Don’t Steal This Book, a Book Review for Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative by Austin Kleon

Steal Like an Artist by Austin Kleon is a book I’ve raved about in the past at other places and times, but I feel like it is worth saying again.

But before I get to my actual review, please note that despite the title, this is not a book about plagiarism, and in fact, Austin Kleon is strongly opposed to plagiarism.

So, with that aside, let’s go onto the actual review:

This short book is full of serious insights with a side of humor and fun for writers, creators, and artists who want to build a foundation of history in their work. If it’s been written before? That’s fine. Find out where, find out by who, find out who inspired that person, and then who inspired person B, then who inspired them, and so on, until you have a creative family tree, or idea family tree, or a foundation to build your old-but-new-in-your-voice work on. That’s not an exact quote. Kleon actually says:

“Climb Your Own Family Tree.”

Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

“Chew on one thinker – writer, artist, activist, role model – you really love. Study everything there is to know about that thinker. Then find three people that thinker loved, and find out everything about them. Repeat…”

Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

“Think about… your creative heroes. What did they miss? What didn’t they make? …If all of your favorite makers got together, what would they make with you leading the crew?”

Austin Kleon, Steal Like an Artist

One of the things I appreciate about Kleon is that he also spends quite a bit of time discussing how to find your own voice, so again, this is not about “copying” in the sense of plagiarism or in the sense of just doing what’s exactly been done before.

More Thoughts on This Topic

One of the reasons I agree with many of Austin Kleon’s thoughts about creativity is that we know we’ve all thought at one time or another: “what if someone’s written this before?”

Your uniqueness is going to shine through whatever you create, even if you rewrite Cinderella again.

How many times has the Cinderella story been told? More times than I can count.

Let’s say you want to write the next boy wizard vampire who falls in love with an innocently powerful woman who is new to his world and who joins him in the battles against his trickster brother only to discover his brother has been trying to save him and their world from a greater evil.*

If you wrote that mashup, it would be unique to your writing style. *If you know of the three famous storylines I’m referencing above, please state them in the comments.

Then, there’s the other fear we all face – have I gone too far, or if I’ve twisted the symbolism in a way others don’t “get.”

Your uniquely creative symbolism is not wrong, even if the writer next to you in class also has ravens in their story, but their ravens are evil and yours are good, or in your story the rain only comes down when the character is sad and in your critique partner’s story the rain is a metaphor for new life.

Write what you write. You can create with your voice, and know you have a family tree of artists and authors.

Have you ever purposely based one of your stories or storylines on a fractured version of a fairy tale, a fable, or those five blockbusters you watched five summers ago?

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: