Steal Like an Artist - Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist - Austin Kleon

Cindy Yoseffa
Cindy Yoseffa
10 min read

Table of Contents


„Imature poets imitate; mature poets steal.“
— T. S. Eliot

#1 – Steal Like an Artist

All artists get their idea from stealing other artists' work. Stealing in this case is not plagiary, but rather taking them as an inspiration. When someone imitates others' work 1:1, it shows, directly, that they are not mature enough to be a good artist. An immature artist is a beginner. A beginner doesn't have enough inspiration yet to build something their own. To learn how to mix their inspirations from others, a beginner need to imitate first. Nothing is 100% original. We are influenced by the things we love.

„Everything has been said and done. But, since we live too short to see and listen to everything, everything must be said again.“
— André Gide

How to steal like an artist 👇

  1. Collect good ideas, that resonate with you, to be influenced and inspired
  2. Instead of having only one inspiration/thinker, find three people, who influenced them. Repeat as much as you can.
  3. Do your learning! Google it, read books, ask questions in forums.
  4. Carry a notebook and pen with you everywhere and collect your thoughts and observations. You will need this later, when you need inspiration for a topic = morgue file.

#2 – Don't Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started

Being afraid, specially when you are starting out, is natural. Some highly skilled individuals still feel like a phony: They actually have no idea what they are doing = imposter syndrome. That's a natural thing to feel.

But what makes them skilled, even though they feel like an imposter?
They just show up and do the thing. Every day.

No one live long enough that they can be really called an expert.

Is “fake it, until you make it” a real thing?

  1. Pretend to be something you want to be, until you become one.
    „Dress for the job you want, not the job you have“
  2. Pretend to make something you wish to make, until you make one.
    „Just start doing the work, you want to be doing.“

Start copying what you love:

„Those who do not want to imitate anything, produce nothing.“
— Salvador Dalí
  1. At first, we learn by copying others. It's normal because you need to adjust your inspiration to your capability and decide what's your comfort. After doing that so many times, you'll learn how to steal from others. And become original and authentic.
  2. If you're only influenced by one person, you are a copycat. But if you're influenced by a hundred people, you are original.
  3. Don't just copy the style. Copy the thinking behind the style. You want to think like your inspiration.

#3 – Write The Book You Want to Read

Please read this carefully. You will get excited for your next to do list.

Most people answer, if being asked what book they should write, is: Write what they know. The story will most likely end up being terrible because it's not interesting enough for you to begin with. The best thing to do is to write what  you like. Especially when you read, listen or watch something wonderful, and you crave for more. Why don't make one? Ask yourself: What would make this even better?

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.

#4 – Use Your Hands

To be creative, you really need to step out from your mobile devices, computer and any other technology and use your digits. The best creative ideas will flow from your hand 🖐 → brain 🧠 → hand to paper: ✍🏻  writing/drawing → computer : execute and publish.


Well, this is not in the book, but something that I learned as a medical student in neurology. The Homunculus.

The Homunculus shows our afferent sensory and motor nerves. They are connected to one another.

As you can see, how big, our digits play in sending the receptors about your environment to your brain. And the visual, in this case our eyes, is like a neighbor for your hands. So, logically, the connection should not be that hard to receive. If you want to be creative, or want to tap, that part of your brain, where you aim to connect everything, use your digits. It will act like an effector for your brain's memories. Give you the best result for your creativity.


#5 – Side Projects and Hobbies are important.

Practice „Productive Procrastination“ with side projects and hobbies.

Side projects = Things you do while procrastinating. People assume, procrastinating is being lazy. NOPE! You're actually collecting random things, that you'll definitely need later for your actual project.

If you have two or three real passions, don't feel like you have to choose between them. Don't discard. Keep all your passion in your life!

„You can't connect the dot's looking forward, you can only connect them looking backwards.“
— Steve Jobs

It's important to have a hobby: something creative that you keep only to yourself or your friends; You just do it because it makes you happy.

„Let them talk to each other. Something will begin to happen.“
— Tomlinson

#6 – The Secret: Do Good Work and Share It with People.

In the beginning, OBSCURITY is good.

It's a hard truth, specially for those, who just finished their school or study. There's no professor or classmates, who pay attention to your ideas. Never again in your life you have such a captive audience, unless you are doing an outstanding thing, that people recognized.

„It's not that people are mean or cruel, they're just busy.“
— Steven Pressfield

What is it for you then? In this „obscurity“ phase, you can do what you want and experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. There's nothing to distract you from getting better, if you're unknown. No public image to manage. No stockholders. No e-mails from your agent. No hangers-on.

The Not-So-Secret-Formula

Every newbie wants to become known, there's only one formula: Do good work and share it with people. Sorry, there are no other shortcuts.

Step one: Do the work – Make stuff every day. Know you're going to suck for a while. Fail. Get better.

Step two: Share it with people – Put your stuff on the internet.

How to Influence on The Internet

Step 1: Wonder at something.
Step 2: Invite others to wonder with you.

The more open you are about sharing your passions, the closer people will feel to your work. You are not magicians. There's no penalty for revealing your secrets.

People love it when you give your secrets away. If you're smart about it, they'll reward you by sponsoring your projects or buying the things you're selling.

You don't put yourself online only because you have something to say – you can put yourself online to find something to say.

Most people worry that being online will cause them to make less work, but having a presence online will give you a kick in the pants. If you make a blog and the visitors liked and commented on your blog post, you will have the urge to make better posts. Just look at your last post and ask yourself: „What can I fill this with?“

Learn to code. Figure out how to make a website. Figure out blogging. Figure out Twitter and Social Media and all that other stuff. Find people on the internet who love the same things as you and connect with them. Share things with them.

