Summary - Keep Going - Austin Kleon

Summary - Keep Going - Austin Kleon

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  • The creative life and journey are not easy or linear. It often feels like a loop or spiral, where you keep coming back to a new starting point after each project. No matter how successful you get, you never really “arrive.”

  • The key is establishing a daily routine and practice. Focus on what you can control each day - what you choose to work on and how hard you work. Live “one day at a time” like in the movie Groundhog Day.

  • A routine provides structure and protects you from chaos. It helps you make the most of the time you have, whether you have a little or a lot. The specific routine depends on your circumstances, obligations, temperament, and preferences.

  • Observe your days and moods to determine the routine that works for you. Figure out when you have free time and your most productive hours. Consider any little rituals that help spark your creativity.

  • A routine may seem like “imprisonment” but can provide freedom. It establishes good habits and helps you take advantage of your limited resources. It also makes non-routine days even more interesting.

  • There will always be good days and bad days. A routine helps you get through both and make the most of each day. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.”

  • Many famous creative people have had their unique routines and rituals. But you have to find what works for your particular circumstances. “One’s daily routine is a highly idiosyncratic collection of compromises, neuroses, and superstitions.”

That covers the main points and messages around establishing a creative routine and making the most of each day. Let me know if you would like me to clarify or expand on any part of the summary.

• Having a routine or daily structure is important for productivity and well-being. But it’s also good to break from routine once in a while to have fun. You can modify your routine as needed to suit your needs.

• Making lists helps bring order to chaos and clears your mind. Lists can include to-do lists, someday/maybe lists, pros and cons lists, rules lists, top 100 lists, and more. Lists provide purpose and help prioritize.

• Not every day goes as planned. Do your best to make it through the day and forgive yourself for imperfections and mistakes. Start fresh each day. Some days you just have to “get rid of” the day as best you can.

• Creative work requires both connection to others as well as a disconnection from the world. Solitude, silence, and a “bliss station”—a sacred space and time—are important for creative focus and inspiration.

• Cutting out exposure to news and information, especially in the morning, leads to decreased anxiety and a fresher mind. The early morning can be an ideal time for creative work before the world interrupts you.

• In summary, establish a flexible routine, use lists, forgive yourself daily, nurture solitude, and limit information overload—especially in the morning. These practices will support your creativity, productivity, and well-being.

The news can easily scatter your brain and distract you from what's important. Henry David Thoreau complained in 1852 that reading a weekly newspaper made it hard to focus on his own life and work. He decided to stop reading it.

These days, constantly checking your phone in the morning can ruin your day before it starts. It's better to avoid looking at your phone for the first 15 minutes after waking up. Do something else like exercising, eating, reading or meditating. Staying informed doesn't require constantly consuming news.

Nina Katchadourian turned airplane mode into an opportunity to make art using just her phone camera and found materials on airplanes. She created spooky altered photos in in-flight magazines and took self-portraits in airplane bathrooms. Airplane mode isn't just for planes—it can be a way of life. Disconnect to reconnect with yourself and your work.

To protect your time and space, learn to say "no." People like Oliver Sacks, Le Corbusier and Jasper Johns all found ways to decline invitations and set boundaries. Saying no can be hard, but it's necessary to say yes to what matters.

Fear of missing out (FOMO) makes you feel like everyone else is living a better life. The cure is the joy of missing out (JOMO)—finding bliss in skipping things and being content with what you have.

You have to do work to earn a title like "artist" or "musician." Focus on the work (the verb), not the title (the noun). The work will take you further. Waiting for someone to call you an "artist" before making art is futile. Do the work and let titles worry about themselves.

Play is the work of children and artists. Watch children play—they focus intensely and learn through play. Great artists retain a sense of playfulness and lightness. Art suffers when the artist gets too serious or focused on results. Tap into your inner child and make your work feel more like play. Detach from outcomes and focus on the process. The play opens up possibilities.

• Kurt Vonnegut advised students to write a poem and then throw it away. The act of creating art, he said, helps your "soul grow." Practicing art for its own sake keeps you playful and light.

• Force yourself to play by using unfamiliar tools, making intentionally bad art, or hanging out with kids. Play helps combat a loss of fun and creativity.

• Be careful about turning your passions into your profession. It's easy to start hating what you love when you depend on it to make a living. Keep part of your creative practice separate from making money. And live below your means to maintain maximum creative freedom.

• Don't become obsessed with online metrics and analytics. Likes, shares, and click-throughs don't necessarily equal meaningful impact or connection. Take breaks from checking metrics and focus on the qualitative experience of making work you care about.

• "Suckcess" is the success that sucks - either because it's on someone else's terms, it's undeserved, or chasing it has made you miserable. When success starts to suck, step away from the marketplace and make gifts for people you care about. Give your work away or teach others as a way to reconnect with the gift in what you do.

• Keep your overhead low, focus on the work rather than money or fame, and make things for the people who will appreciate them. That's the path to sustaining a creative life.

Here's a summary:

• Great art often emerges from gifts that were originally made for a specific person but ended up resonating with a wider audience. Many famous stories began as bedtime tales for a particular child.

• Making gifts for others helps us discover our gifts and talents. Finding beauty in small, ordinary moments is an artistic skill.

• Sister Mary Corita Kent was an artist who found beauty in the mundane landscape of Los Angeles and incorporated advertising and signs into her art. Great artists can find magic in everyday life.

