7 Lessons for Writers From Steal Like an Artist

Steal Like an Artist is a short, fun book that’s good to dip into when you’re feeling stuck creatively and a handy gift for that aspiring artist/writer/filmmaker/etc. in your life. It’s about ideation, the creative process, and the artist’s life. There are many lessons for writers from Steal Like an Artist –here are 7 that stuck out at me when I reread it.

1. Nothing is purely new – it’s all been said and done

YES, it’s all been said and done before, but it hasn’t been said and done by you. As a gay travel writer I’m always surprised when I share my experience as a gender nonconforming traveler with cis/het peers, who have never considered what it’s like to be misgendered at the airport or to hold back from a PDA due to personal safety.

Never needing to consider your safety is a privilege. I share my experience as much so folks can be aware of friends or loved ones who need support as to add my voice and lived experience to the narrative that’s told.

When you understand that what makes your writing distinct is your vision and your artistic voice, then you can stop worrying so much about whether your idea is unique.

The question of marketability is another question altogether, and one you shouldn’t worry about when you’re in a generative state.

Be creative. Write the book YOU want to write, the book you want to read. Paint the work that calls to you, not what you think will sell.

2. Don’t write what you know, write what you like

“Write what you know” is the advice young writers are always told, and that’s how you end up with boring stories where nothing happens, because young writers haven’t lived all that much life, relatively speaking.

“Write the book you want to read,” Austin Kleon suggests: what inspires you, what turns you on, where your heart meanders. Learn what you need to learn to write it convincingly.

3. Get offline and into the real world

Sure, you need to sit in front of the screen to write, but you also need to get offline and get out into the real world.

Live in your body, not just in your head. Wander, observe, have experiences.

Sitting in front of the computer all day is killing us slowly.

Spending time in the world is the best way I know to break writers block, because while I’m out there riding my bike or mowing the lawn, or what-have-you, my subconscious is tinkering with the plot problem that got me stuck.

4. Get a hobby

Do something that feeds your creativity where you aren’t trying to make money.

Do something that’s just play, where the quality doesn’t matter as much as the pure experience of it.

Tap into the fun of creating. Every artist needs an outlet that’s not just work.

5. Travel makes the world look new!

You don’t know what you don’t know—until you get a new perspective on things.

Travel is one of the easiest ways to change your perspective. Cross the world or state lines, try a cuisine you’ve never had before, get out of your habitual patterns.

6. Don’t look for validation from external sources

Yes, it’s great to get poems published, or have your manuscript requested by an agent, or receive praise from peers in your writing workshop. That recognition can keep you going through the tough times.

But as long as you look for validation from external sources, you’re never going to fully trust your creativity. Do your work because you value it.

7. Choose what to leave out

We all have limited time, whether we work as artists or fit it in on the weekends.

Balance is key to a healthy life, but if you don’t make the time to do the work, the work doesn’t happen.

Getting anything done creatively means saying no to invites. This comes easier to some of us (introverts, I feel you) than others.

It’s always your choice, but make it a conscious one. I spent a lot of years working 12-plus hour days, six days a week, socializing after work with friends, and wondering why I wasn’t getting any writing done.

What were your favorite lessons for writers from Steal Like an Artist?

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