Today’s interview is with Austin Kleon, a writer and artist whose most recent book, Steal Like an Artist, is based on a speech-turned-blog post that went insanely viral. Actually, it was Tim King (last week’s interview) who sent me that blog post about a year ago, and I’ve been following Austin ever since.
Steal Like an Artist hasn’t been a disappointment. Rosanne Cash called his book “brilliant and real and true.” Seth Godin said it’s “breezy and fun and yes, scary. Scary because it calls your bluff.” Lifehackers.com says that it’s “filled with well-formed advice that applies to nearly any kind of work.” Chris Anderson, curator of Ted, calls it “beautiful.”
1. First of all, most importantly, you just released your book Steal Like an Artist. Congratulations! What would be your 1-2 sentence synopsis of what it’s about?
“Steal Like An Artist” is a riff on a quote generally (mis)attributed to Picasso, which says, “Bad artists copy, great artists steal.” The big idea of the book is that you are a mashup of what you let into your life, and that the way to better, more creative work is to surround yourself with the right influences, work hard, and play nice.
2. Your “newspaper blackout” prints are incredibly unique. How long have you been doing these? Where did you come up with the idea?
I’ve been doing them since 2005, when I was right out of college and struggling with a wicked case of writer’s block. I couldn’t come up with any words, so I looked at the stack of newspapers in the recycle bin next to my desk and figured I’d steal some.
3. Ok – onto the blog! How long have you been blogging? What role does your blog and website play in your career as an artist and writer?
I’ve been blogging since 2005, so almost 7 years. (As long as I’ve been making the poems.) Pretty much every advance in my career has been the result of my being online — people see the website and that leads to them contacting me with opportunities, etc.
4. You’re very active on social networking sites. I love following you on Twitter and Pinterest, and I know your Facebook page has been successful as well. How has social media influenced your success as a writer? Has it influenced your writing and art at all?
Social media just means that I can reach my readers directly — it gives them access to me, and it gives me access to them. It’s definitely influenced my work because I can see what people respond to and sometimes that gives me ideas for new work.
5. Even though you’re active on social networking sites, I’ve noticed that on your blog the post comments are turned off. Why is that?
Couple of things. First, it became a pain to moderate and respond to comments. Second, I noticed that the interesting conversations were happening where people were naturally hanging out — Facebook, Twitter, etc. Third, I don’t want people to just talk about my work on my site, I want them to take the conversation elsewhere, to ‘spread the word’ so to speak.
6. One of my best friends is a developer but, at his core, a novelist. He’s working endlessly on his first novel while we all wait with baited breath to see what he comes up with. I’ve encouraged him to use his blog to reach and connect with fans about his process and the struggles of writing, but he wants to focus all of his energy on his masterpiece. What advice do you have for my friend? What would you tell yourself if you could go back to before your first book?
I think people should do whatever they want to do. You can’t force people to embrace social media and being online. Believe me, I’ve tried. If your friend wants to write, let him write. Blogging is not something you can half ass.
As for advice for me way back when — that’s why I wrote Steal Like An Artist. As I say in the introduction, most advice is autobiographical, and the idea was that it was a big long letter written to a younger version of myself.
7. Since this site is about blogging, do you have any final words to someone who has never started a blog (or sharing their ideas and writing publicly) but is considering trying it out?
Sure: as I say in chapter six, “Do good work and share it with people.” Think of what kind of expertise or value you have to give to the world, and start sharing it. I think Merlin Mann said that a good blog is just obsession plus a good voice. Whatever you’re obsessed by, start blogging about it. Find your voice. It’s just all about sharing.