Austin Kleon, of Newspaper Blackout fame, gives you permission to steal. He also tells you what’s good stealing and what’s stupid stealing. Also, why you’re stealing even if you don’t know you’re stealing. And, importantly, how to get out of your own way while stealing. In Steal Like an Artist, a tiny adorable book with lots o’ drawings, Kleon shares maxims, tips, quotes, anecdotes, rules… inspirations(!) for the creative person. For those who need permission to screw up and write/paint/dream/grow/ insert creative verb here drivel before they produce the masterpiece each of us is capable of (it’s okay, even I can’t tell if I’m being ironic here.)
Here’s Ray Bradbury in 2008 for The Big Read, presented by the National Endowment for the Arts. Definitely worth eight minutes out of your life.
1 Never worry about the commercial possibilities of a project. That stuff is for agents and editors to fret over – or not. Conversation with my American publisher. Me: “I’m writing a book so boring, of such limited commercial appeal, that if you publish it, it will probably cost you your job.” Publisher: “That’s exactly what makes me want to stay in my job.”
2 Don’t write in public places. In the early 1990s I went to live in Paris. The usual writerly reasons: back then, if you were caught writing in a pub in England, you could get your head kicked in, whereas in Paris, dans les cafés . . . Since then I’ve developed an aversion to writing in public. I now think it should be done only in private, like any other lavatorial activity.
3 Don’t be one of those writers who sentence themselves to a lifetime of sucking up to Nabokov.
4 If you use a computer, constantly refine and expand your autocorrect settings. The only reason I stay loyal to my piece-of-shit computer is that I have invested so much ingenuity into building one of the great autocorrect files in literary history. Perfectly formed and spelt words emerge from a few brief keystrokes: “Niet” becomes “Nietzsche”, “phoy” becomes ”photography” and so on. Genius!
5 Keep a diary. The biggest regret of my writing life is that I have never kept a journal or a diary.
6 Have regrets. They are fuel. On the page they flare into desire.
7 Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
8 Beware of clichés. Not just the clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought – even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation.
9 Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don’t follow it.
10 Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to perseverance. But writing is all about perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss.
From a section titled Daily Program:
Mornings: If groggy, type notes and allocate, as stimulus.
If in fine fettle, write.
Evenings: See friends. Read in cafes.
Explore unfamiliar sections- on foot if wet, on bicycle if dry.
Write, if in mood, but only on Minor program.
Paint if empty or tired.
Make Notes. Make charts, plans. Make corrections of MS.
Note: Allow sufficient time during daylight to make an occasional visit to museums or an occasional sketch or an occasional bike ride…
Henry Miller’s Commandment #5:
When you can’t create you can work.
Did you know that the most creative companies have centralized bathrooms? That brainstorming meetings are a terrible idea? That the color blue can help you double your creative output?
I didn’t. But I do now, because I read this book. And today I am one book smarter than I was two days ago. What is smart, anyway? This book answers that question, too. Pretty good book, wouldn’t you say?
In conclusion, watch this. Ideas are such funny little guys.