I wrote this book because I needed to read it. It’s my best one yet. You can get a copy here or anywhere books are sold.
See you on the road.
“A gift that cannot move loses its gift properties.”
—Lewis Hyde, The Gift
I have a truly gifted musician friend who is burned out and contemplating doing something completely different for a few years. I told him to go see Amazing Grace. It’s a movie that made me think about our gifts and how we use them and what responsibility we have to share those gifts with the world. (Honestly, for all the brilliance of the Hilda af Klint show, I felt closer to The Spirit in the theater than I did in The Guggenheim.) The making of the movie is also a story about how it often takes a third party to bring our great gifts to the larger world.
Madeleine Dore interviewed me for her site Extraordinary Routines:
With his daily life currently in flux while on a two month tour for his latest book, Keep Going, writer and artist Austin Kleon has been thinking about how to create a portable version of his routine.
“I think routine is so important, especially when you’re getting started creatively, but for me right now, I almost need checkboxes and rituals more than I need routine.”
Currently, the daily checkboxes include writing in his diary, publishing a blog post, taking a walk, and reading a book.
Such a sequence has been influenced by the ‘the two Davids’ – Henry David Thoreau and David Sedaris, who essentially share the same approach to the writing process. That is, spending a large majority of their day walking. “Thoreau took these insanely long four to eight hour walks and then he would come back and write about them. Sedaris will wake up in the morning and will write in his diary for a couple of hours about the day before. Then he walks and picks up trash on the street for seven or eight hours a day.”
This repeatable process of collecting ideas, recording them in a diary, and then turning findings into public lectures and books is something Austin has duplicated in his own way. “I always keep a pocket notebook on me, and then I diary in the morning, and then create a blog post, and those blog posts will become talks, which then become books. You don’t have to worry about what to write about, you just write every day and things begin to develop.”
Whether in the form of checkboxes or a routine, this process makes the morning hours crucial to his creativity. “The most important thing for me to do is to write my diary and to write a blog post. If I have done that, then the day in some ways is a success.”
Read the rest of our interview here.
Here’s a simple travel tip that’s helped me out many times when I’m on tour: Take a photo of your hotel room number.
Optional: Keep a gallery of them on your phone for fun.
Oh, and here’s a fun little tidbit: Government redactors don’t actually use black markers! Here’s Michael G. Powell in his 2010 essay, “Blacked Out: Our Cultural Romance with Redacted Documents,” to explain:
Before FOIA officers would begin to redact sections of a document—and admittedly nowadays many of them opt for computerized forms of redaction because they are working on computer records—they make a photocopy of the document. Then, they take a red or brown marker and, more or less, highlight the segments unfit for access. Running this red marker redacted document through a photocopy machine set for high contrast produces a new document with black marks. The FOIA officer can then store the red marker document in the agency’s files, allowing other bureaucrats to see exactly what has been redacted. If a black marker was used, then anyone needing to revisit the document would be unable to see what had been redacted without arduously comparing the document with the original, side by side.
For a while, I was making blackouts this way, with a red marker:
And then scanning them and making them pure black and white:
Oh, PS: The NYTimes is still running their blackout poetry contest!
My agent was standing in front of this display at the Book Passage in Corte Madera and he said to me, “You’ve had a busy decade, young man.”
I was reminded of some advice I heard from cartoonist David Heatley, well, about a decade ago: “Give yourself a decade.”
On the one hand, it went so fast. On the other hand, it’s felt like forever. So it goes.
Related reading: “3 Thoughts on a Decade of Publishing.”
A few months ago, the Harvard Business Review ran a piece by Ryan Buell on what he calls “Operational Transparency.” Here is the summary:
Conventional wisdom holds that the more contact an operation has with its customers, the less efficiently it will run. But when customers are partitioned away from the operation, they are less likely to fully understand and appreciate the work going on behind the scenes, thereby placing a lower value on the product or service being offered…. Managers should experiment with operational transparency—the deliberate design of windows into and out of the organization’s operations to help customers understand and appreciate the value being added. Witnessing the hidden work performed on their behalf makes customers more satisfied, more willing to pay, and more loyal.
If this sounds familiar, it’s a fancier way of saying, “Show Your Work!”
Today I visited my friend Wendy MacNaughton’s studio in the Dogpatch neighborhood of San Francisco. Piled and pinned everywhere was the physical evidence of how hard she works on her stories. She showed me a bug she was painting for a new story and now I can’t wait to read it.
Earlier, we were having lunch at the bar in Piccino and the chefs were preparing a lemon meringue tart. Seeing their delicate work, we immediately ordered one to split.
What windows into your own operations can you open for the people you serve?
One of my favorite things so far on this tour has been taking Amtrak trains. I took one from Philly to NYC, Portland to Seattle, and yesterday I took The Coast Starlight from Seattle to San Francisco.
I had a nice little sleeper car, but I spent most of my time between the diner car (free meals with a sleeper — I ate very well) and the observation deck, which was surprisingly uncrowded.
The train is just a whole different vibe than flying. On planes people are sort of territorial and paranoid and a little aloof. On the train, everyone’s a little more chill. I felt incredibly relaxed after a day of riding.
The clouds parted a bit for some blue skies on my way up to Seattle.
Here are some photos of Oregon out the window…
Most surprising was getting up in the mountains south of Eugene and seeing all the snow and the trees which seem to be a mile high. After a big dinner in the dining car, I went to sleep and woke up to a sunrise in Sacramento:
And the last little bit around the Bay Area was especially pleasant in the morning light:
I highly recommend it at least once. If you’ve got the time, take the train.
Seen on tour in Portland, Oregon: a particularly bitchin’ memento mori.