"Write the Book You Want to Read" is the title of the third chapter in Austin Kleon's book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.
Fortunately, Mr. Kleon took his own advice and wrote this chatty little book that contains some wisdom that we have heard before but is presented in an entertaining way combining text and graphics and photos and quotes.
How could I not love a book that the author writes "began its life on index cards". One card; one thought.
But by stealing the author doesn't mean plagiarizing. He doesn't mean inserting a paragraph by Jane Austen into your own work. Or passing off a Picasso image as your own. Stealing may be the harsher word. Perhaps borrowing and building gives a better picture.
Mr. Kleon writes:
All creative work builds on what came before. Nothing is completely original.
We learn to write by copying down the alphabet. Musicians learn to play by practicing scales. Painters learn to paint by reproducing masterpieces.
So, who do you copy?
You copy your heroes -- the people you love, the people you're inspired by, the people you want to be.
The reason you copy your heroes and their style, he writes, is to get a glimpse into their minds...to internalize the way they look at the world. Steal from many. Eventually you will become your own painter or writer or designer or choreographer. You will become an artist with your own style and your own voice.
A tricky bit of alchemy.
We of the Internet Age know that, as he titles chapter seven, "Geography is No Longer Our Master". I look at work from artists in Utah, Maine, and Norway. I read blogs by writers in England, America, and Canada. Perhaps the Internet is not as intimate as the artist salons held by Gertrude Stein in 1920's Paris, but it is close.
Mr. Kleon is also a big fan of using your hands. Analog rules! Step away from the screen. Engage your senses. Keep a notebook. Chart your daily progress on a wall calendar.
The book is barely 150 pages long with big print and lots of drawings so it didn't take long to breeze through it. But that doesn't mean its content is lightweight. It isn't. There is plenty to chew on. Or steal, if you will.