Book Review – Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

My life has changed since I read Show Your Work by Austin Kleon: blog and twitter worth following. I think this is the best praise I can give a book. Not in an insubstantial way, but in the day-to-day. I spend my time differently.

Somehow this book got me excited to share my work. I’ve hated marketing for a long, long time. Funny considering I was an internet marketer for two years. Worst job ever. However, Show You Work altered my perspective. It taught me how to share my work, and for once I’m actually enjoying it.

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Show Your Work is a quick read brimming with quality ideas that are simple to execute. Austin Kleon argues that one of the best ways of “getting discovered” and building an audience is to share behind the scenes information in a way that is interesting or helpful for others. On page 2, he says:

I think there’s an easy way of putting your work out there and making it discoverable while you’re focused on getting really good at what you do.

Sections like “Be An Amateur”, which focuses on embracing and celebrating your amateur status, are inspiring. Or “Become a Documentarian of What You Do”, which encourages you to open your creative process up to the world.

There are sections touching on the practical side too, like the facts that you should be sharing something daily. And common sense advice like build a mailing lists (if you’re an artist who isn’t do this, now is the time to start). None of the technical aspects presented anything new, but they pieces of time-honored advice and definitely worth mentioning.

He never dives deep into the technical. Rather, he tells you what you need to do, presents his case for each point, and leaves the rest up to you. In this way, Show Your Work is an overview. It focuses on your mindset, your platform, and daily actions you should focus on, but leaves the specifics on execution, platforms, social media, etc. up to you.

I liked this. It’s not a bible, but it doesn’t need to be. Even I, a slow reader, finished Share Your Work and got inspired to boot. Time will tell if the changes I’ve made will have any lasting effects on my platform. But I’ve started to document my creative process much more than ever before. I’ve started scheduling social media posts with trickles of information and tidbits about what I’m doing. I’ve become more deliberate about what I’m writing about on this blog. And lastly, this book inspired me to start drawing again. For good or bad, who knows, but drawing has become a daily part of my life now and I don’t plan on giving it up.

If you’re a creative looking for an audience, or needing a kick in the pants when it comes to sharing your process with the world, then I highly recommend this little book.

Writers Life

Think about 20 different ideas

Winnie the Pooh Thinks

Narrow it down to one.

Think some more.

Outline maybe… Or just start writing.

“We’ll, that idea sucks. Time to rewrite.”

Expand on everything!

Expand

Oops. Expanded too much. Cut it down.

Write! Write! Write!

Almost done, don’t get burned out.

The last chapter isn’t working. What did I do wrong?

More rewrites!

Share with beta readers. (quietly die inside)

Get their feedback.

editor

Rewrite some more. Does it never end!??!

Walk away from it for three months.

Read someone elses novel, feel inadequate.

die inside

Read it, see if it’s as good as you remember it (it isn’t).

Rewrites!

Editors, agents, proofers, publishers.

Promotion… nooooooooooo!

no

And start again.

Book Review of The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson (Mistborn #1)

Note: This review was originally posted on Goodreads on April 10, 2017. It has been slightly updated here.


The Final Empire is an excellent fantasy novel which far exceeded my expectations. I’m new to Brandon Sanderson with one exception.

I’d tried to read The Way Of Kings last year, and I put it down after 5 chapters because I found one of the characters very trite and annoying. But after reading The Final Empire, I may need to go back and give it another shot.

Our belief is often strongest when it should be weakest. That is the nature of hope. –The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

My wife recommended The Final Empire, and I realized this was the same author a few chapters in. The opening didn’t grab me here either, but she insisted that it would be worth slogging through. Lucky for me I gave it a chance because what I read was would become one of my favorite fantasy series ever.

The beginning

Action as a hook doesn’t work for me because there’s no emotional resonance. Until I care about the characters, I really don’t care about the action. But once you pass this brief requisite “hook”, the characters start to connect and the setting begins to get interesting. Next we’re front-loaded with world building, still without a character to really hold on to. More trudging on.

But after you climb these early, awkward steps it starts to get interesting. And then it gets fascinating, captivating, magical.

