Girish Joshi

SHOW YOUR WORK!: Review + Notes

11 min read

I always say that for a good life you need meaningful work and meaningful relationships. And there is going to be struggle in both of them. This book was about how to make your work more meaningful and how to struggle better with work.

Last year, through a friend and through a YouTube video on productivity I found this book. I had started posting stories on my Instagram after getting inspired by a friend who worked in digital marketing and content creation. Even though I wasn’t doing quality work, I wanted my work to be seen. See, the narcissist inside me is talking. The boy is dreaming of a hot breakfast without caring to get out of his bed. It was a short book that I had finished in one night in February. I was offshore, and it was the changeover from night shift to day shift, I just couldn’t sleep. I found myself nodding my head all along with the book, sometimes I found my eyes getting wider when I desperately wanted them to narrow down me to sleep. There was a line in the beginning—”Imagine if your next boss didn’t have to read your résumé because he already reads your blog.” I sighed.

This book promises to deliver 10 ways to share your creativity and get discovered. For selfish reasons, I’d summarize those 10 ways, in case I forget them in days to come.

  1. You don’t have to be a genius.

Find a Scenius.

Find like-minded individuals and groups. Lone genius is a myth. Creativity is collaboration. We can stop asking what others can do for us, and start asking what we can do for others.

Be an amateur.

Contributing something is better than contributing nothing. In the beginner’s mind, there are many possibilities. In the expert’s mind, there are few. Wear your amateurism on your sleeve.

You can’t find your voice if you don’t use it.

Talk about things you love. Your voice will follow.

Read Obituaries.

They are a near death experience for the rest of us. It reminds you that every day is an extra day, and you have to make the most out of it.

  1. Think process, not product.

Take people behind the scenes.

Work is a process not a thing. “People really do want to see how the sausage gets made. By putting things out there, consistently, you can form a relationship with your customers. It allows them to see the person behind the products.”

Become a documentarian of what you do.

Start a work journal: Write your thoughts down in a notebook, or speak them into an audio recorder. Keep a scrapbook. Take a lot of photographs of your work at different stages in your process. Shoot video of your working. This isn’t about making art, it’s simply keeping track of what’s going around.

Research. Reference. Drawings. Plans. Sketches. Interviews. Audio. Photographs. Video. Pinboards. Journals. Drafts. Prototypes. Demos. Diagrams. Notes. Inspirations. Scrapbooks. Stories. Collections.

  1. Share something small every day.

Send out a daily dispatch.

Once a day, after you’ve done your work day’s work, go back to your documentation and find one little piece of your process that you can share. If you are in early stage — share your influences and what’s inspiring you. If you are in the middle of executing a project — write about your methods or share works in progress. If you have just completed a project — show the final product, share scraps from the cutting-room floor, or write about what you learned.

Daily dispatch can be a blog post, an email, a tweet, a YouTube video, or some other little bit of media. Don’t worry about being on every platform; pick and choose based on what you do and the people you’re trying to reach.

Don’t show your lunch or your latte; show your work.

The “so what?” test.

I had a professor in college who returned our graded essays, walked up to the chalkboard, and wrote in huge letters: “SO WHAT?” She threw the piece of chalk down and said, “Ask yourself that every time you turn in a piece of writing.” It’s a lesson I never forgot.

Turn your flow into stock.

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist. Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. Maintain your flow while working on your stock in the background. Stock is best made by collecting, organizing, and expanding upon your flow.

Build a good (domain) name.

One little blog post is nothing on its own, but publish a thousand blog posts over a decade, and it turns into your life’s work. My blog has been my sketchbook, my studio, my gallery, my storefront, and my salon. Absolutely everything good that has happened in my career can be traced back to my blog. My books, my art shows, my speaking gigs, some of my best friendships—they all exist because I have my own little piece of turf on the Internet.

Your website is not a self-promotion machine, it is a self-invention machine.

“Build a good name. Keep your name clean. Don’t make compromises. Don’t worry about making a bunch of money or being successful. Be concerned with doing good work . . . and if you can build a good name, eventually that name will be its own currency.

  1. Open up your cabinet of curiosities.

Don’t be a hoarder.

“The problem with hoarding is you end up living off your reserves. Eventually, you’ll become stale. If you give away everything you have, you are left with nothing. This forces you to look, to be aware, to replenish . . . Somehow the more you give away, the more comes back to you.” — Paul Arden

The reading feeds the writing, which feeds the reading. “I’m basically a curator. Making books has always felt very connected to my bookselling experience, that of wanting to draw people’s attention to things that I liked, to shape things that I liked into new shapes.”

Our tastes make us what we are, but they can also cast shadow over our own work.

No guilty pleasures.

We all love things that other people think are garbage. You have to have the courage to keep loving your garbage, because what makes us unique is the diversity and breadth of our influences, the unique ways in which we mix up the parts of culture others have deemed “high” and the “low”.

