The Internet has changed a lot of the ways we do business. You can pay bills online, buy cars online, meet friends online, and maybe, if you're lucky, live out your dream job online.
Author and artist Austin Kleon believes he owes his career to the web. Across blogs and social media, he's found his calling, a following, a few new jobs, and two book deals.
Kleon will be at Changing Hands Bookstore tonight, Thursday, April 26, signing his most recent release Steal Like an Artist, as well as Newspaper Blackout, his poetry-turned-visual art collection.
We spoke with Kleon midway through his first big book tour, "Steal Across America."
Steal Like an Artist is billed as a manifesto for creativity. Since creativity can be applied broadly to so many different fields -- not just art, but science and math, too -- was the book challenging to write?
To me, the book was less about creativity and more about how to live a life that makes creativity easier.
I believe that all advice is autobiographical. When you give advice, you're just talking to yourself in the past. There's an adage: What's personal is universal, and specificity leads to universal truth. The more you can stick to your own experience, the more people can extrapolate from it.
People have this idea that you can reach down your throat and pull out a creative genius. But the better way to do it is to completely immerse yourself in influences and then put your work out into the world.
How has the Internet shaped your career? I owe every decent thing that's happened in my career to being online and sharing my work and talking to people. Newspaper Blackout came out of the fact that I was having a horrible case of writer's block, but also because I had a blog and I needed something to fill it with. I thought they were just writer's exercises, but people started to like them and ask for more.
Even when I got my job as a web designer at UT Austin, I got it based on the work on my own website. When I was hired as a copywriter at an ad agency, it was because of my writing online and my work on social media. I could not be having this career if it wasn't for the Internet.
You're constantly talking to readers via Twitter and other social media. So what is it like on tour, actually interacting with them in person?
It's different -- I don't know in what way though. It's kind of amazing. When you're talking to someone on Twitter, it's like, "Oh, they were on Twitter the same time I was." But when someone shows up to your event, it means not only do they like you, but they made the effort to come see you.
People think of the Internet as being this alternate world -- there's real life and digital life. Really, it's just a layer of real life. It's connecting people, and what's really interesting is when you get to meet those people in person.
Has anything surprised you about the tour?
In a lot of cities, a publisher arranges for you to have an escort. Escort sounds kind of racy, but usually it's an older, retired person who picks you up and drives you around. I've had really good escorts so far, all retirement age, and they have this great, vast knowledge of their cities. They're also just genuinely interesting people who've met a lot of interesting authors.
On a larger scale, the best part of being a writer and artist is the people you meet. Authors tend to complain about book tours, but for me, it's the coolest. I'm even keeping a little tour diary online.
Recently, you tweeted about a nasty Amazon user review of your book. How do you deal with that? You can get 50 great reviews of your books -- glowing, five-star reviews. And one person leaves a one-star review and it's like throwing off your game.
Book reviews are funny because people post them when they really love the book or really hate the book. But you have to keep in mind, for every person who posts that this book is a complete waste of time, there's a kid out there who says, "You made me pick up a pen again." It's a balancing act.
I write in the book about keeping a praise file. A lot of writers keep rejection files, and I think that's fine, but I always keep a praise file. When anyone sends me an over-the-top nice email that makes my day, I keep it. Troll-ish stuff I just try to ignore as much as I can.
What piece of advice in your book do you think is the hardest to follow?
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No. 9: Be boring. We have this idea that creativity is the opposite of boring. That the key to being a "creative type" -- and I don't believe there is such a thing --- is that you're not boring. That creativity is about seizing the day and following your bliss and living on the edge. But my point is that creativity takes a lot of time and energy.
There's a great Flaubert quote: ""Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work."
That's always been a personal manifest of mine. I lead a quiet life so I can be as crazy and muddy in my work as I can. At the end of the day, it's all about finding a time where you can sit down and make things instead of being a creative-with-a-capital-C or being Don Draper, basically. You never see him doing 50 or 100 drafts of a headline. You never see the actual work that went in to him becoming Don Draper.