Folks ask me a lot for signed copies of Steal — the demand is just a little to high for me to handle myself, but the good folks at BookPeople, one of my favorite indie bookstores right here in Austin, TX, have offered to keep a bunch of signed copies in stock. (Yesterday I signed almost 100 copies!) Each one comes signed with the little arrowhead man doodle. You can order in store or online — they even ship overseas.
Here’s video of “Steal Like A Writer,” a talk I gave back in June at Cleveland’s Weapons of Mass Creation festival. It’s sort of a remix of the ideas in Steal Like An Artist geared towards designers, musicians, and anybody who wants to get better at writing. Here’s the original description:
No matter what your discipline, it’s hard to get any good work done without clear, straightforward communication. Simply put, being a good writer makes you better at your job. Using a few school supplies, a little visual thinking, and a whole lot of creative theft, this talk will help get you started on the way towards becoming a wordsmith.
Here’s the remixed list of ten:
And here are the slides:
And here are the links to the recommended reading:
- Anne Lamott, BIRD BY BIRD
- Lynda Barry, WHAT IT IS
- Scott McCloud, UNDERSTANDING COMICS
- @shamblanderson’s sentence of the day
It was a fun talk to give and a really nice audience — thanks to Joseph Hughes and the folks at WMCFest for having me.
A few things I thought a lot about while on the road touring behind Steal Like An Artist:
1. You are a traveling salesman.
Look, if you’re lucky enough to have a publisher that sends you on book tour, they’re sending you out there to do one thing: sell books.
A lot of writers don’t like to think of the commerce side of what they do, and to them I say: look at the back cover of your book. See that fucking barcode? That’s a product. Products need to be sold.
You may not want to be in sales, but the quicker you can embrace the role, the more comfortable you’ll be, and the better you’ll get at it.
Unless you wrote a shitty book, you have something every salesman dreams of: a product you believe in. Don’t be shy. Sell the thing.
Here are some things you should be doing:
- Work on your public speaking skills. Learn how to get comfortable talking in front of a group of people. Rehearse your material. Don’t go over time. Talk slower than you think you need to. Check your teeth, tie, and fly. Remember when people come to one of your events that they could be doing ANYTHING else, but they came to see you. Don’t treat that lightly. Make sure you give them a good show. Help them get something out of it.
- Carry a copy of your book with you everywhere. You don’t need a briefcase full of them, just carry one clean copy of the book on you at all times. (My agent says carry at least two, but he’s a backbreaker.) If somebody asks you about your book or what you do and you have a weirdo book like mine, it is so much easier to just hand them a copy and say, “Here it is.” And if you run into one of your heroes or someone who should have a copy, you can just give it to them. Then replace it with a new copy from your suitcase.
- Carry a business card. Yes, business cards seem silly in this digital age, but at the very least, it comes in handy during face-to-face transactions. Somebody asking you about something you don’t want to talk about? Hand ’em a card and say, “Shoot me an email.” Done.
- Get a credit card reader from Square. Instant storefront! Quick story: I was giving a talk at a conference at 4:30 p.m. and the college bookstore was closing up before the end of my talk. I knew people would want to buy books after the talk, so the bookstore said they’d sell me a bunch of copies at cost. (50% off.) So I bought a big stack, and when walked onstage for my talk, I held up the bookstore shopping bags and said, “You want to know what it’s like to be a working author? I’m selling my own books out front after this talk.” Got a good laugh, and I made $100 profit.
- Collect emails at all your signings. I really dropped the ball on this one. Half the time I remembered to put a sign-up sheet for my mailing list on the table, half the time I forgot. Don’t skip it.
2. Invest in good gear.
Carry-on: You can’t check bags when you’re on tour, because if you lose them, you are utterly and totally screwed. My wife got me one of these hybrid carry-on/garment bags for about $70, and it worked really well for me. I put my suit and good shirts in the garment bag half and everything else in the other half. It’s got a hard shell back, so it’s pretty durable, and I never had any trouble stuffing it in an overhead. (Don’t be one of those idiots with an oversized carry-on that never fits.)
