Book Reviews: ‘Steal Like An Artist’ and ‘Show Your Work’

“Steal Like An Artist” and “Show Your Work” are changing creator’s lives

Here are two book reviews you’re going to want to read if you’re in the creative adventure. I’ve known about Austin Kleon for what seems like a very long time. But, like a lot of things on the Net, his work slipped off my feeds on a technology change and I lost touch with what he was doing.

In cleaning up some other projects, I ran across his name again so I hunted down his website and RSS feed for my news reading system.  

I had read one of his earlier books “Steal Like An Artist” and even had the journal for this.  My search and rummaging through all my bookshelves for the book was in vain until something tickled my memory and I remembered I’d read it through the library.

I purchased the ebook version and reread it.  I found myself understanding it better and I liked it again and (a few years later) it spoke even clearer to me about how we grow from those we follow and those who have gone ahead of us.

The next book ‘Show Your Work’ was written in the same short, pithy, combination of text and graphics. (Note: neither of these books is heavy, long-term reading and you’ll only spend an hour and a bit on your first read-through.)

But if you spend some time thinking about what he’s saying, you may find – as I did – that you need to reread them and then rethink some of your own work.

The Message From ‘Steal Like An Artist’

The message from Steal Like An Artist is that it’s OK to take the basic ideas from another writer because there are no really new ideas left. It’s OK to take those ideas but create them in your own style and delivery system.

To illustrate the above, if the basic idea is “it’s good to have friends and to have friends you need to be a friend,” then how you create that message has to be uniquely yours. 

The underlying message is something we all understand and it’s been written/televised/cartooned/filmed before.

Now, in your turn, you’re creating that idea in your own media and your own words/images/story/medium etc.

And The Message From ‘Show Your Work’

And once done that, you’re ready to read “Show Your Work” because if the message of Steal Like An Artist is to borrow the basic idea, “Show Your Work” states you must then show “the how, the process, behind your creation.”

An example of this might be as I was writing my next book, I’d also write about the methods and processes that I used in researching, writing and promoting my book. It’s a call for transparency to readers/viewers that shows the work and humanity/struggle of the creator.

In Kleon’s framework, the audience truly wants to know the background thinking and work that goes into a creative act. 

Take people behind the scenes of your thinking, planning and work is the basic message. “Think process, not product.”

My Challenge With Book Reviews Of This Kind Of Book

I confess I’m intrigued with the thought of sharing some of the process of creating. The challenge for me is to decide how much and what to share on my various projects.

I’ll have to get back to you about this. Note you can read other posts about books right here

If you have a few moments, please share whether you think this kind of sharing is interesting in the comments below

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Link Post: Napping, Alzheimer’s and Apples Plus Burnout

As this is the first post in this series, let me explain what I’m doing. I read a lot and when I find something useful or intriguing, I send myself the links.

I have hundreds of these in my Evernote file and I decided you might like to see some of things I find interesting/useful so I’ve decided to share them with you on an ongoing basis.

Cocoa flavanols can boost memory in older people, study says

An apple a day can reduce Alzheimer’s risk, scientists say

The Science of Siestas: The Genetic Basis for Daytime Napping – Neuroscience News

What Causes Burnout and How To Prevent It

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I’m Tired Of Writing For Free

For more years than I’d care to comment on I’ve looked at my writing stats – be it word counts, book sales, blog traffic or …  Well, just about anything measurable, I’ve taken a run at evaluating it.  And I do it regularly. And I’ve tried very hard to avoid writing for free.

My latest analytics adventure was looking at my DougGreensGarden.com website.

Oh oh.

If you’ve been there, you may notice links on most articles to one of my ebooks. Or, an ad for some product. Or, even some graphic ads flashing on the screen.  All this was by way of making a few dollars to support my writing habit.  I put the links in manually, Adsense put in everything else.

How Do The Ads Perform?

Really poorly as it turns out. 

Adsense reporting

A while ago, I had a blog post go viral and over 600 clicks on one Amazon link came from that surge in traffic. 

Sales from those 600 clicks earned me US$ 3.34 (Break out the bubbly, I’m rich)  

Also, I no longer expect to make money on Adsense – breaking $0.30/day is an outrageously successful day. And, as you can see above, $9.38 for one month.

(Author note: Adsense has been removed from the website. Thirty cents a day wasn’t worth the hassle and the reduced reader experience. Updated Feb 2021)

Ad Blind

We’ve all gone ad blind because of the flashing and pouncing of a variety of advertising systems. 