• You do not need an extraordinary life to make extraordinary art. Everything you need is in your everyday life. Paying close attention to the details of your ordinary life is the first step to turning it into art.

• Slowing down and observing the world around you is key. Drawing and sketching are useful tools for forcing yourself to slow down, look closely, and appreciate life's beauty. Drawing helps you see the world in a new way and can be a meditative practice.

• Your attention is precious. Pay attention to what you pay attention to, as that shapes your life and work. Keeping a diary or journal helps you track what you focus on over time. Reviewing your diary, sketches, photos, and other records helps you gain insight into your patterns and what you care about.

• Art begins with where we direct our attention. Life is built from paying attention to what we pay attention to. Regularly reviewing the records of your life—like a diary, sketchbook, or camera roll—helps you see the bigger picture of what you've been focusing on and where your gifts lie.

Here is a summary of what you should do next:

•Pay close attention to your life and what matters to you. This will help you gain clarity and determine the best path forward.

•Don't judge artists solely by their failings or shortcomings. Many "art monsters" have produced meaningful work. But also don't excuse bad behavior because someone is talented.

•If making your art is making you or others miserable, consider walking away from it. Your life and relationships are more important.

•Embrace uncertainty and be willing to change your mind. Having strong, fixed opinions and an unwillingness to consider other perspectives will limit your thinking and discovery.

•Find ways to think with others, particularly those with different viewpoints. Expose yourself to different ideas and be open to being influenced and having your mind changed.

•Seek out "like-hearted" people—those who are caring, kind, thoughtful and open-minded. Connecting with people who share your creative spirit but have different perspectives can help expand your thinking.

•Read and learn from those who came before us, especially thinkers from different periods. The "old books" can provide a corrective to the assumptions and blind spots of our current era.

•Choose a path that allows you to bring more hope, beauty and meaning into the world. Making work that improves lives and helps people in some way is most important.

•Consider that you may not be meant to be an artist. Your talents and purpose could lie elsewhere. Don't rule out other paths and possibilities.

Read old books and they are excellent listeners. Saying so, the author argues that old books contain timeless wisdom and insights into human nature that remain relevant today. By reading them, we can gain access to knowledge and life experiences that were previously unavailable to us. As the Roman philosopher Seneca said, we can add the years the author lived to our own lives. The problems and issues we face today have likely been grappled with and written about in the past. Although human life changes in many ways, in other ways little changes - as evidenced by how the ancient wisdom of Lao Tzu and Henry David Thoreau still resonates today.

The key ideas are:

  1. Read old books to gain access to timeless wisdom and insights into human nature.

  2. The issues and problems we face today have likely been written about in the past.

  3. Although life changes, human nature remains largely the same. The wisdom of the ancients still resonates today.

  4. We can add years to our lives by reading books from previous eras. They allow us to tap into knowledge and experiences that we otherwise would not have access to.

  • Creativity requires solitude, walking, and observing nature and life. It has seasons, like a maple tree: periods of growth, change, rest, and blossoming.

  • We should embrace cyclical time and nonlinear progress, not constant acceleration.

  • Patience and reflection are key. We must give ourselves time to evolve and learn from our mistakes. Rushing stifles creativity.

  • We should observe the rhythms of nature - the sun, moon, trees, and seasons - to better understand our rhythms and cycles of creativity. This helps us know which "season" we're in and how to nurture our work.

  • Some artists blossom early, but those who endure and continue creating into old age are the most inspiring. They plant seeds, tend themselves, and grow into something lasting.

  • The slogans "make your mark" and "move fast and break things" imply that creativity is about speed, disruption and selfishness. Better slogans are "first, do no harm" and "leave things better than you found them."

  • Art should aim to mend, repair and tidy up, not just break and vandalize. It should show us beauty we can't see and bring order out of chaos.

  • Walking, being outside and engaging our senses help combat fear, misinformation and "demons" that want to control us. It gives us an independent vision of the world to push back against manipulation.

  • To be creative, we must be sensual - present in the moment, aware of life's beauty, and trusting our senses and reactions. Distrusting ourselves cuts us off from reality.

Here's a summary:

  • The author wrote this book because he needed the advice in it - to build a creative life in the digital age and share your work with others.

  • Every day is a chance to start over and do good work. Focus on your daily practice.

  • Create a space solely dedicated to creative work - a "bliss station." Make it inviting and cut off distractions.

  • Focus on the action - the "verb" - rather than the outcome or product. The doing is what matters.

  • Share gifts with others - work that you give away freely without expectation. Gifts build connections.

  • Apply extra attention to ordinary subjects and activities to make them extraordinary. Notice the details.

  • Confront your fears and doubts - your "art monsters" - through consistent work. Show up and do the work.

  • Give yourself permission to change your mind and pursue new directions. Your work will evolve.

  • Organize and tidy your space when feeling uncreative. A clean space leads to a clear mind.

  • Spending time outside in nature helps combat negative and fearful thoughts. Fresh air provides perspective.

  • Have patience and plant seeds that may not bloom for years. Some work takes time to develop and spread its influence. Keep nurturing it.

The key themes are: show up consistently, focus on the practice not the outcome, share your work generously, pay close attention to details, confront your fears, give yourself space to change, find clarity through organization, seek fresh air and nature, and have patience for long-term impact. Build the creative life you want through daily nurturing and care.


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