Sunday, November 15, 2015

Book Review: Steal Like an Artist

I hate how-to writing books. It's not that I don't think writing skills can be learned, I just think that writing is too individual for the one-size-fits-all sort of advice typical of these books.

But the title of this book intrigued me. I am always saying that I "steal" the things I write about. And the opening pages sold me: "First, you figure out what's worth stealing, then you move onto the next thing," Austin Kleon writes. "When you look at the world this way, you stop worrying about what's 'good' and what's 'bad' - there's only stuff worth stealing and stuff that's not worth stealing."

When I got the book, I was a little disappointed at first. The emphasis is on "stealing" from other artistic influences (drawing a clear line at plagiarism) rather than from your own life experience. Kleon even goes so far as to challenge the "write what you know" advice often given to writers. Instead, he suggests you should "write what you like." This resonated with me, though I'd say I do both.

The second half of the book talks a bit more about how to stay inspired, how to seek out the right kinds of influences and keep working at your art. One thing he recommends is writing public fan letters. I plan to do this in my next blog post. Until then, consider this post a little fan letter for Austin Kleon, writer of the only book about writing that I've ever truly enjoyed.
"In the beginning, obscurity is good.. There's no pressure when you're unknown. You can do what you want. Experiment. Do things just for the fun of it. When you're unknown, there's nothing to distract you from getting better."

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