And I’m no better than any of my readers as I can ignore ads with the best of them.

I Ran Some Facebook Ads

I got every amazing stat I was supposed to hit (according to the manuals) except one.  

Great response rate. 

Hellishly cheap clicks (almost unheard of in one of my author groups). 

Three people even “liked” the ad and one person shared it. BTW, this interaction with an ad is why my click rates were so low. 

Facebook gives bonus marks to ads with high interaction rates.

The low score? It was the book sales of course. 

Where Facebook Ads Shine For Book Sales

Facebook ads shine when it comes to fiction book series. If you can afford to spend money advertising a single book, you’ll make your money on what we term “read-through.”  

You buy the first because of an ad but you buy the second, third etc because you liked book number one. Fiction authors only have to advertise the first.

Non-fiction authors, like yours truly, don’t generally create that read-through effect.

To Make This “Writing For Free” Even More Interesting

Ebook sales do not come from my websites. They come from direct advertising on Amazon.

So What’s All This Got To Do With Writing For Free?

What’s a website? It’s free writing. 

DougGreensGarden is somewhere around 800 posts. I am now killing the shorter ones or ones that generate no visitors and consolidating them for search engine improvement) so the raw number was shrinking but the quality was improving. I was working fairly hard at this but have now stopped.

The site makes twenty-five cents a day from advertising, so it takes a while pay me for an hour of my time.

Why Do We Go To Websites Like Mine?

We go to be informed or entertained. We don’t go to buy “stuff”.  

I can’t say I blame anybody for not clicking like a mad fiend on my site. It just is. 

But when readers no longer click or support creatives on their website, then creatives will go where they are supported.

And What About Retirement?  

I’m looking at the projects I want to do in what I’m calling “retirement”.  LOL.  

It’s not really retiring, it’s more like rebooting.

I’ll have more on this in future posts.

Or not.

Now I’m retired I don’t have to do a damn thing.

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The Google Search That Convinced Me To Stop Developing My Website

When I saw the results of this search, I pretty much decided I was done writing how-to articles about gardening.

Have you heard the saying, “You can’t fight city hall.”? This century’s version may be that you can’t fight Google search…

I Searched On Google

I wrote an article about the black spot on the bottom of tomatoes. It’s called Blossom End Rot and it’s caused by a water transport problem in the plant that results in a calcium deficiency.

The quick version is if the outside temperature is A) too hot or B) too cold the plant shuts down and water & calcium are not delivered or C) if you don’t water enough, the plant doesn’t get enough water to move the calcium.

None of these causes is a result of a lack of calcium or magnesium in the soil.

So the recommendation to add milk powder or epsom salts (which is magnesium) to stop this problem is wrong.

But when I searched on Google (in July 2020) for this issue, the entire first page of results (where most folks pick their answer) recommended either Epsom Salts or milk powder.

How Does A One Man Band Compete With Content Farms Producing Shitty Information?

Tough. Really, really tough.

I Know I’m Supposed To Keep On Keeping On

I know this but really, I’m just not interested in fighting the good fight any more for those who want instant answers. And frankly, those who don’t want to spend a few dollars to buy one of my ebooks to learn to garden properly aren’t my ideal reader anyway.

I write a book about tomatoes (now updated) which describes how to grow tomatoes and adds a bunch of research notes and tips on wringing the last ounce of fruit out of each plant.

I’ll post it on my Facebook author page when it’s been updated and live (p.s. I did. It resulted in one sale from the 500 gardeners who saw it so…)

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I’d be pleased to discuss this below rather than on Facebook

Forgive Yourself

Let me say right up front this bit of advice is a tough one for the creative soul.

Forgive yourself.

You’ll need to get a grip on doing this because you’re bound to make mistakes along this writerly life. And do we all struggle with this one!

We all make mistakes that require forgiving, and we are our worst enemies when it comes to forgiving ourselves. This can cripple a writer, effectively stopping the flow of words. It’s not always the big things, it seems to be the smaller accumulated things that grind creativity to dust. So however you find the way to do this, whatever method you use, learn or do it.

Clearing out the accumulated debris of life, of forgiving yourself, allows other things to enter your mind and many of these “other things” are great ideas.

Consider this as an emotional housekeeping and do it regularly; it seems our mistakes and regrets only pile up otherwise.

This is an excerpt from my ebook Dear Elizabeth

Forgive Yourself – Easier Said Than Done

I note this is easier said than done (oh how I note this!) but it’s a skill to be practiced as assiduously as any other.

