Notes from Keep Going: 10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad - by Austin Kleon


Take one day at a time

None of us know what will happen. Don’t spend time worrying about it. Make the most beautiful thing you can. Try to do that every day. That’s it. - Laurie Anderson.

What would you do if you were stuck in one place, and every day was exactly the same, and nothing that you did mattered?

No matter how successful you get, no matter what level of achievement you reach, you will never really “arrive.”

Daily practice.

We have so little control over our lives. The only thing we can really control is what we spend our days on. What we work on and how hard we work on it.

It is only when you and I add the burden of those two awful entities, yesterday and tomorrow, that we break down.

It is not the experience of today that drives men mad.

It is what happened yesterday or what tomorrow may bring.

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives - Annie Dillard

Establish a daily routine

Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane. - Christoph Niemann

When you don’t know what to do next, your routine tells you.

When you have all the time in the world, a routine helps you make sure you don’t waste it.

Daily rituals.

To establish your own routine, you have to spend some time observing your days and your moods. Where are the free spaces in your schedules? What could you cut out of your day to make time?

Rather than restricting your freedom, a routine gives you freedom by protecting you from the ups and downs of life. A routine established good habits that can lead to your best work.

What your daily routine consists of is not that important. What’s important is that the routine exists.

Make lists

A list gets all your ideas out of your head and clears the mental space so you’re actually able to do something about them.

Leonardo da Vinci made “to-learn” lists.

Spark file.

Sometimes it’s important to make a list of what you won’t do.

Your list is your past and your future. Carry at all times. Prioritize: today, this week, and eventually. You will someday die with items still on your list, but for now, while you live, your list helps prioritize what can be done in your limited time.

Disconnect from the world to connect with yourself

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place

What’s clear is that it’s healthiest if we make a daily appointment to disconnect from the world so that we can connect with ourselves.

The greatest need of our time is to clean out the enormous mass of mental and emotional rubbish that clutters our minds and makes of all political and social life a mass illness. Without this housecleaning, we cannot begin to see. Unless we see, we cannot think. - Thomas Merton

Everybody gets so much information all day long that they lose their common sense - Gertrude Stein

Many artists have discovered that they work best upon waking, when their mind is fresh.

The easiest way I get my feelings hurt is by turning on my phone first thing in the morning.

The phone gives us a lot but it takes away three key elements of discovery: loneliness, uncertainty, and boredom. Those have always been where creative ideas come from. - Lynda Barry

The fear that everybody out there is having a much better time than you are.

Forget the noun, do the verb

If you pick the wrong noun to aspire to, you’ll be stuck with the wrong verb too. “Creative” is not a noun.

Job titles can mess you up. Job titles, if they’re taken too seriously, will make you feel like you need to work a way that befits the title, not the way that fits the actual work. Jobs titles can also restrict the kinds of work that you feel like you can do.

We used to have hobbies; now we have “side hustles.”

One of the easiest ways to hate something you love is to turn it into your job.

It’s always good to have a hobby where there’s no way to monetize it…So follow your dreams, but right up to the point where they become your job, and then run in the other direction.

Ignore the numbers

It’s easy to become as obsessed with online metrics as money. It can then be tempting to use those metrics to decide what to work on next, without taking into account how shallow those metrics really are.

C.S Lewis convinced J.R.R. Tolkien to turn the fantastical stories he told his children into The Hobbit.

What I’m really concerned about is reaching one person. - Jorge Luis Borge

Slow down and draw things out

It’s impossible to pay proper attention to your life if you are hurtling along at lightning speed. When your job is to see things other people don’t, you have to slow down enough that you can actually look.

In an age obsessed with speed, slowing down requires special training. E.g. meditation.

By sitting somewhere and sketching something, I was forced to really look at it.

Drawing doesn’t just help you see better, it makes you feel better.

Drawing is meditation.

Drawing is a discipline by which I constantly rediscovered the world. I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen, and that when start drawing an ordinary thing, I realize how extraordinary it is, sheer miracle. - Frederick Franck

Your attention is one of the most valuable things you possess, which is why everyone wants to steal it from you. First, you must protect it, and then you must point it in the right direction.

When you have a system for going back through your work, you can better see the bigger picture of what you’ve been up to, and what you should do next.

The world doesn’t necessarily need more great artists. It needs more decent human beings.

I am for an art that helps old ladies across the street. - Claes Oldenburg

I’m making explorations. I don’t know where they’re going to take me. - Marshall McLuhan

We need other people to help us think. People you feel good around. (page 140)

If you’re having trouble finding people to think with, seek out the dead.

The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca said that if you read old books, you get to add all the years the author lived onto your own life.

Cracking a book that’s only a quarter of a century old can be like opening a chest of buried treasure.

Creativity is about connections, and connections are not made by siloing everything off into its own space. New ideas are formed by interesting juxtapositions, and interesting juxtapositions happen when things are out of place.

It’s always a mistake to equate productivity and creativity. You’re often most creative when you’re the least productive.

Sleep is an excellent tool for tidying up your brain.

I consider naps to be another form of magical tidying that seems unproductive but often leads to new ideas.

Me, I like the “caffeine nap”: Drink a cup of coffee or tea, lie down for fifteen minutes, and get back to work when the caffeine has kicked in.

These slogans presuppose that the world is in need of marking or denting or breaking.

Let’s find better slogans:

Demons hate fresh air

Walking really is a magic cure for people who want to think straight.

The demons hate it when you get out of bed.

The people who want to control us through feat and misinformation, the corporations, marketers, politicians, want us to be plugged into our phones or watching TV, because they can sell us their vision of the world.

We are all obsessed with the notion of forward, visible progress. American view that everything has to keep climbing.

Our culture mostly celebrates early successes, the people who bloom fast. I ignore every “35 under 35”.

I don’t want to know how a thirty-year-old became rich and famous; I want to hear how an eighty-year-old spent her life in obscurity, kept making art, and lived a happy life.

Worry more about things worth doing. Worry less about being a great artist. Worry more about being a great human. Worry less about making your mark.

Books are made out of books - Cormac McCarthy

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I'm an industrial, product and experience designer from Helsinki, Finland. This website is my little corner of the internet. Subscribe if you'd like to receive emails from me when I add something new, and hopefully something worth your time here.