The Plot

The plot itself isn’t what’s engrossing here. It’s a standard hero overthrows the evil villain story. What’s interesting is how Brandon Sanderson is able to craft a standard villain into a believable human being with doubts and insecurities. It’s equivalent to making Sauron from Lord of the Rings a character you can relate to.

He does this in numerous ways, but primarily through the use of journal entries. As we read the diary of a man who’s about to rise to supreme power, we see that he was not always the evil emperor who enslaves us today. There was a time where he was just a person like you or me.

I consider myself to be a man of principle. But, what man does not? Even the cutthroat, I have noticed, considers his actions “moral” after a fashion.

Perhaps another person, reading of my life, would name me a religious tyrant. He could call me arrogant. What is to make that man’s opinion any less valid than my own?

I guess it all comes down to one fact: In the end, I’m the one with the armies.
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

There are many revelations, and I won’t give any of them away, but they culminate into a brilliant “Ah ha!” moment when the reader finally sees [not a spoiler, you learn this in the beginning] why the Hero of Ages is now the Lord Ruler. Brilliant character development and story telling here.

That’s all subtext though. I know.

The actual plot follows a thieving crew who’s been hired to overthrow the lord ruler. It takes a fairly predictable path, but that’s ok. What’s interesting are the two protagonists whose relationship grows so subtly throughout the book.

There are probably a thousand different moments of slight character progression as they transition from one mentality to another, or as they loose or gain insecurities, or grow just a little closer to another character. It’s fascinating to see all this constant movement feel so natural, and it’s brilliantly done.

Setting

This is fantasy, and it contains a unique magic system. It’s fun, limited, and believable. Some people have one magic ability, others have many, and the rest have none. I enjoyed the fact that the magic behaved differently than magic I’ve seen before. It turned out to be a mix of Jedi and Matrix powers, and the combination was fun.

The environment is believable enough. It doesn’t stray too far into fantasy lane, meaning there aren’t any elves or ogres or goblins, etc. The ash the constantly falls from the sky was a really nice touch, and the mist itself is an ever-present thing. I enjoyed how the mist felt like a character at some points. It’s these details that carry the setting and keep it interesting.

Writing Style

Brandon Sanderson’s writing is direct and clear at all times. He doesn’t really get bogged down with metaphors or imagery, opting instead to be clear and concise. Prose flow well without getting in the way. It works well when there’s so many intricacies to the plot that any confusion would hamper the story.

He smiled despite the grief he felt at the deaths of his men; he smiled because that was what he did. That was how he proved to the Lord Ruler-and to himself-that he wasn’t beaten.
The Final Empire by Brandon Sanderson

Some writers like to get readers to think through their prose, but Brandon Sanderson likes to get writers to think through his characters and their relationships. I guess what I’m trying to say is: the writing never stood out to me in a bad way, but never stood out in a great way either. It works well and delivers the ideas it needs to effortlessly.

Conclusion

Read this book! Other than the beginning, I don’t have any gripes. This was one of the best fantasy books I’ve ever read, up there with Name of the Wind (if you know me, you know how high praise that is). So give the man some money and have a great time reading.

What to read next

Picking my next read is a task brimming with possibilities. So many things to consider, so much to gain from a good choice, so much disappointment from a bad one.

I’ve been thinking about what I want from my next reading experience, but am torn in several directions. One of my goals this year is to read more difficult but rewarding books, a bill that was filled by my previous two very different reads Blood Meridian by Cormac McCarthy and The Iron Council by China Mieville. Both definitely work to get through, but both were amazing in their own unique ways.

I also want to read more unique post apocalyptic novels, because 1) I enjoy them, and 2) I’m writing in that genre and need to scope out the competition. I’ve read a few post apocalyptic books in the past (my favorites being The Road by Cormac McCarthy, I Am Legend by Richard Matheson, and is Roadside Picnic considered post apocalyptic(?)).

I’ve narrowed my next book down to four very different choices, and I want your input. Pick from one of the options below, click on the tweet thingy and fill in your choice of book with one reason why. It can be any reason, even if you think it just has the best cover.

The choices are:  Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel, Pulp by Charles Bukowski, Stoner by John Williams, or My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

Let me know what I should read next by filling in the blanks in the tweet below:

You should read -FILL IN BOOK- next #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

Why these books?