Forgive yourself. Everybody else has.

#####

Update: I note keeping a regular writing journal works magic at this task. The physical act of putting pen to paper makes a concrete connection that creates cracks in the dam holding back all those regrets and should-have-beens.

Writing only for yourself, you can afford a level of honesty and candor that would be incredibly tough if the work was to be published.

I destroy mine after filling them.

As an extra note, I use a fountain pen. It’s a relic from my youth and I’ve finally figured out why I kept it all these years. There’s something quite magical about slowing down and… but that’s a topic for another day.

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Ten Tech Tools I Use To Write For A Living

As a full-time writer for the past 30 years, I insist on software that works well and allows me to maximize the number of words I produce in a day. Here are the ten tech tools I use.

Dragon Naturally Speaking

My main desktop computer is an iMac but my laptop is a Windows system because I dictate my content using Dragon NaturallySpeaking. Note none of the links are affiliate links

I use this workaround because Dragon software has been discontinued for the Mac, but is maintained on the Windows system.

So I dictate using my iPhone and Voice Recorder Pro ( available for both Mac and Android) and upload to Dropbox. I can download that Dropbox file to my Windows system whenever I do a transcription.

I then use Dragon Naturally Speaking — the transcribe function to take the Dropbox file and turned it into text.

Evernote

One of the main tools I use is Evernote because it works across all the technology that I use. It syncs from my iMac desktop through to my Windows laptop, iPhones and iPads.

I take advantage of this transferring by uploading my dictated copy into Evernote and when it syncs to the Mac desktop, I copy/paste the copy into the Mac Scrivener system. (Note the newer Mac and Win Scrivener releases no longer sync. The Mac system can read the Win files but not in reverse.)

To answer a question about why I don’t just work on the Win system, it comes down to editing and second drafts that are not voice generated. My word processor (below) and ebook layout software (also below) is Mac based.

Scrivener

As a word processor, Scrivener is designed for writers by writers and it is the best in the business. Its strength is in the editing and organizing of long documents.

And while I use it for articles, it is amazing for writing long works such as books and the organization of those words.

The one thing that I would add is that I do not use 90% of the features of the software and I refuse to let it intimidate me. If you try to understand and use the depth of features right out of the box, you’ll be tempted to stop using it. Use it as a simple word processor and learn to add features as you need them.

Howler Timer

I also use Howler timer on my Mac system to keep track of the various exercises and amounts of time that I want to spend on individual projects in my day.

If I spend one hour dictating a story or series of stories, I set the timer. This allows me to set up 2 to 3 one-hour periods in a row and then take a break between them.

I find if I take breaks. I am much more productive than if I tried to ram through three hours of steady dictating and writing.

Pro Writer Aid

Once I have written something, the next step is to run it through Pro Writer Aid. This is a grammar checker that sits on my desktop and that I had the foresight to buy several years ago when it was first introduced as a premium model. It’s one of the best grammar checkers that I have seen.

Publisher Rocket

Publisher rocket is software you use for keyword analysis and discovery.

If you’re intending to write about a specific subject, you can discover the competitive nature of that keyword or topic. There are four things that it will do at this point — and I emphasize this software is under constant development.

The four things include:

*keyword search
*discover which books and authors are competing in that keyword. 
*category searches so you can identify and add the appropriate categories to your published e-book 
*an AMS keyword search function.

This is one of my key tools for my non-fiction writing and I am a big fan of it.

Dropbox

I have mentioned Dropbox several times in this note. I use it both for a remote drive and transferring files between my various computer systems.

This is a must have for maintaining and backing up files.

Scapple

Scapple is a free-form software graphics program put out by the Literature and Latte people — the developers of Scrivener. I use it for outlining books or with my current project, which is a multiple character and multiple book series, I use it to keep the stories organized.

Both Scrivener and Scapple are inexpensive compared to the value that they bring to the freelance writer.

Vellum

Vellum is a Mac based ebook layout and design software that works to produce excellent ebook layouts that are ready-made for updating to all ebook retailers.

Graphics

I use two graphics programs for all my work. The first is Canva for covers and simple graphics.

The second is the Mac-based Pixelmator which is an “rough” equivalent to Photoshop (but easier to use.)

And that’s it. I try to keep things simple when it comes to tech tools. The discontinuing of Dragon or Mac set me back a bit but the workaround still allows me to be productive. And yes, this note was initially dictated and then edited and transcribed.

You can read other blog posts here about my writing tools