Show Your Work!


A New Way of Operating

“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”—John Cleese

If you just focus on getting really good, Martin says, people will come to you.

  • You don’t really find an audience for your work; they find you. But it’s not enough to be good. In order to be found, you have to be findable.

1. You Don’t Have to Be a Genius.

Find A Scenius.

“Give what you have. To someone, it may be better than you dare to think.”—Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

Be An Amateur.

“That’s all any of us are: amateurs. We don’t live long enough to be anything else.”—Charlie Chaplin

  • Sometimes, in the process of doing things in an unprofessional way, they make new discoveries.

“In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities,” said Zen monk Shunryu Suzuki. “In the expert’s mind, there are few.”

  • “On the spctrum of creative work, the difference between the mediocre and the good is vast. Mediocrity is, however, still on the spectrum; you can move from mediocre to good in increments. The real gap is between doing nothing and doing something.” Amateurs know that contributing something is better than contributing nothing.
  • 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.
  • This is yet another trait of amateurs—they’ll use whatever tools they can get their hands on to try to get their ideas into the world.
  • Share what you love, and the people who love the same things will find you.

You Can’t Find Your Voice If You Don’t Use It.

“Find your voice, shout it from the rooftops, and keep doing it until the people that are looking for you find you.”— Dan Harmon

Read Obituaries.

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything—all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure—these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked.”—Steve Jobs

2. Think Process, Not Product.

Take People Behind The Scenes.

“A lot of people are so used to just seeing the outcome of work. They never see the side of the work you go through to produce the outcome.”—Michael Jackson

  • “By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.”
  • Audiences not only want to stumble across great work, but they, too, long to be creative and part of the creative process. By letting go of our egos and sharing our process, we allow for the possibility of people having an ongoing connection with us and our work, which helps us move more of our product.

Become A Documentarian Of What You Do.

“In order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen—really seen.”—Brené Brown

  • But whatever the nature of your work, there is an art to what you do, and there are people who would be interested in that art.
  • You have to turn the invisible into something other people can see.

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

3. Share Something Small Everyday.

Send Out a Daily Dispatch.

“Put yourself, and your work, out there every day, and you’ll start meeting some amazing people.”—Bobby Solomon

  • A daily dispatch is even better than a résumé or a portfolio, because it shows what we’re working on right now.
  • The form of what you share doesn’t matter. Your daily dispatch can be anything you want—a blog post, an email, a tweet, a YouTube video, or some other little bit of media. There’s no one-size-fits-all plan for everybody.
  • The trouble is, we don’t always know what’s good and what sucks. That’s why it’s important to get things in front of others and see how they react.

“One day at a time. It sounds so simple. It actually is simple but it isn’t easy: It requires incredible support and fastidious structuring.”—Russell Brand

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The “So What?” Test.

“Make no mistake: This is not your diary. You are not letting it all hang out. You are picking and choosing every single word.”—Dani Shapiro

  • Be open, share imperfect and unfinished work that you want feedback on, but don’t share absolutely everything. There’s a big, big difference between sharing and over-sharing.

Turn Your Flow Into Stock.

“If you work on something a little bit every day, you end up with something that is massive.”—Kenneth Goldsmith

  • “Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people you exist.
  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today.
  • Your stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow.

Small things, over time, can get big.

Build A Good (Domain) Name.

“Carving out a space for yourself online, somewhere where you can express yourself and share your work, is still one of the best possible investments you can make with your time.”—Andy Baio

  • A blog is the ideal machine for turning flow into stock.
  • One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work.

Don’t think of your website as a self-promotion machine, think of it as a self-invention machine.

  • Be concerned with doing good work . . . and if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.”

4. Open Up Your Cabinet of Curiosities.

Don’t Be A Hoarder.

“The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually, you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish. . . . Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.”—Paul Arden

  • Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do—sometimes even more than your own work.

“You’re only as good as your record collection.”—DJ Spooky

No Guilty Pleasures.

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you f—ing like something, like it.”—Dave Grohl

All it takes to uncover hidden gems is a clear eye, an open mind, and a willingness to search for inspiration in places other people aren’t willing or able to go.

  • Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them. When you share your taste and your influences, have the guts to own all of it.

“Do what you do best and link to the rest.”—Jeff Jarvis

5. Tell Good Stories.

Work Doesn’t Speak For Itself

“To fake a photograph, all you have to do is change the caption. To fake a painting, change the attribution.”—Errol Morris

  • If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.

“‘The cat sat on a mat’ is not a story. ‘The cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is a story.”—John le Carré

Structure is Everything

“In the first act, you get your hero up a tree. The second act, you throw rocks at him. For the third act, you let him down.”—George Abbott

Talk About Yourself at Parties.

“You got to make your case.”—Kanye West

  • Tell the truth and tell it with dignity and self-respect.
  • If you’re employed, but you don’t feel good about your job title, ask yourself why that is. Maybe you’re in the wrong line of work, or maybe you’re not doing the work you’re supposed to be doing.

George Orwell wrote: “Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.”

“Whatever we say, we’re always talking about ourselves.”—Alison Bechdel

6. Teach What You Know.

Share Your Trade Secrets.

“The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”—Annie Dillard

  • The minute you learn something, turn around and teach it to others. Share your reading list. Point to helpful reference materials. Create some tutorials and post them online. Use pictures, words, and video. Take people step-by-step through part of your process.
  • Teaching people doesn’t subtract value from what you do, it actually adds to it. When you teach someone how to do your work, you are, in effect, generating more interest in your work. People feel closer to your work because you’re letting them in on what you know.
  • When you share your knowledge and your work with others, you receive an education in return.