Share your dots, but don't connect them. Show a bit of what you are working on. You don't need to show everything:
- Share a handy tip you've discovered while working.
- Or a link to an interesting article
- Mention a good book you're reading.
If you're worried about giving your secrets away, you can  share your dots without connecting them.

„Don't worry about people stealing your ideas. If your ideas are any good, you'll have to ram them down people's throats.“
— Howard Aiken

#7 – Geography is no longer our master.

Build Your Own World.

Surround yourself with books and objects that you love. Tape things up on the wall. Create your own world.

„It isn't necessary that you leave home. Sit at your desk and listen. Don't even listen, just wait. Don't wait, be still and alone. The whole world will offer itself to you.“
— Franz Kafka

All you need is a little space and a little time – a place to work, and some time to do it; a little self-imposed solitude and temporary captivity.

If your living situation doesn't allow for that, sometimes you can find solitude in the wild: Cafés, Gardens, Library. Always carry a book, a pen, and a notepad, and always enjoy your solitude and temporary captivity.

Leave Home.

Where we choose to live still has a huge impact on the work we do. It just your brain gets too comfortable in your everyday surroundings. Make it uncomfortable. Spend time in another city, land, among people that do things differently than you. Travel makes the world look new, and when the world looks new, our brains work harder.

It helps to live around interesting people, and not necessarily people who do what you do. You have to find a place that feeds you – creatively, socially, spiritually, and literally.

Even if you redesign your interior, you still need to leave it now and then. And at some point, you might need to just move on. Good news: A lot of your peers are still on the internet.

#8 – Be Nice. (The world is a small town.)

Make Friends, Ignore Enemies.

An important lesson: If you talk about someone on the internet, they will find out.

„There's only one rule I know of: You've got to be kind.“
— Kurt Vonnegut

Stand Next to The Talent.

Garbage in, Garbage out!

Pay attention to people that are better than you: what they're talking about, what they're doing, what they're linking to.

„Find the most talented person in the room, and if it's not you, go stand next to him. Hang out with him. Try to be helpful.“
— Harold Ramis

You will need: curiosity, kindness, stamina, a willingness to look stupid.

If you ever find that you're the most talented person in the room, you need to find another room.

Quit picking fights and go make something.

You are going to see a lot of stupid stuff out there, and you will feel like you need to correct it. So go on, get angry. But keep your mouth shut and go do your work.

„Complain about the way other people make software by making software.“
— Andre Torrez

Write Fan Letters

Many times when we write fan letters, we're looking for a blessing or an affirmation. If you truly love somebody's work, you shouldn't need a response from them. The best recommendation would be public fan letters:

  1. Write a blog post about someone's work that you admire and link to their site
  2. Make something and dedicate it to your hero.
  3. Answer a question they've asked, solve a problem for them,
  4. or improve on their work and share it online

The important thing is that you show your appreciation without expecting anything in return, and that you get new work out of the appreciation.

Validation is for parking.

Problem's in creative work: Sometimes by the time people catch on to what's valuable about what you do, you are either (a) bored to death with it, or (b) dead.

Ironically, excellent work often appears to be effortless. People will say, „Why didn't I think of that?“. They won't see the years of toil and sweat that went into it.

So get comfortable being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored – the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care.

Keep a praise file.

Yes, validation is for parking. But still, those praises help you trough dark days roll around, and you need a boost. Put your nice e-mails in a special folder. Put nasty emails in „don't touch“ folder immediately. Use your praise folder sparingly – don't get lost in past glory – but keep it around for when you need the lift.

#9 – Be Boring. (It's the only to get work done.)

„Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.“
— Gustave Flaubert

Take Care of Yourself.

Typical creative genius: a boring guy with a nine-to-five job who lives in a quite neighborhood with his wife and his dog. The thing is: It takes a lot of energy to be creative. You don't have that energy, if you waste it on other stuff.

It's better to burn slow and see your grandkids.

Stay Out of Debt.

Learn about money as soon as you can.

It's not the money you make, it's the money you hold on. Make yourself a budget. Live within your means. Pack your lunch. Pinch pennies. Save as much as you can. Get the education you need for as cheap as you can get it. The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture. While making more money down the road.

Keep Your Day Job.

The truth is, until you can really make a living from your creative work, you still need your day job. Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art. Take jobs where you can learn things to use for your work later.

The trick is to find a day job that pays decently, doesn't make you want to vomit and leaves you with enough energy to make things in your spare time.

Not only day job provides you financial support, it's also giving you a daily routine. Figure out what time you can carve out, what time you can steal, and stick to your routine.

Get Yourself A Calendar.

Writing a page each day doesn’t seem like much, but do it for 365 days and you have enough to fill a novel. One successful client pitch is a small victory, but a few dozen of them can get you a promotion.

Get a wall calendar that shows you the whole year. Every day, instead of just getting the work done, your goal is to just fill a box. After a few days, you'll have a chain. Your only job is to not break the chain.

Keep A Logbook.

In the old days, a logbook was a place for sailors to keep track of how far they’d traveled, and that’s precisely what you’re doing—keeping track of how far your ship has sailed. Ask yourself, what's the best thing that happened today? It actually forces a certain kind of cheerful retrospection.

Marry Well.

Who you marry is the most important decision you'll ever make – it also means who you do business with, who you befriend, who you choose to be around. A good partner keeps you grounded.

#10 – Creativity is subtraction.

Choose what to leave out.

Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying. It seems contradictory, but when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. Don’t make excuses for not working—make things with the time, space, and materials you have, right now.

„Telling yourself you have all the time in the world, all the money in the world, all the colors in the palette, anything you want – that just kills creativity.“
— Jack White

Book SummaryContent Creation

Cindy Yoseffa

Medical Student in Munich, Germany | UGC Creator