Reading Steal Like an Artist

A short, inspirational book about how to be a productive artist.


A short, inspirational book about how to be a productive artist. The first few chapters are about imitation, the necessity of it, and how to evolve from there. The author talks about graduating from imitating to emulating: from copying what your heroes make, to copying what your heroes see and hear, which is how “stealing” can be incorporated into the process of making original art.

Later, the book offers some practical tips on gathering inspirations: “use your hand”, keep hobbies, share, travel, be nice to people, stay out of fights, have daily, regular routines, and put strategic constraints on yourself.

An interesting quote:

“Complain about the way other people make software by making software.” —Andre Torrez


It’s always fascinating when artists talking about their own process, the way each artist find their own authenticity, the source of originality. Neil Gaiman talked about confluence. Here, Austin Kleon talks about imitation and graduating from imitation.

Create what you like. Write the book that you would want to read. Make the software that you’d like to use.

Creating what you like is in itself a form of imitation, since your taste is formed by appreciating existing arts. This warm and inviting advice deviates from the traditional and stern directive that writers sometimes throw about: “Write what you know”, and I think the deviation is a valuable one.

There are different interpretations of “writing what you know”, (some would insist that you should never make things up when you include something from the real world in your fiction), but if you think about it, all we can write, is what we know. Like J.R.R. Tolkein said, “there is no ‘invention’ in the void”. It’s not much of a guideline for writers. It’s just the nature of our thought process.

That’s why to “create what you like” is a better advice. It actually tells you how to narrow down your choice. From the vast gallery of life experiences, pick the ones that you enjoy the most, immerse yourself in it, and make something out of it.


Kleon, Austin. Steal like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You about Being Creative. 2022.