7. Don’t Turn Into Human Spam.

Shut Up and Listen

“When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.”—Richard Ford

  • If you want to be a writer, you have to be a reader first.
  • If you want fans, you have to be a fan first. If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community.
  • If you’re only pointing to your own stuff online, you’re doing it wrong. You have to be a connector. The writer Blake Butler calls this being an open node.

You Want Hearts, Not Eyeballs.

“What you want is to follow and be followed by human beings who care about issues you care about. This thing we make together. This thing is about hearts and minds, not eyeballs.”—Jeffrey Zeldman

  • If you want followers, be someone worth following.
  • If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested.
  • Make stuff you love and talk about stuff you love and you’ll attract people who love that kind of stuff. It’s that simple.

The Vampire Test.

“Whatever excites you, go do it. Whatever drains you, stop doing it.”—Derek Sivers

  • Vampire Test. It’s a simple way to know who you should let in and out of your life. If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire.
  • The Vampire Test works on many things in our lives, not just people—you can apply it to jobs, hobbies, places, etc.

“Part of the act of creating is in discovering your own kind. They are everywhere. But don’t look for them in the wrong places.”—Henry Miller

Identify Your Fellow Knuckleballers.

“It’s all about paying attention. Attention is vitality. It connects you with others.”—Susan Sontag

Meet up in Meatspace.

“You and I will be around a lot longer than Twitter, and nothing substitutes face to face.”—Rob Delaney

8. Learn to Take a Punch.

Let ‘Em Take Their Best Shot.

“I ain’t going to give up. Every time you think I’m one place, I’m going to show up someplace else. I come pre-hated. Take your best shot.”—Cyndi Lauper

  • When you put your work out into the world, you have to be ready for the good, the bad, and the ugly. The more people come across your work, the more criticism you’ll face.

“The trick is not caring what EVERYBODY thinks of you and just caring about what the RIGHT people think of you.”—Brian Michael Bendis

Don’t Feed The Trolls.

  • A troll is a person who isn’t interested in improving your work, only provoking you with hateful, aggressive, or upsetting talk. You will gain nothing by engaging with these people. Don’t feed them, and they’ll usually go away.
  • The worst troll is the one that lives in your head. It’s the voice that tells you you’re not good enough, that you suck, and that you’ll never amount to anything.

“There’s never a space under paintings in a gallery where someone writes their opinion,” says cartoonist Natalie Dee.

9. Sell Out.

Even The Renaissance Had to Be Funded.

“Sellout . . . I’m not crazy about that word. We’re all entrepreneurs. To me, I don’t care if you own a furniture store or whatever—the best sign you can put up is sold out.”—Bill Withers

  • Don’t be jealous when the people you like do well—celebrate their victory as if it’s your own.

Pass Around The Hat.

“I’d love to sell out completely. It’s just that nobody has been willing to buy.”—John Waters

  • When an audience starts gathering for the work that you’re freely putting into the world, you might eventually want to take the leap of turning them into patrons.
  • Whether you ask for donations, crowdfund, or sell your products or services, asking for money in return for your work is a leap you want to take only when you feel confident that you’re putting work out into the world that you think is truly worth something. Don’t be afraid to charge for your work, but put a price on it that you think is fair.

Keep A Mailing List.

  • The model is very simple: They give away great stuff on their sites, they collect emails, and then when they have something remarkable to share or sell, they send an email. You’d be amazed at how well the model works.

Make More Work For Yourself.

“We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.”—Walt Disney

  • Yet a life of creativity is all about change—moving forward, taking chances, exploring new frontiers. “The real risk is in not changing,” said saxophonist John Coltrane.

“There is no misery in art. All art is about saying yes, and all art is about its own making.”—John Currin

Pay It Forward.

  • When you have success, it’s important to use any dough, clout, or platform you’ve acquired to help along the work of the people who’ve helped you get to where you are. Extol your teachers, your mentors, your heroes, your influences, your peers, and your fans. Give them a chance to share their own work. Throw opportunities their way.

“The biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the thing that you do, because you are successful,” writes author Neil Gaiman.

“Above all, recognize that if you have had success, you have also had luck—and with luck comes obligation. You owe a debt, and not just to your gods. You owe a debt to the unlucky.”—Michael Lewis

10. Stick Around.

Don’t Quit Your Show

“If you want a happy ending,” actor Orson Welles wrote, “that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”

  • “In our business you don’t quit,” says comedian Joan Rivers. “You’re holding on to the ladder. When they cut off your hands, hold on with your elbow. When they cut off your arms, hold on with your teeth. You don’t quit because you don’t know where the next job is coming from.”

“Work is never finished, only abandoned.”—Paul Valéry

Chain-Smoke.

  • 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.

“We work because it’s a chain reaction, each subject leads to the next.”—Charles Eames

Go Away So You Can Come Back.

“The minute you stop wanting something you get it.”—Andy Warhol

“Every two or three years, I knock off for a while. That way, I’m constantly the new girl in the whorehouse.”—Robert Mitchum

Begin Again.

“Whenever Picasso learned how to do something, he abandoned it.”—Milton Glaser

  • When you get rid of old material, you push yourself further and come up with something better. When you throw out old work, what you’re really doing is making room for new work.
  • Show your work, and when the right people show up, pay close attention to them, because they’ll have a lot to show you.