Station Eleven by Emily St John Mandel

Station Eleven Book Cover by Emily St. John Mandel

I first heard about Station Eleven while googling for “best post apocalyptic novels” or “best dystopian novels” or something like that. I saw it mentioned more than once, thought that was a good sign (though I have read terrible books from ‘best of…’ lists, so you never know).

This came up and I mentioned it to my wife. “I’ve only heard great things about that book” she said, and then, “Read it ’cause I want to read it and we should read it together!” But she’s currently reading something else so it’ll be a while before we can read this together? Should I get started early? Probably because she reads SO MUCH FASTER than me.

Really, that’s all I know about Station Eleven. I haven’t looked at its goodreads page, I haven’t even cracked it open. All I know is it’s supposed to be good and it shares the genre that I’m currently writing in. Should I read it?

You should read Station Eleven by @EmilyMandel #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

You can follow her on twitter @EmilyMandel

Pulp by Charles Bukowski

Pulp book cover by Charles Bukowski

I’ve never read a Charles Bukowski book. I think many people consider that a crime. I don’t know much about him except that he’s highly regarded and wrote books with titles like Ham on Rye. To be honest, I don’t know what’s kept me away from Bukowski for so long.

Anyway, I only own one of his books, Pulp. I have a feeling that it’s not the Bukowski book you’re ‘supposed’ to start with, but it’s the one I own. So there.

For some reason I put Charles Bukowski in the same camp as Kurt Vonnegut (one of my all time favorites), but I don’t know if that’s accurate or not. They just seem to exude similar vibes. Am I wrong? Should I read it next?

You should read Pulp by Charles Bukowski #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

Stoner by John Williams

Stoner book cover by John Williams

Stoner, I have heard, is one of the best American novels ever written. This is a novel that’s been floating around my periphery for years. I think I heard about it first from an article from a publication like The Guardian or something. It wasn’t this article but it was a similar one to this.

I forgot about it for a while, then rediscovered it through this YouTube video by Better Than Food, the book recommendation channel by Clifford Lee Sargent @BksBtrThnFood. He gives it about as high of a recommendation possible, which has me intrigued. Should I listen to Clifford and read it next?

You should read Stoner by John Williams because @BksBtrThnFood told you to #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard

My Struggle book cover by Karl Ove Knausgaard

I only recently heard about My Struggle. This one I also learned about from Clifford Lee Sargent (there, I think I linked to all of his things, lol) while bingeing his channel. The same day I watched this video I went to Half Price Books and found the book in the staff recommendations section. It felt like a fatey type of thing, so I bought it.

It’s been a few months since then and the details as to what makes this book great are escaping me now. All I know is that some people who I think have decent taste like it, so hopefully I’ll like it too. Should I read it next though?

You should read My Struggle by Karl Ove Knausgaard because @BksBtrThnFood told you to #scbarrusreads Click To Tweet

So which should it be. They all seem to be very different books. Let me know your thoughts in the comments or on twitter @scbarrus

 

 

There’s a new look around these parts

Check out the new look on S.C. Barrus' blog. Click To Tweet

I’ve taken up illustrating. I’m drawing myself as well as other random things.

I’ve started sharing these stupid little sketches with you a bit already, but there’s more coming whether you like it or not.

Anyway, you’ll notice the site looks way different. New pictures, new theme, everything is dog gone new.

The reasons are simple. I want more simplicity, plus I want to have a distinctive presence online. I’ve blended in with everyone else seeking attention online. I’m sick of it. So drawing. Not to worry, the content here will still largely focus on my writing and other writing and reading related topics, but now with a bit more permanent marker thrown in.

 

The sweet sorrow of finishing a novel

I’ve nearly finished writing Grim Curio. 92,000 words written, and when it’s done it’ll be just shy of 100,000. That’s pretty damn close.

I’m a little sad to be at this point. Grim Curio has been a very rewarding book to write. I’ve expanded my skills and pushed myself as far as I can.

Even so, I’m ready finish. Writing Grim Curio has been exhausting. So while I’m sad to see the experience drawing to an end, I’m also relieved.

