Keep Going

Book Summary + Notes of the book Keep Going - 10 ways to stay creative in good times and bad by Austin Kleon.

Keep Going
Keep Going by Austin Kleon - Book Notes | Melvin Raj

Keep going is a book where the author Austin Kleon shares 10 ways to stay creative, focused, and true to yourself. It is the third book in the Steal Like An Artist series.

This book was published on 2 April 2019. In his previous books, he shared how to steal like an artist, share ideas, and get discovered. But, the creative work is never linear. So, Austin Kleon wrote this book to help understand how a creative can keep going in the good times and bad.

I first heard about the book Show your work last year in lockdown from Ali Abdaal's channel. Later, I looked at him(Austin Kleon) online and found out that he has a 3 part book on being creative. That is when I purchased Steal Like An Artist book first. Later, I was interested in reading the rest two books of the series in paperback because of the illustrations and his style of writing that adds so much to our reading experience.

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If you want to read the summary of steal like an artist and Show Your Work to learn about how to steal ideas nobly and share them with an audience to get discovered. You can read it here: Steal Like An Artist Summary and Show Your Work Summary

🤔 Why did the writer write this book?

Whether you’re burned out, starting, starting over, or wildly successful, Keep Going will help you stay on the path to more creative work. (Source)

Austin shares that he wrote the book for himself. He believes the principles talked about here apply to all who are trying to sustain a meaningful and productive creative life.

📚 Book Notes and summary

Chapters of the book:

  1. Every day is a groundhog day.
  2. Build A Bliss Station
  3. Forget The Noun, Do The Verb
  4. Make Gifts
  5. The Ordinary + Extra Attention = The Extraordinary
  6. Slay The Art Monsters
  7. You Are Allowed To Change your Mind
  8. When In Doubt, Tidy Up
  9. Demons Hate Fresh Air
  10. Plant Your Garden

Every Day Is A Groundhog Day:

In this chapter, Austin tells us that the creative journey is not linear from A to B. It’s more like a loop or a spiral, in which you keep coming to a new starting point.

Every artist and person feels once we achieve success, the cycle stops and you can live the life you always wished for. But in reality, the journey doesn’t end after your success. Everyone will face the question of “What next?”

That is why keep going is a book about how we can stay creative in our journey in good times and bad.

The first thing is to take one day at a time. We have so little control over our lives. The only thing we can control is what we spend our days on.

This point is explained using the movie Groundhog Day where the hero gets stuck in a time loop. He only has one day to make the best of it.

Hence, Every day is a groundhog day!

Relying on craft and routine is a lot less sexy than being an artistic genius. But it is an excellent strategy for not going insane — Christoph Niemann

Build A Bliss Station

Disconnect from the world to connect with yourself.

Silence and solitude are something we all look for in a day. You and I have different ways to find our solitude but the bliss station is that solitude. A place, time, or an activity where you forget about the news, the external problems, the social media, and all the other things just to be with yourself to do the things you like.

Joseph Campbell on bliss station -

You must have a room, or a certain hour or so a day, where you don’t know what was in the newspapers that morning, you don’t know who your friends are, you don’t know what you owe anybody, you don’t know what anybody owes to you. This is a place where you simply experience and bring forth what you are and what you might be. This is the place for creative incubation. At first, you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, something will eventually happen.

Austin Also shares a few more things in this chapter i.e.

  1. Learn to say no
  2. Airplane mode can be a way of life.

Forget The Noun, Do The Verb:

Let go of the thing you are trying to be(the noun), and focus on the actual work you need to be doing(the verb).

Most social media wants us to be the noun. You want to be called a name such as a writer, or a doctor, or an engineer, or an actor and it shows to other people. This is good if you are doing the verb according to the noun. Otherwise, you are just a person trying to fit in. Which according to me is a long road to a creative rut.

Thoughts On Routine from Keep Going by Austin Kleon
Thoughts On Routine from Keep Going by Austin Kleon

If you don’t want to spend days trying to fit in the noun and want to do the verb - Try to make your work more like play. You see when you make your work a play or a game. It is easy to not be bothered if you are the noun or if someone comes tap dancing in your room. You will just keep playing.

Great artists can retain this sense of playfulness throughout their careers. Art and the artists both suffer most when the artist gets too heavy and too focused on results.

Make Gifts

We used to have hobbies but now we have Side Hustles🤷‍♂️.

It is good to monetize some of your processes but not try to monetize every bit of it. Be sure that there’s at least a tiny part of you that is off-limits to the marketplace.

The most important learning from this chapter for me was this -

If you want maximum artistic freedom, keep your overhead low. A free creative life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.

Do what you love + low overhead = A good life.

Austin's list on How to Be Happy (Source: Keep Going)
Austin's list on How to Be Happy (Source: Keep Going)

The Ordinary + Extra Attention = The Extraordinary

It is easy to assume that if only you could trade your ordinary life for a new one, all your problems would be solved. It is wishful thinking, says Austin Kleon.

You do not need to have an extraordinary life to make extraordinary work. Everything you need to make extraordinary art can be found in your everyday life.

Your attention is one of the most valuable things. Everybody wants it. Protecting it and pointing it in the right direction will help in bringing out extraordinary work.

Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To - Keep Going
Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To - Keep Going

Slay The Art Monsters

Art is for life, not the other way around.

There is a typical category of artists that have been popularized by us from way back where the artist is a cheater, an abuser, an absent parent, an addict, and much more. But once he does his artwork and everybody loves him. These types of artists are going away and it is for the good. We don’t need such artists to have meaningful art.

