Office hours

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

sorry we're tired

My inbox is full of more questions than I could possibly answer and still get any work done, so once a month, I try to schedule a set period of time to hold “office hours” over on my tumblr, where people can ask me anything they can’t google.

Oftentimes, the answers are just remixed thoughts from my books (how much more is there to say?), but sometimes I hit on something interesting. Below are a few answers from yesterday’s hours minus the questions…

i feel like i have a book in me


Some thoughts on Layer Tennis and having another body in the room

Monday, August 11th, 2014


Last Friday I played designer Kelli Anderson in a match of Layer Tennis, moderated by Jason Kottke. You can see the whole match unfold here.

It was definitely one of the most intense afternoons I’ve had in a while. I used to hate playing in competitive sports. The only sports I ever enjoyed taking part in were pretty solitary: golf and long distance running. Practicing both of those sports, mostly you’re just trying to beat your own score or time. (Honestly, I hated them, too. Just not a sports dude.)

I think one reason I’m drawn to writing and art is that I don’t have to be competitive — if I’m competing with anyone, it’s against myself, or a bunch of my favorite (most of them dead) artists, or it’s a kind of friendly competition spurred on by seeing other folks’ work in the world. And even then, I’m not competing to be the best at what I do, I’m trying to be the only one who does what I do.

But there was something about the combination of the pressure of the match and what Kelli threw at me that pushed me to come up with stuff I wouldn’t have come up with otherwise…



Making a mark

Wednesday, July 30th, 2014

Photo Jul 30, 11 11 11 AM (1)

Some mornings, after our walk, my 21-month-old son and I will sit on our front steps and draw on a little square of the sidewalk with chalk. Birds (“brrr!”), trucks (“chuck!”) and maybe the letter S (“esh!”) or B (“buh!”) It never gets old, but it gets hot, so when we’re sweaty enough, I stick the little box of sidewalk chalk behind a potted plant on our porch, and we go back inside the house.

* * *

This morning when we got back from our walk, I noticed someone had taken the red chalk from the box and written down the sidewalk:


At first I was puzzled by the graffiti, but then I looked across the street at the signs stuck in my neighbors’ tree lawns, advertising the URL of the local “bike-powered compost recycling” startup. And like Will Graham in an episode Hannibal, I blinked my eyes a couple times, and reconstructed the scene: The Composter, biking the big barrel around, collecting the green buckets from porches, comes across my porch, which is bucketless. The Composter takes in our drawings, notices the sidewalk chalk, and sees not a marketing opportunity, no, but a chance to spread the message.

* * *

I’ve been feeling cranky lately about the slogans I’ve seen coming from the “creative” slash “entrepreneural” slash “startup” worlds:



It strikes me that both of these metaphors involve vandalism.


The shape of days

Wednesday, July 9th, 2014

i had a rough day

Kurt Vonnegut thought every story has a shape that can be graphed —  each has a beginning and an end (plotted on the x-axis) and every character goes through “good fortune” and “ill fortune” (plotted on the y-axis). I put a bunch of them together for this chart in Show Your Work!:

kurt vonnegut's story graphs

I think our days have shapes, too — each has a beginning and an end, and we go through good and ill fortune as it progresses. (more…)

Is the year half empty or half full?

Wednesday, July 2nd, 2014

is the year half empty or half full

July 2nd is the middle of the year. Half of the year is gone, half of the year is still to be.

One of the reasons I like keeping a logbook is that it makes time tangible. Turn the pages, and you can feel the days pass.

Sometimes you flip back through the pages and they feel wasted. But flip forward, and you still have plenty of blank pages to fill.


A brief history of my newspaper blackout poems

Tuesday, April 29th, 2014

Every morning I try to pick up a newspaper and a Sharpie marker, and I make one of my newspaper blackout poems:

This is what one looks like after I scan it into Photoshop and play with the levels a bit:

in texas there is nothing but texas

(It’s sort of like if the CIA did haiku.)


Interview with A Total Disruption

Monday, March 3rd, 2014

A Total Disruption

Filmmaker Ondi Timoner came out to the house last September to interview me for her series, A Total Disruption, right around the time I was finishing up Show Your Work! It’s a fun time capsule for me—since then, I’ve moved out to my own studio and lost about 25 pounds! (Still carrying around the same ideas, though.)

Watch it below or on YouTube→

10 Ways To Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered

Wednesday, February 19th, 2014

Show Your Work cover

Show Your Work! is a book for people who hate the very idea of self-promotion. It’s the followup to my New York Times bestseller, Steal Like An Artistif Steal was a book about how to be more creative by stealing influence from others, Show is a book about how to influence others by letting them steal from you.

10 ways to share your creativity


No more guilty pleasures

Wednesday, February 12th, 2014


This is an excerpt from my forthcoming book, Show Your Work!

“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.”
— Dave Grohl

About twenty years ago, a trashman in New York City named Nelson Molina started collecting little bits and pieces of art and unique objects that he found discarded along his route. His collection, The Trash Museum, is housed on the second floor of the Sanitation Department garage on East 99th Street, and it now features more than a thousand paintings, posters, photographs, musical instruments, toys, and other ephemera. There isn’t a big unifying principle to the collection, just what Molina likes. He gets submissions from some of his fellow workers, but he says what goes on the wall and what doesn’t. “I tell the guys, just bring it in and I’ll decide if I can hang it.” At some point, Molina painted a sign for the museum that reads TREASURE IN THE TRASH BY NELSON MOLINA.

“Dumpster diving” is one of the jobs of the artist—finding the treasure in other people’s trash, sifting through the debris of our culture, paying attention to the stuff that everyone else is ignoring, and taking inspiration from the stuff that people have tossed aside for whatever reasons.

More than 400 years ago, Michel de Montaigne, in his essay “On Experience,” wrote, “In my opinion, the most ordinary things, the most common and familiar, if we could see them in their true light, would turn out to be the grandest miracles . . . and the most marvelous examples.”

All it takes to uncover hidden gems is a clear eye, an open mind, and a willingness to search for inspiration in places other people aren’t willing or able to go.

We all love things that other people think are garbage. You have to have the courage to keep loving your garbage, because what makes us unique is the diversity and breadth of our influences, the unique ways in which we mix up the parts of culture others have deemed “high” and the “low.”

When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it. Don’t feel guilty about the pleasure you take in the things you enjoy. Celebrate them.

When you share your taste and your influences, have the guts to own all of it. Don’t give in to the pressure to self-edit too much. Don’t be the lame guys at the record store arguing over who’s the more “authentic” punk rock band. Don’t try to be hip or cool. Being open and honest about what you like is the best way to connect with people who like those things, too.

Show Your Work! comes out March 6th. It is available for pre-order right now.

The Risks Worth Taking

Wednesday, February 5th, 2014


One of my least favorite quotes on creativity comes courtesy of ad man George Lois:

You can be Cautious or you can be Creative (but there’s no such thing as a Cautious Creative).

I hate this quote for two reasons:

  1. I think the word “Creative” should never be used as a noun

  2. I am one of the more cautious people I know

A few months ago, a reporter said to me in the middle of an interview, “It seems like you haven’t made any bad choices.” I stammered for a bit and mumbled something about how I’ve been very lucky, but then I told the truth: I’m not a big risk-taker.


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