How to Show Your Work, according to Austin Kleon

Imagine that your next employer doesn’t need to read your resume. They already know who you are because they read your blog, subscribe to your Medium posts, or follow you on Dribbble.

Imagine that you put your project from school online and get hired because your next employer finds it.

Imagine that you could turn your hobby into a successful business.

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon is a small book, but it is jam-packed with strategies to promote your creative work online. Whether you are a designer, an artist, a writer, or something completely different, this book will help you get your work out there, find an audience, and build relationships with like-minded people.

Here are eight gold nuggets from Show Your Work by Austin Kleon.

1. Find your scenius

The idea of the lone genius is a misleading and dangerous myth, according to Austin Kleon.

In fact, most geniuses were part of a community in which they inspired each other, stole ideas, and contributed their own. The musician Brian Eno calls this concept a scenius, meaning the creative intelligence of a community.

Luckily, it’s easier than ever to find your scenius.

There are subreddits and Facebook groups about everything.

If you are a writer, Medium is a great choice. If you are a designer, sites like Dribbble and Behance are places where you can find your scenius.

2. Think process, not product

A lot of people make the mistake of only posting the end result. Kleon recommends inviting people behind the scenes.

Sharing your process and showing your audience how you created your masterpiece, is a great idea for several reasons:

  • Your audience gets a better picture of how you work and what you are capable of.
  • You inspire your peers to do something similar on their next project.
  • You build a stronger bond between you and your audience.

The internet makes it easy to share your process online. I have criticized Dribbble for not giving the user space to write about the process, and that the site only focuses on the visual appearance of the end product.

Something like a case study on Medium is a great way to show your process. You can find a lot of case studies on Medium for inspiration, like this one by UX Designer Johny Vino, documenting the process of redesigning an app.

The British rock band, The Struts, used Youtube to document the making of their newest album, Strange Days, which they recorded in Los Angeles during the lockdown in the spring of 2020. In the video, you see the band record and talk about the process of recording an album in the midst of a global pandemic.

Another example is the guitar brand Gibson, who have made a 12 part video series on Youtube. This video series documents how their electric guitars are made in the Gibson factory in Nashville, TN. The series follows the whole process of making their guitars from picking out the wood to polishing the final guitar.

3. Resume 2.0

Think of your online presence as your new resume. The place where future employers or clients will go to find out who you are and what you are capable of. The journalist, David Carr, gave this piece of advice to his students:

“No one is going to give a damn about your resume; they want to see what you have made with your own little fingers”

In other words, demonstrating your skills by showing your work will matter more to future employers or clients than a fancy resume.

This is why Kleon recommends becoming a documentarian of what you do. Write down your thoughts, take a lot of photographs, and record video and audio. You don’t have to publish everything, but it gives you a clearer image of your own work.

4. Share small, share often

So, what should you share?

Kleon recommends finding one thing to share at the end of every workday.

It could be something that has inspired you, a method you have used, or something you have created that day.

When you share a small piece of work every day, it piles up over months, years, and decades. This also allows you to show people what you are working on right now rather than something you did two years ago. This gives a better representation of your current level of creative greatness.

In this way, your online presence becomes your public notebook. Here you can flip back and see what you were doing and thinking in the past.

If you are unsure whether you want to share your piece of work or not, you can use what Kleon calls the “So What Test”: Let the thing sit for 24 hours and take a fresh look at it the next day. Then ask yourself: Is this useful or interesting? If it is, post it, if not, trash it.

Make your own website. It could be a portfolio where you present your work, a blog where you share your thoughts or a combination of both. Social media platforms come and go. When you have your own website, you have your own platform forever.

5. Tell good stories

Your work does not speak for itself. Tell the story about the piece of work you are showing. When did you make it? Who was involved? Why did you make it? Who did you make it for? What were their problems and challenges?

Give your story a structure and an interesting plot. Kleon suggests using John Gardener’s plot formula because it fits the structure of a creative process:

A character wants something, goes after it despite opposition (perhaps including his own doubts), and so arrives a win, lose or draw.

The Struts’ video follows this formula: The band tells that they couldn’t play live shows because of the lockdown, so they decided to write and record a new album instead. They all got tested and recorded the album at the producer’s house, with no one else involved in the process. They succeeded and released the album.

Show Your Work includes other storytelling models that you can use to make your story more compelling to the audience.

6. Thou shalt not spam

There is a fine line between being a contributor and a spammer.

Kleon says that you should not just talk about yourself. Get engaged on whatever platform you choose. Become a contributing member in the subreddit you want to use, read the Medium publication in which you want to publish your articles, spend time on Dribble, and comment on other people’s projects.

Get engaged in conversations with your peers on the platforms, and form relationships with other people who have the same interests.

Do not be afraid of sharing your knowledge and ideas. See the community as a shared brain. When you all contribute, you will all become better.

7. Quality over quantity

Do not worry about how many followers you have, worry about the quality of those followers.

Kleon says that if you want followers, you should be worth following. If you make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love, people with the same interests will be interested.

This echoes the founder of Wired magazine, Kevin Kelly’s essay, “1,000 True Fans“. Kelly defines a true fan as someone who will drive three hours to see your band play and buy the limited edition of your album on vinyl. He says that if you have a thousand of those fans, you can make a living off your art.

8. Keep going

Don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t work out the way you hoped it would. In the beginning, you will most likely not gain a lot of attention. Kleon advises you to keep going. As you continue, you will learn new things, form new relationships with peers and everything will be OK in the end.

Next steps

Here are your action steps:

  1. Pick out a platform (or a couple).
  2. Start sharing your work and your thoughts.
  3. Share your work in an interesting way: Tell the story about the making of the product.
  4. Don’t spam, engage in conversations with your peers, and craft interesting relationships.
  5. Ignore the numbers, care about the quality of your followers.
  6. Don’t give up, keep going!


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