Notes on Steal Like an Artist

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon ( is a short book–you can read it in under an hour–but it contains many gems of advice about living a creative life. Kleon is a writer, visual artist, and hobbyist musician, but his advice applies to anyone, from writers to entrepreneurs to people who just want to bring a little more creativity into their lives but aren’t sure how to get started. Here are my notes on his 10 pieces of advice.

1. There is only stuff worth stealing and stuff not worth stealing. Nothing is original–all creative work builds on what came before. Free yourself from the burden of being original. Your job is to collect good ideas to be influenced by. What is not worth stealing today could be worth stealing tomorrow.

Don’t worry about research. Just search.

To do: Carry a notebook everywhere. Jot or doodle during down time. Keep a swipe file of things worth stealing.

2. The act of doing our work helps us figure out who we are. You can’t know yourself first; that’s backwards. Start making stuff. Show up every day. Fake it until you make it. Learn by copying what you love. We are incapable of making perfect copies. Our failure to copy our heroes is where we discover ourselves.

If you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many authors, it’s research.

3. Write the book you want to read. All fiction is fan fiction.

4. Use your hands. Engage your sense. Get away from the computer.

To do: Set up two workstations: one digital and one analog.

5. Side projects (where you’re just messing around) are the ones that take off. Have a lot of projects going at once so you can bounce around. Take time to be bored. Keep all the passions in your life; don’t worry about unifying them. It’s important to have a hobby, something creative that’s just for you, that you do because it makes you happy.

6.  When you’re unknown, you can do what you want. Enjoy obscurity while it lasts. Share your work. Give your secrets away. The Internet is an incubator for ideas. (You don’t have to share everything.)

7. All you need is a little space and a little time.

8. Be nice. When you get angry, make something instead of complaining. Show your appreciation. Don’t look for validation–be too busy doing your work to care.

9. Creative people live boring lives. Work every day; set a routine.

To do: List the things you do each day in a log book.

10. Nothing is more paralyzing than limitless possibilities. Place constraints on yourself.

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