It's a Roller Coaster of Emotion in here

To celebrate this milestone, here’s three takeaways from my writing process.

I found my own voice

It seems to me that a writers voice is always evolving. But for the first time I feel the voice I’m writing in is my own.

While I enjoy the narration of Discovering Aberration and The Gin Thief, I think it’s fairly obvious that I was emulating the style of the Victorian Era (drawing heavily from Jules Verne).

With Grim Curio, it was just me. 

I improved my pacing

Pacing is critical. Bad pacing can cripple an otherwise great novel. I’ve struggled with pacing before, especially with Discovering Aberration‘s drawn out introduction and drastic shift in tone.

But with Grim Curio I feel like I nailed it. Beta readers seemed to agree. Now I’ve got to carry that structure to future works.

Layered Story

While my other novels are straight forward adventures without too much subtext to dive into, I feel like I’ve added a depth to Grim Curio I’ve never written before.

Grim Curio can be read as a straightforward post apocalyptic story, but there are layers and layers here that I weaved into the narrative. Some of my beta readers picked up on these deeper themes, others were content to read it at a surface level.

The fact that both were possible and both sets of readers reported high levels of enjoyment tell me I did something right there. Go me. Gotta pat myself on the back sometimes. God knows I pile on the criticism enough.

Anyway, that’s all for now. Lot’s more coming in the weeks ahead. I’m getting back into my regular blogging schedule again now that things are calming down. Keep an eye out, and if you want to be notified of any future releases, sign up for my mailing list.

Berserk Vol 1 cover

Review of Berserk Vol. 1 by Kentaro Miura

I fell in love with Guts through the 1997 Berserk anime. It’s one of my favorites, and ever since I finally watched it two years ago, I’ve been craving more. The movies were pretty good too, but they followed the same arc. Then came the 2016 show. It was… lacking. But at least it was more Guts (the MC).

You can also read this review on Goodreads.

Scene from Berserk 1997 anime

I wanted more of what I’d seen in the 1997 anime, and I figured the only way to get it was to go to the source material. So I read book one and was surprised to see that it follows the storyline of the 2016 show.

What I liked

It’s fun, albeit a gore-fest. I’m pretty desensitized when it comes to violence in fiction, so the frequent gore didn’t bother me. For the most part, I found myself enjoying the entire read, which took me the better part of an hour.

What I didn’t like

Berserk Vol 1 coverGut’s seems like a very flat character in this book. He kills stuff because he’s badass. He wins fights because he’s strong. He survives inhuman amounts of damage because… I’m not clear on that yet. His motivations aren’t always clear from scene to scene.

**SPOILERS**

Here’s an example, and it’s contains spoilers for the first half of the book. We see him dismantle tens of bandits one scene, and the next he’s confronted by soldiers and just gives up without a fight and let’s himself get tortured. Then he escapes by…. I actually don’t know how he escapes because one scene he’s in prison unable to move on the cell floor and the next he’s suddenly out killin’ dudes. Sooo…

**END SPOILERS**

This was annoying because in the ’97 anime he’s definitely all the attributes I listed above but he’s a much more complex yet internally consistent figure. I assume what happens is Gut’s gains this depth over the course of several books. I’ve heard a few books it the series has a massive jump in quality, so I’m willing to give several more a shot before I make an informed opinion on the manga.

Overall – 3.5/5

I enjoyed aspects of vol. 1, but as a whole it’s flawed and flat. That’s fine when it only takes you an hour to get through the entire book, but I’m hoping for a jump in quality in later volumes.

MY RATING SCALE

5 – Excellent. Either this book was incredibly enjoyable, or I learned something that will improve my own writing.

4 – Fine. The book was pretty good/fun, but was held down by several issues.

3 – Meh. The issues in this book hampered my enjoyment.

2 – Not for me. I didn’t like it, but I can see why other people might.

1 – Not for anyone. I hated it, probably didn’t finish reading, definitely didn’t take the time to write a review.

Note: I don’t write fully negative reviews. Books I don’t like will be given a star rating on Goodreads with no review. As a writer, I don’t want to add my voice to a conversation that might negatively affect another writers income.