MIRO: We read your advice to a reader on finishing projects:
"Get up early every morning, don't look at your phone, don't get on the internet, don't even talk to anybody, and work for 2 hours. Do this long enough, and you'll finish something."
Assuming you follow your own advice, what does the rest of a typical day in your life look like?
AUSTIN KLEON: Well, my days don't look anything like they used to because I'm currently caring for my 3-week old son. At this stage, my wife and I are in "survival mode" where you have to grab sleep when he sleeps and it's around-the-clock feeding, swaddling, soothing, and diaper-changing. I'm still finding time to read a little, blog, tweet, and scribble a note or two, but so far these 3 weeks have been the hardest thing in my creative life — I completely underestimated what sleep deprivation would be like. People who say putting out a book is like having a baby are completely nuts.
MIRO: What are your thoughts about fostering and supporting creativity as a parent?
AUSTIN KLEON: This is a great big question mark hanging over my life. I honestly have no idea. People tell me it does get better, and I do have several fathers I look up to who do amazing work, and who are somehow able to integrate their work and family life. We'll find out.
MIRO: Your wife was the one who originally recognized your newspaper blackouts, which you originally viewed as an "exercise," as poetry. Can you talk about the importance of having an advocate/support system in the creative process?
AUSTIN KLEON: Yeah, when I was at Pixar I asked Michael Johnson if he had any parenting advice and he said, “Marry well.” People underestimate the effect that their friends and loved ones will have on their life. You really are a sum of the people you keep around you, and so you have to marry well. There's a book out called The Wives which is all about the wives of famous Russian authors like Tolstoy, Dostoevsky, and Nabokov, and how essential they were to their husbands' success.
MIRO: So much of today's technology favors brevity over complexity (i.e. Twitter, etc). Is it possible to sum up your book Steal Like An Artist in ten words or less?
AUSTIN KLEON: Run towards influence instead of running away from it.
MIRO: Would you walk us through the process of making a newspaper blackout poem?
AUSTIN KLEON: It's not unlike all writing: you choose a word and then you choose another word to put next to it. A video is worth 1,000 words:
MIRO: What is your favorite newspaper blackout poem?
AUSTIN KLEON: Probably “What Is Marriage,” which our post-partum nurse told me she had hanging in her house:
MIRO: You tell your readers to "be boring" in order to be productive as artists. If we can pry, is this something you "learned the hard way," so to speak?
AUSTIN KLEON: Not really. I had the good fortune to have an artist tell me at a very young age to save my energy because I'd need it later in life. Here's the story.
Thanks so much to Austin for spending some time answering our questions!