Day bag: A day bag is a bag you carry with you everywhere. (You know, a man purse.) I decided on this tour to leave my laptop at home and travel only with an iPad, so I went with this TimBuk2 Freestyle Messenger bag. It’s pretty tiny, but it has tons of pockets, so I can fit all the essentials and I stay lightweight.
Here’s what was in it:
- iPad 2 w/ charge cable, camera connection kit, and VGA adapter. There were a few times where I wished I had a Macbook Air on me, but overall, the iPad worked great for travel and presentations. Trouble happens when a venue wants you to use their computer — just be sure to tell them ahead of time you need a VGA input. Sometimes the projector is far away from where you’re standing, but if you have an iPhone, you can get the Keynote Remote app and control the slideshow over Bluetooth.
- Sketchbook. (See pages my tour sketchbook.)
- Kindle Touch 3G.
- Copy of Steal.
- Small paperback. For takeoffs and landings when you have to power down your Kindle.
- Shure SE215-K Live Sound Monitors. Fancy ear buds, because I hate having to carry around noise-cancelling headphones.
- Bandanna. For snot, sweat, tying stuff together, and other various purposes.
- Flash drive. Had my standard slides on it, in case a venue (usually a conference) needed to use their own computer.
- Safety scissors and tape. Believe it or not, the TSA allows scissors up to 4 inches.
- Pens and Sharpies. Black for signing Blackout, red for signing Steal, Marks-A-Lot for making blackouts, Pilot G-2 Bold for writing.
- Cosmonaut iPad stylus. I love this thing. Like drawing with a huge crayon.
- Rathole $20 and quarters. Because you never know.
- Earplugs. For on the plane and getting to sleep in noisy hotels. Don’t leave home without them.
- Vitamins, Advil, and lip balm.
- USB rechargeable battery. The size of a pack of gum, and it’ll recharge anything USB.
- Chewing gum.
- Square credit card reader. (See above.)
3. Wear a uniform.
Travel is a lot easier when you only pack things that match and can be combined, and life on the road is way easier when you wear a uniform. Pick a uniform for your events and pick a uniform for travel and walking around the city. I never did more than 4 cities in a week, so here’s what I brought with me:
- (1) navy blazer
- (4) blue non-iron dress shirts
- (2) pairs of blue jeans
- (2) ties
- (1) one grey hoodie sweatshirt
- (1) pair of grey Adidas Sambas
- (1) grey baseball cap
- a bunch of t-shirts, socks, and underwear
I was traveling in the spring, so not only did I pack the same thing for every week, I didn’t actually put anything away when I got home — I just threw the clothes in the wash, took my jacket to the dry cleaners, and repacked everything the same way I did the week before.
4. A little germaphobia goes a long way.
Let’s face it: an airplane is basically a flying petri dish.
I used to get sick almost every time I flew, so I was terrified of flying around half a dozen times a week for a couple of months. Then I came across Daniel Pink’s travel tips — they really saved my ass. Combining them with a little bit of my own research, I came up with a method that kept me from getting sick in over 20 cities in 2 months.
Here’s what you’ll need for my (somewhat insane) flying regimen:
- a water bottle
- hand sanitizer
- Emergen-C 1000mg Vitamin C packets
- Wet Ones antibacterial hand wipes
Here’s how it goes:
Once I get through security with my (empty) water bottle, I find the nearest drinking fountain, then I dump a packet of Emergen-c in the bottle and fill it up with water.
In the bathroom before boarding, I sanitize my hands, then I coat the inside of my nostrils with Neosporin. This sounds disgusting. It is. I’ll let Dan Pink explain.
Once I get on the airplane:
- I drink a lot of water. Hydrate!
- I avoid the seat-back pocket at all costs. Those pockets are where germs go to have orgies. Do not, under any circumstances, stick your Kindle in there or browse Sky Mall. Do not do it.
- I open my air vent on full blast and aim it so the air passes just in front of my face. Airplanes have industrial air filters on them, so that air is actually cleaner than the air just sitting in the plane.
- I wipe down my tray table before using it. People eat and leave their tissues and do all sorts of disgusting things to those tables.
- I try not to touch anything. That includes other humans and other airplane surfaces.
5. Eat right, sleep a lot, and don’t drink too much.
Eat right: Best thing is to try not to eat at the airport. My favorite place on the road is Panera Bread. Their kid’s peanut butter and jelly and an apple serves any mealtime. If there was a Panera near my hotel, before I flew, I’d have them make me a couple of those and stuff them in my bag.
