Book review - Steal Like An Artist Audio Trilogy: How to Be Creative, Show Your Work, and Keep Going

Book review - Steal Like An Artist Audio Trilogy: How to Be Creative, Show Your Work, and Keep Going


This banger of an audiobook, was the actual primer for me to start is blog. 🚀

Seriously, it is an absolute game-changer for me. And, anyone else who has been thinking about getting in the creative, or content space.

It has helped me get over the metaphorical "hump" of building in public. There were stories that challenged and changed the way I thought about showcasing my work.

I'd love to share what I've learnt, so carry on reading below.

Quick verdict. TL;DR -

This was originally a visual book. Fair warning that you can't see the images with the audiobook. It still retains all the key themes and gets the message across.

The audiobook is structured as list of (untitled) page of contents. So, it can even be on a random listening order. AND still distill a piece of wisdom from Austin Kleon.

The audio trilogy

I will be sharing my top points from each book, and my thoughts after listening to the audiobook. Here's it split into three sections :

  1. Steal Like An Artist
  2. Show Your Work!
  3. Keep Going

1️⃣ - Steal Like An Artist

Two words: "masterful imitation".

There is nothing completely original, even the new ideas or latest fads. They can be traced back to something or someone in the past.

The whole premise of academic research is built on this. Where small, marginal changes are slowly added to accumulate into a large change over time.

To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism — to steal from many is research. - Steven Wright

Let's look at another example.

The iPhone is often regarded as a ground-breaking revolution in technology. But remember that Apple did not invent the GPS, touchscreen, or music-player. They DID package it together in a pleasing form-factor.

(Granted, there were few advancements such as multi-touch on screens that was done by Apple. My point here is the masterful bundling of features.)

A few rapid-fire points from the first third of this series:

  • every idea is a mashup or remix of other ideas
  • most (9 out of 10) people are not able to name the original source of the idea
  • Don't feel bad for copying. Take it as a lesson from the masters, eventually you can branch out to something your own. See it as a genealogy of creators instead.
  • Copy from your heroes. See it as a form of practice. And to get into the mindset or context of these heroes.
  • Copy is not plagiarism, don't pass it off as your own. Credit accordingly.

2️⃣ - Show Your Work!

This part is all about getting comfortable with showing work openly. Austin Kleon himself has a nice demonstration of this on his website:

He does a good job of explaining the reason why he started his blog. And his journey in doing so.

Below, I just want to jolt down three smaller thoughts that came through my mind when I was listening to section #2.

Writing a blog

Getting your own domain. Why? It is a space you own, and can do as you like there.

It is actual, 'digital real estate' which you have real responsibility over.

Other creators on popular social media platforms can do well, but are always open to 'platform-risk'. And 'playing to the algorithm' is an issue that blogs do not have (to a larger extent at least).

Platform Risk

Imagine having all your eggs in one basket. That's fine if it works. But, what if the size of your basket is swapped without your knowledge? It might not fit your eggs anymore.

This is platform risk. I am old enough to remember what happened to MySpace, Friendster, and Geocities. These all were all the rage, then slowly faded into obscurity.

Mitigate this risk by having a blog outside of a particular platform.

More sophisticated marketers have been leveraging not only a blog but a funnel involving several social media platforms. I think this is where the end-game is for me, to orchestrate a variety of them in unison.

Playing to the algorithm

Newer platforms have a different issue, with the explosion of content. It is now impossible to cover all new daily content on Youtube, even if one is watching for 24 hours continuously.

So, there is a need to sort all this content to show to the right groups of people. And how is this done? Via algorithms.

Sure, there are a good few examples of people who were immensely successful thanks to the algorithm. Like, Mr Beast.

But, creators have increasingly been pushing back on some algorithms' robotic and inflexible nature. It should not be that a content creator is punished for not posing every single week.

What happens if they get ill? Or need to take a vacation? Their previous content should not be pushed to the bottom of the pile just because they are taking a bit of time for self-care.

Burnout is a real thing for content creators.

PS. Your domain is your domain. Do your thing, whether people are there or not. The idea is about being ready. Keep showing up even though nobody notices.

3️⃣ - Keep Going!

Life is about the ups and downs. That is just human. How we perceive good is dependent on the bad. The light is just the absence of darkness.

Take inspiration from nature. Austin Kleon speaks about a tree in winter, where the trees appear to be resting. What is happening in the background, is that the tree is getting ready to do a radiant bloom in spring.

That got me curious, and I looked up some scientific facts on what trees do during winter.

Science have found that trees adapt their structure on a microscopic level to withstand the cold1. How cool is that?

That's just a reminder - Do not underestimate when things seem boring and unchanging. Something big can be happening under the surface.

Bamboo tree story (applied on Keep Going!)

I also like the more Asian version of this story. Just because I did not grow up seeing seasonal changes in trees.

The bamboo covers this story just as nicely.

tall bamboo forest in japan
Bamboo forest in Japan

The tiny shoots spend a long time under the ground. But once they start sprouting, they have a single and accelerated aim to reach the overgrowth to get sunlight.

Fun fact: Did you know that bamboo is the fastest-growing plant? This is in the Guinness World Records!


This audiobook is one for the creators, creatives or anyone doing work that has a public front.

Truly, I would have never started this blog, if not for the stuff in here. For that alone, this audiobook makes it to my top 10 list.

I will definitely be returning to re-listen this one again.

Steal Like An Artist Audio Trilogy: How to Be Creative, Show Your Work, and Keep Going

4 hr 32 min (Unabridged) Narrated by the man, Austin Kleon himself.

Get audiobook!

Other references

(1) Legit reference to Austin Kleon's claims, from Purdue University:

What do Trees Do in the Winter? | Purdue Extension Forestry & Natural Resources
Surviving winter actually begins in fall when leaves turn color and drop to the ground. Purdue Landscape Report: So, what do trees do in the winter? Do they freeze up like unprotected water pipes? Or burst when it gets below freezing? Yes, the below-ground parts of a tree are kept insulated by mulch…

(2) More about bamboo, from BBC Science Focus

Why does bamboo grow so fast?
Some bamboo plants can grow at a rate of 0.00003 km/h.

(3) 📷 Bamboo forest by JuniperPhoton on Unsplash

David Tang