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Austin Kleon on how to 'Keep Going' as an artist

Austin author releases new book on how to stay creative

Nicole Villalpando
Austin Kleon gives the opening day keynote speech during South by Southwest 2014. [AMERICAN-STATESMAN file]

Austin author/artist Austin Kleon wrote the book that he needed to read.

"Keep Going: 10 Ways to Stay Creative in Good Times and Bad" ($12.95, Workman Publishing) is a response to both the world around him and his own struggles with finding inspiration as a creative person.

"I just felt like the past couple of years felt like the world's been on fire," he says. "Most of the creative people I know are distracted by the climate and perils of social media."

It's also a response to his discovery that "I'm waking up to the fact that the creative career doesn't get any easier," he says. "It's really challenging to keep up the challenge. I wanted to write a pep talk for people who want to do creative work."

Unlike his other books, "this was the first book where I was like, 'I need to read this book,'" he says. "'I am struggling with this issue. Maybe it will help other people if I write it.'"

On Tuesday, he'll launch the book with a book signing and Q&A session about it as well as a screening of the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day."

The 1993 movie stars Murray's character as a weatherman who travels to Punxsutawney, Penn., to cover the annual emergence of Punxsutawney Phil, the groundhog who can supposedly predict the future of winter weather. Every morning Murray's character, also Phil, wakes up to the same day as Sonny and Cher's "I've Got You Babe" plays on the clock radio.

In the movie, Phil the man asks, "What would you do if you were stuck in one place and every day was exactly the same and nothing that you did mattered?"

Kleon writes: "I think how you answer this question is your art."

Because the artist also feels this nonlinear journey through life in which you keep returning to the beginning with a blank slate of paper, canvas or whatever your medium might be.

"The easiest way to lose the love of creative work is to turn it into a career," he says. This book offers a way to rekindle love of your creative work. And it does it in list form, of which Kleon is a fan.

No. 1 on his list is the idea that every day is "Groundhog Day," but creative people need routine.

"I think that it is a rookie mistake for creative people to think inspiration will come first and then you'll sit down to work," he says. Instead, "you have to sit down every day and hope the inspiration strikes."

And so, Kleon has his own routine of creative work, which includes breakfast with his two sons, who are 4 and 6, and then into his studio to work for a few hours until lunch. He writes in his diary, or on his daily blog, or for an upcoming book. In the afternoon he does administrative stuff such as answering emails and phone calls. If he doesn't have anything else to do, he reads.

It helps that his wife, Meg, is home with the kids and grew up with a father as a writer. "It helps that she knows what she's in for," he says. "She knows that tension in creative work: The need to be lazy or idle, but you are constantly working. The two things talk to each other."

Kleon calls his wife more creative than he is. Being a stay-at-home mom, he says, "is its own kind of creativity, for sure."

Although both he and Meg grew up in Ohio, they have learned a very important lesson this winter: They are really Austinites.

To prepare for a 25-city book tour, they went back to what he calls "the South Shores of Lake Erie," aka the Cleveland area, for the winter. That way she could get some family support as he started traveling.

"Mistakes were made," Kleon says about their decision to winter in Ohio, where they have been since Christmas. "We're going a little crazy." He's excited to return to Austin after the tour and the school year. Before children, his wife was working on a doctorate program in architecture at the University of Texas. This pays off because when he goes on tour, he comes home to a sink replaced, he says.

Kleon also wrote "Steal Like an Artist" and "Show Your Work" and the poetry collection "Newspaper Blackout." This tour is a huge opportunity and represents how well he is doing, even though he knows it will take a toll on his family.

He never thought he would get to where he is. "I figured I would have day jobs forever," he says. "I thought what I was interested in was too weird to be remotely mainstream or commercial."

Yet it has been successful. He started a blog in 2005, before everyone had a blog. "I was lucky I was finding my voice at a time when the bar for entry was low," he says.

Yet, he doesn't take the career he has built for granted. "You never know when your good fortune will run out," he says.

Kleon is always thinking about his next thing. Right now he's thinking about how to have a creative life for kids and whether art and family can talk to each other — and not be antagonists.

When it comes to his kids, he's learned what it's like to just play. They are learning all the time, but it might not be in a linear way or what you think it is. "I'm thankful that before my kids were born, I had a deep sense that they were going to teach me more than I would teach them, so I'd better take notes," he says.

And one thing he's learned is to just learn again for fun and not to pass a test.

He's definitely learned his love of Austin. "This is my town," he says. "This is where I want to be."


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Austin Kleon at Alamo Drafthouse

Austin Kleon will launch "Keep Going" with a Q&A, book signing and a screening of the Bill Murray movie "Groundhog Day."

When: 7 p.m. Tuesday

Where: Mueller Alamo Drafthouse, 1911 Aldrich St., Suite 120

Cost: $12