For emergencies, I always kept a bunch of trail mix and beef jerky in my carry-on for protein. If I was going to be in a city for a few days, I’d stop by a Whole Foods or a Trader Joe’s and buy a bag of apples.
If you need to find a good restaurant, use Yelp. When I use a little critical thinking (How many reviews? How old are they?) Yelp doesn’t let me down.
Sleep a lot: This one is tough. But basically, you need to keep your sleeping schedule as regular as possible. The way I did it was I tried to take as few naps as possible. I’d keep myself up all day, whether I was on a plane or walking around the city, and I’d make sure I was super tired when it was time to go to bed. I’d go to bed around 10 or 11 local time, no matter what time zone I was in.
Can’t get to sleep? Dan Pink recommends a Benadryl, ear plugs, and a copy of The Economist. Worked for me.
6. Let people know you’re coming.
If you want people to show up to your events, you can’t just expect the venue or the sponsor or the bookstore to bring them in. Get your ass on Twitter, Facebook, your mailing list, etc. and let people know you’re coming. I sent out big reminders about the tour to all my channels in the beginning, and then I reminded people on Twitter and Facebook the week of and the day before. I had a surprising number of people come up to me at signings and say, “I didn’t know you were in town and saw it on Twitter and came over.”
Also: tell your friends you’re coming! Ask them to breakfast or drinks. So many of my internet friends became IRL friends on this tour. That made everything so much more worth it.
7. Ask questions.
I got so incredibly sick of listening to myself talk when I was on tour. Every night, talking about me, me, me.
The antidote to the self-loathing that comes from talking about yourself constantly is listening. Turning the spotlight away from yourself and putting it on someone else. Richard Ford said, “When people realize they’re being listened to, they tell you things.”
When one of my escorts would pick me up from the airport, I’d ask them about their lives. “How long have you lived in Kansas City? How’d you get into escorting? Who’s the biggest asshole you’ve worked with?” I heard some amazing stories.
My wife is six months pregnant, so whenever I found out somebody was a parent, I’d ask them for parenting tips.
I always asked the security guy which line was moving faster.
I asked machines lots of questions, too. (If my normal rule is Google everything, my rule on the road is “Yelp everywhere.”)
8. When in doubt, go to an art museum.
Almost every major city has some sort of halfway decent art museum — I visited at least a dozen of them on this tour. When you’re doing night events, museums are usually open exactly when you need to kill some time: from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. If you’re staying near downtown, the museum district is often pretty close by. They also usually have decent cafes for snacks.
9. Be a mensch.
(Stole this one from my agent, Ted.)
To borrow a sentence from Dan Savage, “Be good, giving, and game.”
Be good. You can’t say thank you enough. Thank everybody. Thank people for coming. Thank the book store for having you. Be pleasant. Smile. Don’t throw fits. Nobody gives a shit who you are or how tired you are. Be a human being.
Be giving. If somebody comes up and wants their book signed, shake their hand, ask their name, ask them what they’re up to. Spend a little time with them. Carry ones and tip well. Open doors for old ladies.
Be game. Be ready for anything. If the projector doesn’t work, grab a big pad of paper and draw your slides. Roll with it. If four people show up, go to the bar with them. (This happened.) If an escort knows a good BBQ joint that’s a little out of the way, skip the nap and see some of the city you’re visiting.
10. Treat home like another stop.
We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.
— T.S. Eliot, Four Quartets
When you get home, kiss your wife, hug your dog, and try to see the place as if for the first time.
I use a large Moleskine sketchbook because it has heavy bristol-like pages that don’t tear, it’s big enough to stick a boarding pass in the pages, and it has an envelope flap in the back for travel receipts.
I’m on the move a lot, so I don’t have a lot of time to sketch while I’m walking around, but I do have time to collage when I’m back in the hotel room, so I’ve started carrying transparent tape, Japanese Washi tape that my wife gave me, and a pair of safety scissors (TSA says under 4 inches is okay).
