Steal Like an Artist Book Summary by Austin Kleon

If you’ve ever thought creativity is something you’re born with, you’re right, and you’re wrong.

You’re wrong because everyone has the power to become creative; it’s not that you’re “born creative or not.”

By learning to steal like an artist, you can become creative in your own right. It could sometimes even feel like cheating.

On the other hand, you’re right because everyone has a unique perspective.

Everyone has their own experiences. But then again, two people having the same experiences might have different insights.

This is actually long overdue, but I wanted to share with you my highlights and notes about this excellent book. The book is written by bestselling author Austin Kleon, one of the most creative minds on the planet today. You can find him at

Chapter 1. Steal Like an Artist.

▪ You are, in fact, a mashup of what you choose to let into your life. You are the sum of your influences.

▪ You’re only going to be as good as the stuff you surround yourself with.

▪ Whether you’re in school or not, it’s always your job to get yourself an education. (Learning happens within.)

▪ You have to be curious about the world in which you live. Look things up. Chase down every reference. Go deeper than anybody else—that’s how you’ll get ahead.

Keep a swipe file. It’s just what it sounds like—a file to keep track of the stuff you’ve swiped from others. It can be digital or analog—it doesn’t matter what form it takes, as long as it works.

Chapter 2. Don’t Wait Until You Know Who You Are to Get Started.

▪ We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces. (The most effective advertisers copy great, proven ads. They, too, keep a swipe file of great ads that serve as templates.)

▪ First, you have to figure out who to copy. Second, you have to figure out what to copy. (For example, I get a lot of inspiration from other blogs + I copy the way they transition from paragraph to paragraph)

▪ Don’t just steal the style, steal the thinking behind the style. You don’t want to look like your heroes, you want to see like your heroes.

Chapter 3. Write the Book You Want to Read.

▪ 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.

Chapter 5. Side Projects and Hobbies Are Important.

▪ I get some of my best ideas when I’m bored, which is why I never take my shirts to the cleaners. I love ironing my shirts—it’s so boring, I almost always get good ideas. If you’re out of ideas, wash the dishes. Take a really long walk. Stare at a spot on the wall for as long as you can. (Diffuse mode thinking! Recall A Mind for Numbers)

▪ Music feeds into their work. It’s so important to have a hobby. A hobby is something creative that’s just for you. You don’t try to make money or get famous off it, you just do it because it makes you happy. A hobby is something that gives but doesn’t take. (Psychologist Adam Grant says this in Originals. Nobel Prize winners are likely to have their own hobbies; the best ones have performing hobbies like doing magic tricks or acting.)

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

▪ If there was a secret formula for becoming known, I would give it to you. But there’s only one not-so-secret formula that I know: Do good work and share it with people. (Content is king! This made me change the way I approach my work. I don’t publish often, but when I do, I want them high-quality.)

▪ People love it when you give your secrets away, and sometimes, if you’re smart about it, they’ll reward you by buying the things you’re selling. (One awesome guy I follow is Miles Beckler, the most generous internet marketer in the world, in my opinion. Counterintuitively, I want to buy something from him. But he doesn’t sell me anything.)

▪ If you’re worried about giving your secrets away, you can share your dots without connecting them. (People will pay for structure. I connect my dots through links, though. But then the whole framework still requires a book)

Chapter 7. Geography Is No Longer Our Master.

▪ I always carry a book, a pen, and a notepad, and I always enjoy my solitude and temporary captivity. (We have solitude deprivation due to constant connectedness)

▪ You have to find a place that feeds you—creatively, socially, spiritually, and literally. (Your environment—the people you hang out with, the physical surroundings, the content you consume, all influence the way you think)

Chapter 8. Be Nice. (The World Is a Small Town.)

▪ You’re only going to be as good as the people you surround yourself with. In the digital space, that means following the best people online—the people who are way smarter and better than you, the people who are doing the really interesting work. Pay attention to 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. (— Egon from Ghostbusters The last sentence was exceptionally important: Give value first. Stop being a taker)

▪ So get comfortable with being misunderstood, disparaged, or ignored—the trick is to be too busy doing your work to care. (I needed to be reminded of this. Once you’re successful, remember that everyone who wasn’t with you through your battles will see you as an overnight success.)

▪ Try it: Instead of keeping a rejection file, keep a praise file. (They’re like testimonials. Keep track of what good people are saying, and then just learn from constructive criticism, if there are any.)

Chapter 9. Be Boring. (It’s the Only Way to Get Work Done.)

▪ 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. (Another reason why we should outsource our motivation to our environment and habits. We shouldn’t let our mini-battles conquer our daily energy reserves.)

▪ The art of holding on to money is all about saying no to consumer culture. Saying no to takeout, $4 lattes, and that shiny new computer when the old one still works fine. (Have less, but better.)

▪ Freedom from financial stress also means freedom in your art. (One less thing to worry about is one more free slot for your creative endeavors.)

▪ The worst thing a day job does is take time away from you, but it makes up for that by giving you a daily routine in which you can schedule a regular time for your creative pursuits (Note to self: Something I should think about)

▪ Establishing and keeping a routine can be even more important than having a lot of time.

▪ Work gets done in the time available. (Parkinson’s Law)

▪ Every day, instead of just getting work done, your goal is to just fill a box. “After a few days you’ll have a chain,” Seinfeld says. “Just keep at it and the chain will grow longer every day. You’ll like seeing that chain, especially when you get a few weeks under your belt. Your only job next is to not break the chain.” (Habit building!)

▪ Get a calendar. Fill the boxes. Don’t break the chain.

▪ In the old days, a logbook was a place for sailors to keep track of how far they’d traveled, and that’s exactly what you’re doing—keeping track of how far your ship has sailed. (Keeps an objective view of the day. Similar to a work progress journal of the Straight-A Student Method)

▪ Who you marry is the most important decision you’ll ever make. And “marry well” doesn’t just mean your life partner—it also means who you do business with, who you befriend, who you choose to be around. (Relationships spark your motivation, highly influence your beliefs and dramatically change your behavior.)

▪ A good partner keeps you grounded. (Aka accountable and responsible.)

Chapter 10. Creativity Is Subtraction.

▪ Nothing is more paralyzing than the idea of limitless possibilities. (Decision Paralysis)

▪ The idea that you can do anything is absolutely terrifying. (And gratifying. You can do anything, but not everything)

▪ when it comes to creative work, limitations mean freedom. (Discipline equals freedom. Boundaries equal freedom. Freedom, ironically, is achieved by elimination, not addition.)

▪ The right constraints can lead to your very best work.

▪ In the end, creativity isn’t just the things we choose to put in, it’s the things we choose to leave out. Choose wisely. And have fun.

Closing Thoughts

I couldn’t actually recall why I left out Chapter 4, perhaps it wasn’t a relevant chapter for me at the time.

Anyway, let me know if you liked this new format for my book summaries! I’m constantly experimenting with content to deliver the best output possible for you guys.

Here’s where you can get your own copy of Steal Like an Artist:

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