Keep Going by Austin Kleon

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My Rating: 9/10

The Book in One Paragraph

The creative life is not a linear journey to a finish line, but rather a loop. This means you should find a daily routine that you can repeat over and over again, that fuels your creativity and allows you to keep doing what you do for as long as you live. Cultivate creativity by going for walks and by disconnecting from the world often. Worry less about getting things done and more about the worth of what you’re doing.

Keep Going Summary

This is my book summary of Keep Going by Austin Kleon. My notes include quotes, big ideas, and important lessons from the book.

Every Day is Groundhog Day

“When I’m working on my art, I don’t feel like Odysseus. I feel more like Sisyphus rolling his boulder up the hill. When I’m working, I don’t feel like Luke Skywalker. I feel more like Phil Connors in the movie Groundhog Day.”

In Groundhog Day, Bill Murray plays the role of a weatherman named Phil Connors who keeps waking up every morning on February 2nd (Groundhog Day) and lives the same day over and over again. This movie is particularly relevant for people who want to do creative work because the creative life is not linear. It’s more like a loop in which you keep coming back to a new starting point after every project. No matter how successful you get, you will never really “arrive.” Other than death, there is no finish line or retirement for the creative person.

“…I really think the best thing you can do if you want to make art is to pretend you’re starring in your own remake of Groundhog Day: Yesterday’s over, tomorrow may never come, there’s just today and what you can do with it.”

“The truly prolific artists I know have figured out a daily practice – a repeatable way of working that insultates them from success, failure, and the chaos of the outside world. They have all identified what they want to spend their time on, and they work at it every day, no matter what. Whether their latest thing is universally rejected, ignored, or acclaimed, they know they’ll still get up tomorrow and do their work.”

A daily routine adds structure to your day. There is no perfect, universal routine for creative work; you must find what routine works best for you.

“To establish your own routine, you have to spend some time observing your days and your moods. Where are the free spaces in your schedule? What could you cut out of your day to make time? Are you an early riser or a night owl? Are there silly rituals or superstitions that get you in a creative mood?”

“Rather than restricting your freedom, a routine gives you freedom by protecting you from the ups and downs of life and helping you take advantage of your limited time, energy, and talent. A routine establishes good habits that can lead to your best work.”

Build a Bliss Station

“It’s hard to find anything to say about life without immersing yourself in the world, but it’s also just about impossible to figure out what it might be, or how to best say it, without getting the hell out of it again.” -Tim Kreider

Creativity is both about connection and disconnection. It’s important to connect with others to be inspired and gather ideas, but it’s important to disconnect from the world and retreat to a place where you can think about those ideas and bring forth something worth sharing with others.

In The Power of Myth, Joseph Campbell said everyone should build a “bliss station”:

“You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you can simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place of creative incubation. At first you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something will eventually happen.”

In order to protect your sacred space and time, you have to learn how to decline all sorts of invitations from the world. You must learn how to say no.

Saying no to the world can be hard, but sometimes it’s the only way to say yes to your art.

Forget the Noun, Do the Verb

“Lots of people want to be the noun without doing the verb. They want the job title without the work. Let go of that thing you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.”

Sometimes the best way to remain creative is to remain playful. Don’t treat yourself or your work so seriously. Learn to let loose. 

“When nothing’s fun anymore, try to make the worst thing you can. The ugliest drawing. The crummiest poem. The most obnoxious song. Making intentionally bad art is a ton of fun.”

Make Gifts

Sometimes when your passion becomes what pays the bills, it can become stressful and not as fun as it used to be.

“One of the easiest ways to hate something you love is to turn it into your job: taking the thing that keeps you alive spiritually and turning it into the thing that keeps you alive literally.”

One way to avoid turning something you love into something you hate is to resist the urge to monetize every little bit of your creative practice. Leave some little piece of your work off-limits to the marketplace. Keep a piece for yourself that you indulge in just for fun.

Another way to avoid turning creative work you love into something you hate doing is to live well below your means so you don’t have to push yourself to earn as much to support yourself.

“If you want maximum artistic freedom, keep your overhead low. A free creative life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.”

“Do what you love” + low overhead =  a good life

“Do what you love” + “I deserve nice things” = a time bomb.

The Ordinary + Extra Attention = The Extraordinary

Great artists are able to find magic in the mundane. 

“It is easy to assume that if only you could trade your ordinary life for a new one, all your creative problems would be solved. If only you could quit your day job, move to a hip city, rent the perfect studio, and fall in with the right gang of brilliant misfits! Then you’d really have it made. All this, of course, wishful thinking. You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extarordinary work. Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.”

The easiest way to “find magic in the mundane” is to draw pictures of things you see, jot down notes to yourself, make audio recordings about things that happen to you. Then, take time to look at those drawings, read those notes, and listen to those recordings. Do this enough and you’ll find that nearly everything around you is more interesting than you thought.

“We give things meaning by paying attention to them, and so moving your attention from one thing to another can absolutely change your future.” -Jessa Crispin

Slay the Art Monsters

“If making your art is adding net misery to the world, walk away and do something else. Find something else to do with your time, something that makes you and the people around you feel more alive.”

“The world doesn’t need more great artists. It needs more decent human beings.”

“I am for an art that helps old ladies across the street” -Claes Oldenburg

Your are Allowed to Change Your Mind

Don’t be scared to change your mind. That simply means you have become more well-informed about something and have changed your thoughts as a result.

You don’t have to know exactly where you art will take you from the outset. You simply need to get moving. It’s okay to course-correct along the way.

The best way to escape the fallacy of just thinking the same thing that everyone else is thinking is to read old books. Instead of browsing the latest news sites or social media feeds, crack open an old book.

“The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca said that if you read old books, you get to add all the years the author lived onto your own life.”

When in Doubt, Tidy Up

Sometimes the best way to gain inspiration for new ideas is to tidy up your workspace or your materials. In doing so, you may flip through old content and find ideas for new content.

Taking naps is a wonderful way to tidy up your brain. Often the best ideas come to us upon waking up from a nap, or during the slumber period where you’re half asleep and half awake.

Demons Hate Fresh Air

Going for walks is one of the best ways to come up with new ideas, ponder existing ideas, and combine several ideas you have floating around in your heard.

A long walk clears the mind.

“No matter what time you get out of bed, go for a walk”, said director Ingmar Berman to his daughter. “The demons hate it when you get out of bed. Demons hate fresh air.”

“Get outside every day. Take long walks by yourself. Take walks with a friend or a loved one or a dog. Walk with a coworker on your lunch break. Grab a plastic bag and a stick and take a litter-picking walk. Always keep a notebook or camera in your pocket for when you want to stop to capture a thought or an image.”

Plant Your Garden

Getting outside, studying nature, and planting a garden are all wonderful ways to connect with the Earth and to remind yourself that nature is in no hurry, and that you shouldn’t be either.

Learn to take the long view on life. Seek to do good creative work over the course of decades, not just months or years.


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