Review: An in-depth look at Keep Going by Austin Kleon

Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad is Austin Kleon’s latest book.

As a fan of Kleon’s previous books, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on a copy!

Since I ran out of bookshelf space a loooong time ago, I tend to borrow new books from the library and then decide if they are “shelf worthy.”

Sadly, this one was not.

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Synopsis:

In his previous books Steal Like an Artist and Show Your Work!, both New York Times bestsellers, Austin Kleon gave readers the keys to unlock their creativity and showed them how to become known. Now he offers his most inspiring work yet, with ten simple rules for how to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself – for life.

The creative life is not a linear journey to a finish line, it’s a loop – so find a daily routine, because today is the only day that matters.

Disconnect from the world to connect with yourself – sometimes you just have to switch into airplane mode.

Keep Going celebrates getting outdoors and taking a walk (as director Ingmar Bergman told his daughter, ”The demons hate fresh air”).

Pay attention, and especially pay attention to what you pay attention to.

Worry less about getting things done, and more about the worth of what you’re doing.

Instead of focusing on making your mark, work to leave things better than you found them.

Keep Going and its timeless, practical, and ethical principles are for anyone trying to sustain a meaningful and productive life. (book blurb)

Review:

As an Austin Kleon fan (and world-class procrastinator), I looked forward to reading Keep Going!

Like his other books, this one is short and sweet, with lots of illustrations.

Unfortunately, it did not resonate with me the same way Steal Like an Artist did. It felt somehow forced and didn’t flow as well as his other works.

Kleon says that he wrote this book because he needed to read it. It’s basically a list of ten things that helped him keep going when it things got hard creatively.

Not everything on his Top Ten List hit the mark, but there was still some good advice. You just need to separate the wheat from the chaff.

Here are my takeaways from the book:

The List:

  1. Every Day is Groundhog Day
  2. Build a Bliss Station
  3. Forget the Noun, Do the Verb
  4. Make Gifts
  5. The Ordinary + Extra Attention = The Extraordinary
  6. Slay the Art Monsters
  7. You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind
  8. When In Doubt, Tidy Up
  9. Demons Hate Fresh Air
  10. Plant Your Garden

Every Day Is Groundhog Day

The main takeaway from this chapter is to take things one day at a time, like in the movie Groundhog Day.

You need to establish a daily practice. An every day routine, no matter what, to insulate you from distractions.

When in doubt, make a list! Writing a list gets your ideas out of your head and frees up space, like a brain dump.

Since you’re going to treat every day like Groundhog Day, once it’s finished, it’s finished. Move on. Don’t obsess. You survived the day, so it’s done.

Build a Bliss Station

Since there are so many distractions in the world, you need to disconnect in order to get in touch with your creativity. You need a space (or chunk of time) where you can be alone, to quietly create.

Kleon suggests not checking your phone/TV/laptop when you first wake up in the morning. To give yourself some time after waking before checking the news.

And while you’re at it, why not set your devices on airplane mode every now and then in order to get some work done?

Learn to say no in order to protect your Bliss Station.

Forget the Noun, Do the Verb

You need to let go of the job title you want (the noun) and focus on the actual work (the verb). Creativity is a tool; use it.

Your real work is play. If you retain a sense of playfulness, your work is lighter and you can enjoy creating without worrying about the results.

Make Gifts

You need to protect your work by refusing to turn it into a full-time job. Monetizing your work sucks the joy out of it, so keep at least a small part off-limits to the marketplace.

Don’t worry about stats either. Who cares how many likes or clicks or shares something gets so long as YOU love it!

You determine what success is, but it turns into “suckcess” if you let others define your art. Don’t let the marketplace dictate what you create!

Whenever you start to feel disenchanted or disillusioned, the fastest way to recover is to make a gift for someone.

The Ordinary + Extra Attention = The Extraordinary

You already have everything you need to create extraordinary art. Just by paying extra attention and looking at ordinary things in new ways, the possibilities are endless!

Slow down and draw things out in order to pay proper attention to the world. Kleon suggests picking up pencil and paper to start drawing what you see in order to slow down and really pay attention to the world.

We need to pay attention to what we’re paying attention to. Your attention is valuable, so make sure to pay attention to the things that are important in your life.

Slay the Art Monsters

There’s an old myth that only tortured artists can create great works of art. Only the Art Monsters. Thankfully, that old myth is slowly falling out of favor.

Everyone has an Art Monster inside of them because people are complicated beings, but we should strive to be better in our art.

All in all, art is supposed to make our lives better.

Art is for life, not the other way around.

You Are Allowed to Change Your Mind

A revolutionary thought, isn’t it? To be allowed to change your mind without worrying about being called wishy-washy or weak.

Art can help you try out new thoughts and ideas. It can help you process and think things through. It can help you change your mind!

We should seek out like-hearted people instead of only hanging out with the like-minded. How can we change our minds if we’re never exposed to new ideas?

Humans have short memories, so look to the past. Read old books. Explore old ideas. History can teach us quite a bit and might help change your views.

When In Doubt, Tidy Up

Kleon advises to keep our tools tidy and our materials messy. Makes sense, as I’ve lost track of how many times I’ve had to stop what I’m working on and search for the tool I want. (still haven’t found my ruler!)

Tidying things up is a bit like exploring. You might come across some materials that you’d forgotten about, get inspired, and create something awesome!

Naps are recommended too, as sleep is a way of tidying up your brain. Who knows what your subconscious will conjure up?!

Demons Hate Fresh Air

Go outside.

Take a walk.

Talk to your neighbors.

Walking is good for not only your physical health, but your mental and spiritual health as well.

Plant Your Garden

Creativity has seasons, just like nature.

You need to learn the pattern of your creativity and pay attention to its rhythm and cycles.

Our lives also have seasons, with some people blossoming young while others are late bloomers. All should be celebrated.

Mainly though, keep in mind that this, too, shall  pass. That no matter how awful things might get, nothing lasts forever.

No one knows how much time they have on Earth, so we should be kind to ourselves and live our lives to the fullest.

Keep working.

Keep playing.

Keep trying.

Keep going.

 


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