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Be Interesting, Be Interested

Stop worrying about how many people follow you online and start worrying about the quality of people who follow you. Don’t waste your time reading articles about how to get more followers. Don’t waste time following people online just because you think it’ll get you somewhere. Don’t talk to people you don’t want to talk to, and don’t talk about stuff you don’t want to talk about.

If you want followers, be someone worth following. Donald Barthelme supposedly said to one of is students, ‘Have you tried making yourself a more interesting person?’ This seems like a really mean thing to say, unless you think of the word interesting the way writer Lawrence Weschler does: For him, to be ‘interest-ing’ is to be curious and attentive, and to practice ‘the continual projection of interest.’ To put it more simply: If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested (pp. 129, 131).

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, pp. 129, 131

I also happen to be reading Barry Hannah’s book, Boomerang, right now. The foreword actually mentions that it was Hannah who made this comment to one of his students. Interestingly, Hannah grew up in the town I now live in, and I happened to have been in contact with Barthelme’s brother just this week. Small world.

If you want to be interesting, be interested. And not just in people like you. Be interested in people, and stuff, that you aren’t naturally interested in.

Give Credit

If you share the work of others, it’s your duty to make sure that the creators of that work get proper credit. Crediting work in our copy-and-paste age of reblogs and retweets can seem like a futile effort, but it’s worth it, and it’s the right thing to do. You should always share the work of others as if it were your own, treating it with respect and care…

…If you fail to properly attribute work that you share, you not only rob the person who made it, you rob all the people you’ve shared it with. Without attribution, they have no way to dig deeper into the work or find more of it…

Another form of attribution that we often neglect is where we found the work that we’re sharing. It’s always good practice to give a shout-out to the people who’ve helped you stumble onto good work and also leave a bread-crumb trail that people you’re sharing with can follow back to the sources of your inspiration (pp. 84-85).

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, pp. 84-85

This picks up on my post from yesterday. By giving attribution for an idea, you are allowing other people to go search out the source. It allows people to search what Kleon calls ‘family trees’ instead of just one person. If I quote somebody, you can search out that person and find out about them; if you like them you can find out who influenced them and keep digging deeper.

Remember that we are not called to spread our own fame and apply that to everything.

Share Your Influences, Spread Fame

Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do – sometimes even more than your own work.

-Austin Kleon, Show Your Work, p. 77

I appreciate people who share their influences. I can’t tell you how much I’ve been helped by a couple of people who simply took the time to make a recommended reading list. That’s why I put one on this blog. I once threw a book across the room because it kept quoting people but didn’t give references for the quotes. By giving credit to the people that influence you, you allow others not only to see what has shaped you, but to dig deeper and maybe be shaped themselves.

There’s a C.S. Lewis quote that I would give a reference for if I knew where it came from (I got it from John Piper). Lewis is talking about the author of the Canterbury Tales. He says, “Poets are, for Chaucer, not people who receive fame, but people who give it.”

We should want to bring fame to those who have helped us. Don’t take other people’s ideas and simply make them your own. That makes those ideas die with you. Tell people where you got the ideas so that they can visit the source and be helped when you’re not around.

When you’re at a party, tell people about what your reading. Tell them about the people who are helping you. This way you’re not talking about yourself, but you’re letting them get to know you nonetheless. Share it on social media. Kleon says, “Don’t show yourself, show your work.” Instead of posting a selfie, recommend a book. Brag about a book or an author instead of bragging about yourself. More on this to come…

More on this to come…