless. As somebody said, humans have to keep hearing the same answers because no one is ever listening the first time.

  4. john V.Wylie

    Love the whale – golfish – butchering line. Another great blog.

  5. Thanks for sharing these points; I can so relate to # 10 as well, I mean the necessity of it, though the whittling from whale to goldfish is actually one of my favorite parts of the writing process (post grieving what falls to the sea bed, I mean.) Now to # 9, boring person in her chair, working. 🙂

    • I want it to become my favorite part too, Dora! I am hoping it will . . . this time. A friend says it’s the fun part: the heavy lifting is done–the creation of material–and it’s just shaping. I am working, first of all, on a positive attitude. My mantra is How lucky and blessed I am to be able to do this work.

  6. Richard: Sometimes I view my Goucher manuscript as a blubbery whale. I’m still preoccupied with many of those dance subculture themes (and have recently begun to revisit them with more perspective and skill). Feels like, only now, am I beginning to cut up and trim my whale to create the perfect goldfish.

    I’ve followed Kleon on Twitter but have yet to read through this book. I must.

  7. Loved having these ideas reduced (goldfish style) to a list I can think about even before I read the book. Enjoyed the comments as well.

  8. Re your whale-building approach, around our house we call that the “James Michener” technique, where everything begins at the cellular level. If I ask you what time it is, will you tell me how to build a watch? (I know someone who would.)

    Thanks for suggesting Steal Like an Artist. It was like playing in the sprinkler on a hot day.

  9. I appreciate these points, Richard. I think “Steal like an Artist” is a great book for the aspiring writer but maybe it’s also good for the
    stuck writer as well!