Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

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Why and when I was reading this

I am reading this book in preparation for putting creative work online. Namely, my Obsidian publish (My Obsidian Publish site) and also a Newsletter connected to it.

Key takeaways:

Steal from your heroes

Steal from your heroes Who are your heroes? Whose work do you enjoy? Take those inspirations and steal them. Don’t just steal from one, steal from all of them. Mix, match and remix.

Nothing is original

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==—9== Every creative work is built upon what was before. The Beatles started out as a cover band. Embrace that originality comes from imitating your inspirations. Be appreciate of the giants whose shoulders you stand upon.

In imitating, you find your voice

As you steal the fruits of your heroes and pulse blend them into your creative smoothie, something original happens. You created something greater than the sum of its parts. Emergence happens.

Draw three circles on a piece of paper. Do they look the same?

We are incapable of making perfect copies. As you steal from your heroes, you will fail to reproduce their work exactly. That’s what makes you unique. Amplify that and make something only you can do.

Your inputs determine your outputs

→ Appended to Giving attention is giving authority

Garbage in, garbage out.

There is an economic theory that if you average the income of your five closest friends, the resulting number will be pretty close to your income. We are shaped by the people, and the ideas, we pay attention to.

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Focus on what is good.

Keep a “swipe file”

Anne-Laure calls this an “idea inbox”. Whenever you come across something worth stealing, put it into your swipe file. The form it takes doesn’t matter – this can be digital or analogue. I have a simple note in Google keep.

However, it is important that you triage and transfer your spark of inspiration into something that makes sense to you later: Put the best ideas into your note-taking application. Add some words so it will make sense to you later. Add some links so you can discover the idea when thinking about connected things.

Use your hands

Use your hands We don’t have a body, we are a body. Make you process hands-on.

Even if your work happens in front of the screen, outsource elements to the physical.

Draw, doodle, outline, strike-through.

As Evan Travers pointed out: Paper is for thinking, screens are for remembering. [^1]

Have fun. Go wild.

Austin Kleon has two tables in his office: One for analog work. Stacks of paper, markers, pens, scissors, glue sticks. One for digital work: Keyboard, mouse and screen.

This mental division is helpful. When you’re exhausted by digital work, play at the analog table. Then get back to the keyboard to type out your ideas.

Other takeaways

  • Creativity flourishes under constraints
  • Fake it ‘til you make it: Just get started
  • Don’t pick fights, do something: “Complain about the way other people make software by making software.” –Andre Torrez
  • ”Modern art = I could do that + Yeah, but you didn’t.” –Craig Damrauer
  • Keep a praise file of encouragement you received, look at it on days of self-doubt.