Read more about the Steal Across America tour→
I just finished up my book tour promoting Steal Like An Artist. This is the last entry in the tour diary…
Started out with a kind of homecoming talk at Bookpeople in Austin, Texas, with a packed house. It was crazy thinking about how much has changed since the last time I talked at Bookpeople…
Hopped a plane to Denver, spent a lot of time at the Denver Art Museum and the Clyfford Still Museum, then I drove over to Boulder to talk at the Boulder Book Store. Didn’t get to spend much time in Boulder, but the few hours I did spend there were really nice.
Stayed a night in Columbus so I could get to see Corey Gillen, my best friend of 15 or so years, drum with Josh Krajcik at a sold-out show at the Newport. Awesome night.
Next morning my Mom drove me to Cleveland to give a talk at the Weapons of Mass Creation Festival in Cleveland, Ohio. Unfortunately, I had to hop on a plane to Chicago, but I got to see my good buddies John and Chris.
In Chicago, I drank beer on my friend James’ stoop, then the next morning I went to the Art Institute and then participated in a panel at the Printer’s Row festival.
And then it was home to Texas. It’s been a wild couple of months and I’m still processing it all. Glad to not be in motion for a bit. Thanks to everybody who made this tour so great!
Had a nutty week in Manhattan at the end of May: we celebrated my wife’s 30th birthday, walked the wonderful High Line, had a lovely, bourbon-soaked dinner at my friend Lauren’s place, gave a talk at the Foursquare and 20×200 offices, ate at Szechuan Gourmet (some of my favorite Chinese food, ever), led an awesome panel with my friends Maud, Maria, and Maris at McNally Jackson, celebrated Steal‘s success and Boom’s impending arrival with my friends at Workman, and gave a talk at the agency 360i. Crazy couple of days…too much, really. Also: it was HOT.
Can’t see the video? Watch it here→
I was so thrilled that my friends and favorite bloggers Maria Popova, Maris Kreizman, and Maud Newton agreed to be part of this panel last week in NYC. It was really really fun, McNally Jackson was packed, and best of all, someone was there filming and has posted a video of the conversation online for your viewing pleasure.
Also, dig these hand-drawn notes by @mosteverybody:
The folks at American Craft Magazine ran an excerpt of Steal Like An Artist in their June/July 2012 issue. It’s quite the remix — unbeknownst to me, they cobbled together the excerpt from several different chapters and even rewrote some transitions. (Which makes me wonder, “Is this still my writing?”) But, it sure does look nice…
My artist’s statement:
When Broome Community College in upstate New York asked me to give a speech at their convocation, I sat down and wrote a list of 10 things I wish I’d heard when I was a college student first starting out. That list became the speech, the speech became a popular blog post and the blog post became my second book, Steal Like an Artist. A lot of people have told me they wanted to hang my handwritten list on their wall, so now, almost one year after I wrote it, we’re releasing the list as a print. I hope you hang it somewhere you want to get good work done.
I love, love, love signing books. I’m used to people saying, “I wish I could draw,” but there have been a surprising number of folks on this tour who remark on my handwriting. Sometimes people just like it, and sometimes people are really surprised that it’s the same handwriting that’s in the book. (A lot of people think that the writing in the book is a font.)
The underlying notion here is that handwriting is somehow magical, that you’re just naturally gifted with lovely penmanship. But as I explain to folks on tour, just as I learned to draw by copying Garfield cartoons, I learned to write by copying other people’s handwriting.
I spent hours copying their handwriting, and when I found Jimi Hendrix’s handwriting, I spent hours copying him, too:
And in my later life, some of my favorite artists have been obsessed with handwriting. Lynda Barry practices the alphabet with her brush everyday as a way to get warmed up. You can see little alphabets pop up in her drawings:
As Lynda says, “In the digital age, don’t forget to use your digits!” There some studies that suggest handwriting boosts the brain and that handwriting helps you learn. It’s a damned shame penmanship isn’t taught more in school.
Anyways, the point is: handwriting, drawing…it’s all marks on the page. The way towards better handwriting is explained in chapter two of Steal: start copying. To paraphrase Jack Kirby, if you like the way a man writes, steal his hand. Copy him. As you’re copying his writing, the copy will mutate, and you’ll find your own hand.
For more on handwriting, check out my “handwriting” tumblr tag→