Simply put Art is supposed to make our lives better. Austin says the world doesn’t necessarily need great artists. It needs more decent human beings. This is what we must try to be.

You Are Allowed To Change Your Mind

If you have never changed your mind about something, pinch yourself; you may be dead.

If you think how can I change my course of action when I said I am going to do it. You can change your mind. It is only after you try a couple of things you will truly find what you want to do.

Thinking requires an environment in which you can try out all sorts of ideas and not be judged for them. To change your mind, you need a good place to have some bad ideas.

The internet is no longer a safe place for that - Thanks to social media. Here are a few ways you can test out your ideas first -

  1. Go Offline - try it out in your notes, in your bliss station, in your Journal. It is no one but you. Once you feel comfortable you can move it to people online or on social media.
  2. Interact with Like hearted - We are building communities for people who are like-minded but this will decrease the opportunity for us to change. Although it is comforting at first to be around like-minded. After a while, it will become boring.
    Instead try having conversations with like-hearted people who intend to have the same mission as yours but are in different fields, and share different perspectives.
  3. Look into the past - We have access to minds of all ages now (Thanks to the Internet). Why not look for ideas, inspirations, and perspectives of people from our past.
The Dunning Kruger Effect - Keep Going
The Dunning Kruger Effect - Keep Going

The Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca said -

If you read old books, you get to add all the years the author lived to your life. We are excluded from no age, but we have access to them all. Why not turn from this brief and transient period and give ourselves wholeheartedly to the past, which is limitless and eternal and can be shared with better men than we?

When in doubt Tidy Up:

Keep your tools organized and your materials messy - John T. Unger

He further explains - Keep your tools very organized so you can find them when needed. If you cant find it at the right time, it can blow your day, or your inspiration to do the work anymore.

Also, when you are not feeling inspired or motivated to do the creative work. You can tidy up your space, and do the chores around the house. It is said to be productive procrastination, nothing else. When you clean your house when not motivated, you will be happy you did the cleaning when you are ready to work as you will have that checked from the todo.😄

Tidying up also means mentally. What better way than to have a good sleep. A nap flushes the thoughts and gives you a fresh start. So, when in doubt, tidy up.

Demons Hate Fresh Air:

Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow - Henry David Thoreau

People want you to be hooked to the screens and give them your attention. That can only mean that you are bombarded with what others tell you.

Think - Walk Illustration - Keep Going
Think - Walk Illustration - Keep Going

I agree that our thinking forms from the conversations we have with others. But, the simple form of exercise that a lot of people forget is to take a walk.

Walking has lots of health benefits. It has some connection with how synapses in our brain are formed. You can check out more about why walking is better for thinking and clearing your mind here:

Start Walking To Clear Your Mind | Melvin Raj
My thoughts on walking and how it can improve the conditions of creativity and mood along with the obvious benefit of getting into shape

Plant Your Garden:

This chapter is about how every day is a potential seed that we can grow and plant in our garden.

Gardening requires so much patience and attention, and gardeners have a unique sense of time and perspective.

This is why when we think of life as a garden and you as a gardener - we have to be patient with ourselves and give ourselves some time.

Worry about things that are worth worrying about.

Whenever life gets overwhelming, Austin says, try your best to fill them in ways that you get a little closer to where you want to be. Go easy on yourself and take your time. Worry less about being a great artist and worry more about being a good human who makes art.

There is a good reference from the memoir Downhill All The Way, by Leonard Woolf. While the months leading to world war-II were hopelessly and helplessly watching the events unfold. He said one of the most horrible things was to listen to Hitler’s rant.

So, one afternoon, he was planting purple irises in the orchard under an apple tree. When they called in to listen to Hitler’s rant, Leonard said -

“I shan’t come! I am planting iris. They will be flowering long after Hitler is dead”.

In the memoir, Leonard noted that 21 years after Hitler committed suicide, few of those purple iris bloomed.

That is what Austin likes to say. Plant things that will live longer than your life.

Leave things better than you found them.

There is art left to be made in this world - Anthony Bourdain

🛒 Where can you buy the book?

This book is available on amazon. You can find the links below:

  1. Keep Going (Paperback)
  2. Show Your Work + Keep Going (Paperback)
  3. Steal Like An Artist + Keep Going (Paperback)
  4. Audiobook Trilogy - One month Free Audible Subscription with this link

You can find more of the work from Austin Kleon here. I highly recommend checking out his work. He has a newsletter where every Friday since 2013🤯🤯🤯, he has been sending out 10 things worth sharing with his subscribers and I love the fact that he must be having a collection of a lot of things he has shared. I read more about his work online from anywhere possible and you must as well.  This summary is one of my attempts to let you know about this amazing book and the writer.

Subscribe to his newsletter where in the free version he shares 10 things from the week that are worth sharing. I promise you will find interesting reads, every week. I am subscribed to this newsletter and I enjoy this newsletter a lot.

Austin Kleon
Weekly art, writing, and creative inspiration from the author of Steal Like an Artist and other bestsellers. Click to read Austin Kleon, a Substack publication with hundreds of thousands of readers.

🔚 Conclusion:

The book Keep Going is an amazing read for someone who is starting because it gives you great advice on how to keep doing things you love for a long time. The most important thing we all lack nowadays is the ability to stick to something because we have easy access to almost everything.

Also, the author suggests you take advice that you can use and leave the rest.

I would one hundred percent recommend reading this book and his previous books, Steal Like An Artist and Show Your Work, before starting your creative journey. This book needs to be read more than once.

Thank you for reading.