Steal Like an Artist

by Austin Kleon

The writer Jonathan Lethem has said that when people call something “original,” nine out of ten times they just don’t know the references or the original sources involved. (Location 64)

“Everything that needs to be said has already been said. But, since no one was listening, everything must be said again.” (Location 70)

You don’t get to pick your family, but you can pick your teachers and you can pick your friends and you can pick the music you listen to and you can pick the books you read and you can pick the movies you see. (Location 86)

You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences. (Location 88)

Hoarders collect indiscriminately, artists collect selectively. (Location 95)

“Garbage in, garbage out.” (Location 99)

Your job is to collect good ideas. The more good ideas you collect, the more you can choose from to be influenced by. (Location 100)

“Steal from anywhere that resonates with inspiration or fuels your imagination. Devour old films, new films, music, books, paintings, photographs, poems, dreams, random conversations, architecture, bridges, street signs, trees, clouds, bodies of water, light and shadows. Select only things to steal from that speak directly to your (Location 102)

Study everything there is to know about that thinker. (Location 109)

Repeat this as many times as you can. (Location 110)

you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. (Location 121)

Always be reading. Go to the library. There’s magic in being surrounded by books. Get lost in the stacks. Read bibliographies. It’s not the book you start with, it’s the book that book leads you to. (Location 124)

“Nothing is more important than an unread library.” (Location 127)

Get used to pulling it out and jotting down your thoughts and observations. (Location 132)

Go to whatever lengths necessary to make sure you always have paper on you. (Location 134)

Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like—a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. (Location 136)

Your morgue file is where you keep the dead things that you’ll later reanimate in your work. (Location 141)

In my experience, it’s in the act of making things and doing our work that we figure out who we are. (Location 149)

You’re ready. Start making stuff. (Location 151)

“psychological phenomenon in which people are unable to internalize their accomplishments.” (Location 153)

Ask anybody doing truly creative work, and they’ll tell you the truth: They don’t know where the good stuff comes from. They just show up to do their thing. Every day. (Location 156)

you are—fake it until you’re successful, until everybody sees you the way you want them to; or 2. Pretend to be making something until you actually make something. (Location 164)

We learn by copying. (Location 185)

Copying is about reverse-engineering. (Location 186)

“Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.” (Location 193)

First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second, you have to figure out what to copy. (Location 194)

And you don’t just steal from one of your heroes, you steal from all of them. (Location 196)

The writer Wilson Mizner said if you copy from one author, it’s plagiarism, but if you copy from many, it’s research. (Location 197)

“If you have one person you’re influenced by, everyone will say you’re the next whoever. But if you rip off a hundred people, everyone will say you’re so original!” (Location 198)

You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes. (Location 200)

The reason to copy your heroes and their style is so that you might somehow get a glimpse into their minds. That’s what you really want—to internalize their way of looking at the world. (Location 201)

And that’s how you begin. And then one day someone will steal from you.” (Location 208)

Imitation is about copying. Emulation is when imitation goes one step further, breaking through into your own thing. (Location 210)

He had to adapt the moves to make them his own. (Location 214)

“It is our failure to become our perceived ideal that ultimately defines us and makes us unique.” (Location 217)

That’s what you should amplify and transform into your own work. (Location 222)

merely imitating your heroes is not flattering them. Transforming their work into something of your own is how you flatter them. Adding something to the world that only you can add. (Location 223)

Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. (Location 246)

Note: An important advice for writing contrt

What did they miss? What didn’t they make? What could’ve been made better? If they were still alive, what would they be making today? If all your favorite makers got together and collaborated, what would they make with you leading the crew? (Location 254)

Draw the art you want to see, start the business you want to run, play the music you want to hear, write the books you want to read, build the products you want to use—do the work you want to see done. (Location 257)

Note: Very powerful

We need to move, to feel like we’re making something with our bodies, not just our heads. (Location 273)

Updated: Aug 05, 2020

You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with. (Location 99)

chew on one thinker—writer, artist, activist, role model—you really love. (Location 109)

Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. (Location 110)

Pretend to be something you’re not (Location 164)

“You start out by rewriting your hero’s catalog.” (Location 196)

Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. (Location 200)

“We want you to take from us. We want you, at first, to steal from us, because you can’t steal. You will take what we give you and you will put it in your own voice and that’s how you will find your voice. (Location 206)

you’ll have to move from imitating your heroes to emulating them. (Location 210)

Copy your heroes. Examine where you fall short. What’s in there that makes you different? (Location 221)

The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. (Location 246)

Think about your favorite work and your creative heroes. (Location 254)