I write about nerdy things, and celebrate those things as a college writing teacher.

Posts tagged with ‘austin kleon’

This is a page from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist. Yesterday we were sitting around the office and talking about our influences as filmmakers. Tim mentioned that he respects old films but perhaps his biggest influence are movies made in the 1990s, but also Tarkovsky’s Stalker.
Sunny mentioned classic movies, when they were still working out how things work like Charlie Chaplin. Sunny likes old time stuff and it reflects in her work directing Into the Woods recently, her writing, and as well as her acting and singing. Also, she loves Cirque de Soleil so she loves visually impactful performances. Tim likes the clean lines and clean visual effects, none of that shaky cam illusory stuff. In his writing he likes magical realism rooted in our natural environment and how it affects human life.
For me, my creative inspiration is rooted in my sophomore year of high school, when Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and The Usual Suspects came out. From that, I can see a line of everything I do.
Reading Kleon’s book and this Jarmusch quote here I think about what we’re doing as a group. (I feel like “collective” is a word that is being used too much around here lately). I like that we’re creating and collaborating on things that come from other influences to build a new experience that is fresh and new in this area. It’s an exciting time for me right now, because finally I’m getting the chance to do only things I care about, which is the entire point of me coming up here.   

This is a page from Austin Kleon’s Steal Like An Artist. Yesterday we were sitting around the office and talking about our influences as filmmakers. Tim mentioned that he respects old films but perhaps his biggest influence are movies made in the 1990s, but also Tarkovsky’s Stalker.

Sunny mentioned classic movies, when they were still working out how things work like Charlie Chaplin. Sunny likes old time stuff and it reflects in her work directing Into the Woods recently, her writing, and as well as her acting and singing. Also, she loves Cirque de Soleil so she loves visually impactful performances. Tim likes the clean lines and clean visual effects, none of that shaky cam illusory stuff. In his writing he likes magical realism rooted in our natural environment and how it affects human life.

For me, my creative inspiration is rooted in my sophomore year of high school, when Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Baz Luhrmann’s Romeo and Juliet, and The Usual Suspects came out. From that, I can see a line of everything I do.

Reading Kleon’s book and this Jarmusch quote here I think about what we’re doing as a group. (I feel like “collective” is a word that is being used too much around here lately). I like that we’re creating and collaborating on things that come from other influences to build a new experience that is fresh and new in this area. It’s an exciting time for me right now, because finally I’m getting the chance to do only things I care about, which is the entire point of me coming up here.   

I have to say, I kind of love this photo of Austin Kleon. It’s also very much how one can find me on a regular basis. 

I have to say, I kind of love this photo of Austin Kleon. It’s also very much how one can find me on a regular basis. 

I had to be forced into a place where I simply did not give a fuck in order to find out what I was really capable of… What elevates someone’s work from “technically excellent” to “truly great” is the extent to which you feel like you’re seeing them live their truth, be fully themselves… Jason Scott, the historian and digital archivist, told me at Webstock that a fitting epitaph for his headstone would be: “He gave a crap. He didn’t give a fuck.”

Karen McKane, quoted in Austin Kleon’s post “Give a crap. Don’t give a fuck.”

This has been my mantra for the last couple months. I’ve finally settled into a professional atmosphere that engages my creative passions while also being totally okay with the reality that perhaps nothing I write for myself, like The Worst Writer Ever or any of my other writing projects, might see the end goal I would like. That’s not the reason I do them, because for me this kind of writing has been something I’ve engaged in on a daily basis since I was thirteen.

Recently, I was going through my old notebooks from NYC, college, high school, and some of the old typewriter manuscripts from before we had a computer. (I KNOW! I didn’t have one until half way through eighth grade). I’m trying to organize all of my papers in a similar manner to Gay Talese’s system and what I realized was how comics helped shaped me as a writer, and how long I’ve been engaging in writing. Since I was twelve! Twenty years I’ve been handwriting and journaling like this. Perhaps I was a creative life blogger from before the Internet. Maybe this is as far as I’ll get as a writer.

Then I came upon this quote written in one of my high school journals, I cringe at its teenage cliched pensiveness, but: “The second you stop caring about something is when it works out.” And it’s true. I think when you stop giving a fuck about the end game of something and just keep working on the details, and working on it eventually that thing will work out. It may be twenty years from now or next year. I do not give a fuck. It’s not why I do it. 

