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Book Freak #37: How to Be Creative

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Short pieces of advice from books

Book Freak is a weekly newsletter with short pieces of advice from books. Subscribe here.

Austin Kleon is a writer and artist from Austin, Texas. He also travels around the world helping people and organizations be more creative. Here are four pieces of advice from his book, Steal Like An Artist.

Don’t wait until you know who you are to get started
“If I’d waited to know who I was or what I was about before I started ‘being creative,’ well, I’d be sitting around trying to figure myself out instead of making things. In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are. You’re ready. Start making stuff.”

Climb up the tree as far as you can go
“Chew on one thinker – writer, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people the thinker loved and find out everything about them. Repeat this as many times as you can. Climb up the tree as far as you can go. Once you built your tree, it’s time to start your own branch.”

Get bored once in a while
“Creative people need time to just sit around and do nothing. I get some of my best ideas when I’m bored, which is why I never take my shirts to the cleaners. I love ironing my shirts – it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas. If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes. Take really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can. As the artist Maira Kalman says, ‘Avoiding work is the way to focus my mind.’“

Emulate your heroes
“Conan O’Brien has talked about how comedians try to emulate their heroes, fall short, and end up doing their own thing. Johnny Carson tried to be Jack Benny but ended up Johnny Carson. David Letterman tried to copy Johnny Carson but ended up David Letterman. And Conan O’Brien tried to be David Letterman but ended up Conan O’Brien. In O’Brien’s words, ‘It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.’”

Book Freak is one of four newsletters from Cool Tools Lab (our other three are the Cool Tools Newsletter, Recomendo, and What’s in my bag?).

-- Mark Frauenfelder 02/8/20