When you find things you genuinely enjoy, don’t let anyone else make you feel bad about it.

Credit is always due.

Always give proper credits to people whose work you share, otherwise you are not only robbing the creator of the credits but you are also robbing your audience of the original work.

  1. Tell good stories.

Work doesn’t speak for itself.

“The cat sat on a mat’ is not a story. ‘The cat sat on the dog’s mat’ is a story.” — John le Carré
If you want to be more effective when sharing yourself and your work, you need to become a better storyteller. You need to know what a good story is and how to tell one.

The stories you tell about the work you do have a huge effect on how people feel and what they understand about your work, and how people feel and what they understand about your work affects how they value it.

When shown an object, or given a food, or shown a face, people’s assessment of it—how much they like it, how valuable it is—is deeply affected by what you tell them about it.”

Structure is everything.

If you study the structure of stories, you start to see how they work, and once you know how they work, you can then start stealing story structures and filling them in with characters, situations, and settings from your own life.

Talk about yourself at parties.

You should be able to explain your work to a kindergartner, a senior citizen, and everybody in between. Tell the truth and tell it with dignity and self-respect.

“Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful.”

Strike all adjectives from your bio. You’re not an “aspiring” photographer, and you’re not an “amazing” photographer, either. You’re a photographer. Don’t get cute. Don’t brag. Just state the facts.

  1. Teach what you know.

Share your trade secrets.

Don’t worry about the competition. “The impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.” — Annie Dillard.

  1. Don’t turn into human spam.

Shut up and listen

If you want to be accepted by a community, you have to first be a good citizen of that community.

You want hearts, not eyeballs.

If you want followers, be someone worth following. Be a more interesting person. If you want to be interesting, you have to be interested. Being good at things is only thing that earns you clout or connections.

The vampire test.

If, after hanging out with someone you feel worn out and depleted, that person is a vampire. If, after hanging out with someone you still feel full of energy, that person is not a vampire. Vampires cannot be cured. When you come across a vampire, banish it from your life forever.

Identify your fellow knuckleballers.

When you pin your kind, you get your team. The people who share your obsessions, the people who share a similar mission to your own, the people with whom you share a mutual respect.

Meet up in meatspace.

Meet people in the real life.

  1. Learn to take a punch.

Let ‘em take their best shot.

Relax and breathe. Strengthen your neck. Get hit a lot. Take lots of criticism. The more criticism you take, the more you realize it can’t hurt you. Roll with the punches. Having your work hated by certain people is a badge of honour. Protect your vulnerable areas. Keep your balance. Your work is something you do, not who you are.

Don’t feed the trolls.

“There’s never a space under paintings in a gallery where someone writes their opinion,” says cartoonist Natalie Dee. “When you get to the end of a book, you don’t have to see what everyone else thought of it.” For troll problems, use the block button on social media sites.

  1. Sell out.

Even the renaissance had to be funded.

“An amateur is an artist who supports himself with outside jobs which enable him to paint.” Said artist Ben Shahn. “A professional is someone whose wife works to enable him to paint.”

Paul McCartney said that he and John Lennon used to sit down before a Beatles songwriting session and say, “Now, let’s write a swimming pool.”

Pass around the hat.

Turn your audience into patrons. Put a little virtual tip jar or a donate now button on your website.

Keep a mailing list.

They might not open it, but they definitely has to go to the trouble of deleting it.

Make more work for yourself.

Be ambitious. Keep yourself busy. Think bigger. Expand your audience. Don’t hobble yourself in the name of “keeping it real”, or “not selling out.” Try new things. “We don’t make movies to make money, we make money to make more movies.” — Walt Disney.

Pay it forward.

“The biggest problem of success is that the world conspires to stop you doing the things that you do, because you are successful,” writes author Neil Gaiman. “There was a day when I looked up and realized that I had become someone who professionally replied to email, and who wrote as a hobby. I started answering fewer emails, and was relieved to find I was writing much more.”

Be as generous as you can, but selfish to get your work done.

  1. Stick around.

Don’t quit your show.

“Work is never finished, only abandoned.” — Paul Valéry.

Just keep going. Every day, without hope or despair.


Persevere, regardless of success or failure. Author Ernest Hemingway would stop in the middle of a sentence at the end of his day’s work so he knew where to start in the morning.

Go away so you can come back.

What are you hoping to express if all you see is four walls? Flee the office. To pick up a signal, cut off mobile service. Don’t die. Simply disappear a while. Take a sabbatical from your work if possible, or else use the time with commute, exercise, or nature to disengage from the world, and to engage with yourself.

Start Over. Begin Again.

“Anyone who isn’t embarrassed of who they were last year probably isn’t learning enough.” — Alain de Botton. Think of it as beginning again, instead of starting over. Go back to chapter one—literally!—and become an amateur.

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