I don’t have a lot of advice to give. The one thing I would say to a young writer who wanted counsel is to be patient. Time, which is your enemy in almost everything in this life, is your friend in writing. It is. If you can relax into time, not fight it, not fret at its passing, you will become better. You probably won’t be very good at the beginning, but you will become better, and eventually you may actually become good. But it doesn’t help to be afraid of time, or to measure yourself against prodigies like Conrad or Crane or Rimbaud. There’s always going to be somebody who did it better than you, faster than you, and you don’t want to make comparisons that will discourage you in your work. In fact, most fiction writers tend to graybeard their way into their best work.

Tobias Wolff in the Paris Review. Originally posted by Austin Kleon.

I’ve come to believe that really, truly, this is the best writing advice I’ve ever read. Taking your time and not having to rely on writing as your solitary career helps create distance and transparency in your writing life. I’m not saying quit, but have it become a daily part of your life and just let it exist and when you’re happy with it—whenever that is—put it out there. See what people say, and be open to growth. 

All literature, highbrow or low, from the Aeneid onward, is fan fiction….Through parody and pastiche, allusion and homage, retelling and reimagining the stories that were told before us and that we have come of age loving—amateurs—we proceed, seeking out the blank places in the map that our favorite writers, in their greatness and negligence, have left for us, hoping to pass on to our own readers—should we be lucky enough to find any—some of the pleasure that we ourselves have taken in the stuff that we love: to get in on the game. All novels are sequels; influence is bliss.

Michael Chabon in Maps and Legendsquoted by austinkleon in this post.

I’m writing a bit of a jam session, and have been asking—am I writing fanfiction? And yeah, I guess I am, because I’m writing something that I’ve been wanting to write since high school and it is tremendous fun. 

Teach What You Know - Show Your Work! Poster by austinkleon.
I’ve been sort of obsessed with this for the last couple of weeks. I talk about comics frequently , but I always respond to the question “Do you draw?” with a quick and resounding “NO!”—I couldn’t draw to save my life. I’ve made a resolution to start drawing more. Simple things: words with pictures, visual note-taking, so I’m copying Kleon to build my confidence. I’ll move on, and look at Lynda Barry, David Aja, and others, just to get out of my text-filled headspace.
I’ve studied the form of comics for years—I believe that the medium builds better retention and memory, but I do not engage in the drawing aspect of it. Because I believe that I should not draw. Resulting in narrow approach to understanding comics, because I approach it from a writer’s perspective. That is only doing half the job. The way I started writing, by reverse-engineering a Mark Waid Flash comic into prose, makes my base on writing a visual enterprise. I have no aspirations to be a comic artist, that’s not my wheelhouse, but doing it for fun, to get better, is something I think I should do. Why not? 
I had Show Your Work pre-ordered forever ago,  because I see quite a bit of myself in the work Kleon does. Championing books, combining words with pictures, and talking about process is some of my mine—and his—favorite things. I’m more comfortable with taking pictures and combining them with words than drawing. I see his simple and elegant drawings as something that is not much of a stretch for me artistically. 

“ ‘If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas and contributing ideas.’ Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals; it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.” (11)

This is why I’m not that afraid to admit that I’m copying him and gearing my online presence to be about showing my work, because this is what I’ve been doing all along. I want to try experimenting in my plethora of notebooks, doing more visual things. Like collages.   
 I feel like I fail all the time—in fact I call myself an amateur at most things. “Amateurs might lack formal training, but they’re all lifelong learners, and they make a point of learning in the open, so that others can learn from their failures and successes.” (16) I’m an enthusiast, I enjoy things and I enjoy getting better as a person and writer, and that means screwing up all the time. 
“If you want people to know what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.” (43). Taking photos of my work is what I use Instagram for, it’s filled with things I’m reading, including my writing drafts, followed by a diversion into scenery, because I love where I live and it’s often inspiring and breathtaking. 
Kleon’s advice on the internet is also helpful, setting a timer for how much time you spend on it is useful. It’s something I’ve been working very hard on since the end of last semester to make the most of my time and not fall down a rabbit hole. This is why I’ve left my Feedly un-monitored. I’ve been setting a timer for how long I work on something before my mind wanders. 
Lauren Cerand’s quote is also great: “Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you.” Professor Viscusi once told me that you should behave in a way that when the New York Times does a profile on you there’s nothing in it that makes you squirm. The best way to execute this is maintaining your own space. 
“Your domain name is your domain. You don’t have to make compromises. Build a good domain name, keep it clean, and eventually it will be its own currency.” (69) He’s echoing William Burroughs’s advice to Patti Smith. Though I find Smith to be insufferable, it’s the reason why I registered my blog as davidpress.net. I’m going to take this year to learn some web design and coding to make this place my online home. Frank Chimero is doing this, another person Kleon linked to. 
This place is about things I enjoy, that fuel my work, and talk about things like this book. My personal life isn’t a thing I care to talk about here. I’d rather that bleed into my stories, my life is my work, and the personal side of things doesn’t matter. I’m too old for navel-gazing lifeblogging. It’s time to grow up. (He says though a few posts down one will find a panel from a comic book.)
Jonathan Lethem: “ ‘I’m basically a curator…Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.’  Lethem is someone I’m studying for my long-gestating analysis on how comic books have affected modern literature. A section of this project will revolve around Lethem, his book The Fortress of Solitude, and his reboot of Omega the Unknown.
The bit about credit is always due (85) is a thing I’m going to talk about this week in English. Teaching what I know has been my daily life for the last two years. I’m going to use the heck out of this in my classes. In fact I’m thinking about teaching this book next semester in first year seminar. 

“Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fund-raising request—they’re all pitches. They’re stories with the endings chopped off. A good pitch is set up in three acts: The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future. The first act is where you’ve been—what you want, how you came to want it, and what you’ve done so far to get it. The second act is where you are now in your work and how you’ve worked hard and used up most of your resources. The third act is where you’re going, and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this story shape effectively turns your listener into the hero who gets to decide how it ends.” (101)

This is the best advice yet, and something I didn’t wrap my brain around until yesterday. 
Gustav Freytag’s pyramid of a five-act structure is also something that I’m using in my film class. 
Though perhaps the biggest thing, the greatest lesson that I took from in this book is the concept of human spam. Kleon quotes Dan Chaon, someone to whom I’ve been meaning to read: 

“The writing community is full of lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t read the magazines that they want to be published in. These people deserve the rejections that they will undoubtedly receive, and no one should feel sorry for them when they cry about how they can’t get anyone to accept their stories.
“I call these people human spam. They’re everywhere, and they exist in every profession. They don’t want to pay their dues, they want their piece right here, right now. They don’t want to listen to your ideas; they want to tell you theirs. They don’t want to go to shows, but they thrust flyers at you on the sidewalk and scream at you to come to theirs. You should feel pity for these people and their delusions. At some point, they don’t get the memo that the world owes none of us anything.” 

I love this. In academia I see these sorts of people all the time and I spend most of my time trying to not come off like them. This is why this blog is about other people’s work rather than my own, other people’s creative efforts enrich me. As a teacher, I think the people who come to me for help are co-conspirators I’m helping them out and they’re helping me get better at my job, because teaching what I know is rewarding and helps me get outside of my head-shaped box. 
Finally, the concept of chain smoking is something I’m doing now. 

“You avoid stalling out in your career by never losing momentum. Here’s how you do it: instead of taking a break in between projects, waiting for feedback, and worrying about what’s next, use the end of one project to light up the next one. Just do the work that’s in front of you, and when it’s finished, ask yourself what you missed, what you could’ve done better, or what you couldn’t get to, and jump right into the next project.” (189)

I’ve been doing that with my fiction writing lately. If I feel myself stalling out on the next segment of the story, I switch to another story I’m working on—like a piece for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. I’ll return to the piece of fiction I come at it with a new editorial perspective, because I have some distance from it. This is why I have many projects going at the same time—will I finish any of them? Staggering these projects, chain smoking off of them provides distance for re-writing. 
Exercising, reading, making time away from the desk refuels me. Going away so you can come back, helps you come back to the work with a fresh head. This is why I cut off work in the evening, I use that time to make sure I get my daily word count in on my manuscript, and then I watch a show and start reading. That refuels me to begin again the next day.
tl;dr: I highly recommend this book. Kleon’s work is probably the only self-help books I’ll read and re-read, because they help me focus on what is important. Doing good work helps me have a healthy more meaningful life, and my personal life is the best it’s ever been as a result.

Teach What You Know - Show Your Work! Poster by austinkleon.

I’ve been sort of obsessed with this for the last couple of weeks. I talk about comics frequently , but I always respond to the question “Do you draw?” with a quick and resounding “NO!”—I couldn’t draw to save my life. I’ve made a resolution to start drawing more. Simple things: words with pictures, visual note-taking, so I’m copying Kleon to build my confidence. I’ll move on, and look at Lynda Barry, David Aja, and others, just to get out of my text-filled headspace.

I’ve studied the form of comics for years—I believe that the medium builds better retention and memory, but I do not engage in the drawing aspect of it. Because I believe that I should not draw. Resulting in narrow approach to understanding comics, because I approach it from a writer’s perspective. That is only doing half the job. The way I started writing, by reverse-engineering a Mark Waid Flash comic into prose, makes my base on writing a visual enterprise. I have no aspirations to be a comic artist, that’s not my wheelhouse, but doing it for fun, to get better, is something I think I should do. Why not? 

