The book Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad by Austin Kleon couldn’t have entered my life at a better time. In short, Kindergarten is killing me, and “just keep going” has become a mantra on which I now depend.
My daughter began school earlier this month and adjusted well to everything new: new people, new wake-up time, new bedtime, new routine altogether. As for me, not so much. However, Keep Going not only reminded me of the interests and passions that continue to have possibility in me, but also convicted me of some misconceptions I’ve held and misbehaviors I’ve adopted as I pursue the creative life. Through his book, Kleon challenged me to think or act differently in a number of ways, including the following:
Ignore the audience
I’ve worked in the realm of business communications and public relations for nearly twenty-five years. The concept and reality of audience is my industry’s biggest concern. The audience’s needs. The audience’s reactions. The audience’s attentiveness and current opinions.
Kleon poses, however, that the work of a true and focused creative is unfazed by audience. We should make what we make because we feel compelled in our own souls what we want to make. We should not depend on others’ positive or negative feedback to drive what we accomplish from day to day to day. We should resist the urge to monitor clicks and likes and comments as some kind of personal validation.
Uh, guilty, and point taken.
Tidying has its place
I’ve become a sucker for books and articles and blogs on cool studio spaces. The thing is I can see myself spending about ninety-five percent of my time making sure I have the best back-drop for making art, with just a nickel left for actual art-making.
Kleon’s position: Tidying has its place, namely with the tools needed to make art. Knowing where to find a brush or pen or pad of paper is definitely necessary for getting the job done, but not so much staging an environment that gets us “in the mood,” is photo-shoot ready, etc. If things get too cluttered or out-of-control, we can use tidying as a way to explore new ideas, says Kleon. The mess may reveal a collision of media and subject matter and technique that we hadn’t thought of before.
Just do it
When I resurrected this blog thanks to the motivation of Show Your Work!, another of Kleon’s books, I was determined to claim the title of artist (this was my idea, not Kleon’s). “Title schmitle” is what Keep Going got through to me (and now I can’t help but hear the cast of Meatballs chanting in my ear, “It just doesn’t matter, it just doesn’t matter…”—yep, I’m definitely a product of the 70s).
Kleon puts it this way: “Forget the noun, do the verb… Let go of the thing that you’re trying to be (the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing (the verb). Doing the verb will take you someplace further and far more interesting.”
Along with this “doing business,” Kleon suggests that it be wrapped in playfulness, no end goal in mind. It’s okay to throw our work into the scrap heap. It’s okay not to finish. It’s okay to have fun with nothing to show for it. Imagine that.
I have also fallen prey to the glorification of Etsy and other money-making machines for creatives—that any success in these realms is the brightest jewel in the crown of creativity. I was absolutely moved and convicted by this quote from Quincy Jones that Kleon includes: “God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money.”
If I’m going to stay on this crazy creative course, I want it to be pure in motive. I want it to be rich in spiritual collaboration with the Almighty. I want it to be less about marketing and earning and getting ahead, and more about simply being and enjoying, and giving through and from the heart.
Keep Going by Austin Kleon—this book may be among the top five game-changing books of my creative career. Not only did it encourage my ongoing adventures in exploring and making of art, which has become more difficult in the face of transition. It also challenged my integrity, and that’s definitely something I want to maintain no matter where my artistic interests lie or take me.
Dear readers, I invite you to keep going with me! Join me in learning more from Kleon through these video links:
– “How to Keep Going” (Bond 2018)
– “Creative Is Not a Noun” (Scratch@MIT 2018)