Growing up in rural Circleville, Ohio, in the '80s and '90s, Austin Kleon couldn't have known how the social networks of the future would enable him to easily connect to the writers and artists who were his heroes at the time.
But the artist, recent SXSW keynote speaker, and author of Show Your Work! 10 Ways to Share Your Creativity and Get Discovered, was still eager for ways to interact with those worlds. At 13, he wrote to punk collage artist Winston Smith, who responded with a 14-page letter, the first exchange in years of correspondence. Last year, Smith was doing an open studio in San Francisco, and the two met in person—this time as peers.
"The best thing about putting your work out in the world is that sometimes you get lucky and get to meet your heroes," says Kleon. "You start out as an apprentice, and you might not become a master, but you enter that world."
The punk scene of which Smith was a part has influenced Kleon's work in other ways. The concepts in Show Your Work!, he says, were influenced by Kleon's study of the DIY and punk rock scenes—people creating 'zines for their favorite bands and printing off copies at the local Kinkos.
"The technology is really important, and we all have tools that turn us into media producers now," he says. "But what's more important is attitude and spirit, that attitude of jumping into the world you want to join and making your own thing."
Social media, of course, has made all of this infinitely easier. Which is why Kleon insists that everyone, no matter their profession, should share pieces of their work, their knowledge, their thought process each day in mediums that make sense—Twitter for writers, Instagram for photographers, YouTube or Vimeo for filmmakers.
"I recommend that everybody come up with a daily dispatch," says Kleon. And it's nothing terribly involved: Kleon recommends spending 15 or 30 minutes at the end of each day selecting and sharing something on your social networks. That's it.
"What I mean by that is one little bit of media that you push out every day, some little piece of your process that you share with people," he says. Set yourself a daily goal: one photo on Instagram, tweeting the favorite sentence you read that day, doing a blog post about something you love.
If you're just starting out, Kleon recommends following and interacting with people who are established in whatever field you're interested in. "You have to start pointing your attention toward the world that you want to enter," he says. "If you want to get fans, you have to start out as a fan."
"I grew up in the middle of a corn field, loving art and music, and all I wanted to do was meet the people who loved the same things that I loved," he said, recalling how his world opened up once his family got dial-up Internet service and he put his first art-class projects online. "All of a sudden it didn't matter that I'm from this small town. I could reach a world that I wanted to be part of through this little telephone line."
Video production by Jackie Snow.