I had Show Your Work pre-ordered forever ago,  because I see quite a bit of myself in the work Kleon does. Championing books, combining words with pictures, and talking about process is some of my mine—and his—favorite things. I’m more comfortable with taking pictures and combining them with words than drawing. I see his simple and elegant drawings as something that is not much of a stretch for me artistically. 

“ ‘If you look back closely at history, many of the people who we think of as lone geniuses were actually part of “a whole scene of people who were supporting each other, looking at each other’s work, copying from each other, stealing ideas and contributing ideas.’ Scenius doesn’t take away from the achievements of those great individuals; it just acknowledges that good work isn’t created in a vacuum, and that creativity is always, in some sense, a collaboration, the result of a mind connected to other minds.” (11)

This is why I’m not that afraid to admit that I’m copying him and gearing my online presence to be about showing my work, because this is what I’ve been doing all along. I want to try experimenting in my plethora of notebooks, doing more visual things. Like collages.   

 I feel like I fail all the time—in fact I call myself an amateur at most things. “Amateurs might lack formal training, but they’re all lifelong learners, and they make a point of learning in the open, so that others can learn from their failures and successes.” (16) I’m an enthusiast, I enjoy things and I enjoy getting better as a person and writer, and that means screwing up all the time. 

“If you want people to know what you do and the things you care about, you have to share.” (43). Taking photos of my work is what I use Instagram for, it’s filled with things I’m reading, including my writing drafts, followed by a diversion into scenery, because I love where I live and it’s often inspiring and breathtaking. 

Kleon’s advice on the internet is also helpful, setting a timer for how much time you spend on it is useful. It’s something I’ve been working very hard on since the end of last semester to make the most of my time and not fall down a rabbit hole. This is why I’ve left my Feedly un-monitored. I’ve been setting a timer for how long I work on something before my mind wanders. 

Lauren Cerand’s quote is also great: “Post as though everyone who can read it has the power to fire you.” Professor Viscusi once told me that you should behave in a way that when the New York Times does a profile on you there’s nothing in it that makes you squirm. The best way to execute this is maintaining your own space. 

“Your domain name is your domain. You don’t have to make compromises. Build a good domain name, keep it clean, and eventually it will be its own currency.” (69) He’s echoing William Burroughs’s advice to Patti Smith. Though I find Smith to be insufferable, it’s the reason why I registered my blog as davidpress.net. I’m going to take this year to learn some web design and coding to make this place my online home. Frank Chimero is doing this, another person Kleon linked to. 

This place is about things I enjoy, that fuel my work, and talk about things like this book. My personal life isn’t a thing I care to talk about here. I’d rather that bleed into my stories, my life is my work, and the personal side of things doesn’t matter. I’m too old for navel-gazing lifeblogging. It’s time to grow up. (He says though a few posts down one will find a panel from a comic book.)

Jonathan Lethem: “ ‘I’m basically a curator…Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.’  Lethem is someone I’m studying for my long-gestating analysis on how comic books have affected modern literature. A section of this project will revolve around Lethem, his book The Fortress of Solitude, and his reboot of Omega the Unknown.

The bit about credit is always due (85) is a thing I’m going to talk about this week in English. Teaching what I know has been my daily life for the last two years. I’m going to use the heck out of this in my classes. In fact I’m thinking about teaching this book next semester in first year seminar. 

“Every client presentation, every personal essay, every cover letter, every fund-raising request—they’re all pitches. They’re stories with the endings chopped off. A good pitch is set up in three acts: The first act is the past, the second act is the present, and the third act is the future. The first act is where you’ve been—what you want, how you came to want it, and what you’ve done so far to get it. The second act is where you are now in your work and how you’ve worked hard and used up most of your resources. The third act is where you’re going, and how exactly the person you’re pitching can help you get there. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book, this story shape effectively turns your listener into the hero who gets to decide how it ends.” (101)

This is the best advice yet, and something I didn’t wrap my brain around until yesterday. 

Gustav Freytag’s pyramid of a five-act structure is also something that I’m using in my film class. 

Though perhaps the biggest thing, the greatest lesson that I took from in this book is the concept of human spam. Kleon quotes Dan Chaon, someone to whom I’ve been meaning to read: 

“The writing community is full of lame-o people who want to be published in journals even though they don’t read the magazines that they want to be published in. These people deserve the rejections that they will undoubtedly receive, and no one should feel sorry for them when they cry about how they can’t get anyone to accept their stories.

“I call these people human spam. They’re everywhere, and they exist in every profession. They don’t want to pay their dues, they want their piece right here, right now. They don’t want to listen to your ideas; they want to tell you theirs. They don’t want to go to shows, but they thrust flyers at you on the sidewalk and scream at you to come to theirs. You should feel pity for these people and their delusions. At some point, they don’t get the memo that the world owes none of us anything.” 

I love this. In academia I see these sorts of people all the time and I spend most of my time trying to not come off like them. This is why this blog is about other people’s work rather than my own, other people’s creative efforts enrich me. As a teacher, I think the people who come to me for help are co-conspirators I’m helping them out and they’re helping me get better at my job, because teaching what I know is rewarding and helps me get outside of my head-shaped box. 

Finally, the concept of chain smoking is something I’m doing now. 

“You avoid stalling out in your career by never losing momentum. Here’s how you do it: instead of taking a break in between projects, waiting for feedback, and worrying about what’s next, use the end of one project to light up the next one. Just do the work that’s in front of you, and when it’s finished, ask yourself what you missed, what you could’ve done better, or what you couldn’t get to, and jump right into the next project.” (189)

I’ve been doing that with my fiction writing lately. If I feel myself stalling out on the next segment of the story, I switch to another story I’m working on—like a piece for the Adirondack Daily Enterprise. I’ll return to the piece of fiction I come at it with a new editorial perspective, because I have some distance from it. This is why I have many projects going at the same time—will I finish any of them? Staggering these projects, chain smoking off of them provides distance for re-writing. 

Exercising, reading, making time away from the desk refuels me. Going away so you can come back, helps you come back to the work with a fresh head. This is why I cut off work in the evening, I use that time to make sure I get my daily word count in on my manuscript, and then I watch a show and start reading. That refuels me to begin again the next day.

tl;dr: I highly recommend this book. Kleon’s work is probably the only self-help books I’ll read and re-read, because they help me focus on what is important. Doing good work helps me have a healthy more meaningful life, and my personal life is the best it’s ever been as a result.

What was the next thing I read? Oh this interview with Chad Harbach. →

Are MFA programs asshole-making machines? The contributors Harbach has assembled for MFA vs NYC offer up some interesting answers to this question. They explore whether fiction programs can turn established writers into jaded teachers, cashing the paychecks necessary for writerly survival while caring little about students’ work. They consider whether MFAs can make talented younger writers into producers of bland, indistinguishable, commercially viable books. They explore the extent to which it might be better to stay in Iowa working on draft #143 of your masterpiece, rather than schmoozing at NYC publishing parties, and they ask—to quote from George Saunders’s own contribution to the book—whether, as MFA programs continue to proliferate, there’s “something gross about a culture telling a bunch of people who are never going to be artists that they maybe are, even if only by implication.”

What was it that grabbed me? I guess the system of turning out writers into writing teachers, a system I’m a part of, and seeing that as a necessary result. Teaching needs to happen, teaching how to help people communicate with one another and see another perspective is a necessary result to making a living. Just like garbage getting picked up, I’m getting paid to read other people’s writing, which helps me understand them and what they need to do well. It helps me understand what I need to do well so that I can support myself. Austin Kleon, talks about how you’re not entitled to do what you love, doing what you love creates a better life, but it doesn’t owe you financial success. Fortunately, I find myself at a crossroads where that’s not true. My job helps me be compassionate, and it spotlights when I’m being unreasonable. It trains me to recognize my ticks and spasms in other people and it’s so time-consuming that it provides a framework for finding the time for me and my art. That taking the time, the hour to sit down and write every day is necessary to my mental health, because the entire day can’t be all about other people. I don’t really care that much about whether the book I’m writing now will ever see a bookstore. It probably won’t, but it’s not something I’m worried about, it won’t see a bookstore if I don’t make an honest effort and try to get better.

I haven’t read MFA vs NYC, but I want to see if it talks about anything outside of these two paradigms, that there is space between these two literary powerhouses, because unfortunately it seems like the thesis is narrow.

davepress asked: If you were teaching a class to a group of college freshmen who are mostly environmental science and hospitality students, what advice would you give them?

austinkleon:

I have the same advice for all students: Go into as little debt as possible, because that will give you more options when you graduate. Get the education you need for as cheap as you can get it. Spend as much time in the library as you can and read as much as you can. Soak it up.

austinkleon:

A bunch of my visual notes from over the years.

(via bookoisseur)