How Austin Kleon Pulled Me From the Darkness

(note: This is a rare cross post which I also put up at Collective Inkwell. Sorry for the duplicate posts if you subscribe to both blogs, but since this is a post regarding the future direction of this site, I wanted to post it here, too.)

If you’ve looked inside our book Z 2135, out in paperback today by the way, you may have noticed we’ve dedicated the title to another writer.

“To Austin Kleon for his book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, and the countless storytellers before us.”

Austin, in case you’re not familiar with him, found popularity with his Newspaper Blackout collection where he took pages from The New York Times and blacked out all but a few words to create poetry with oftentimes poignant effect. But it was his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative that inspired me when I (Dave) needed it most.

As I wrote before, we got slammed by some reviewers on Z 2134, who called us everything from plagiarists to Satan’s spawn.

People were pissed because we were stupid enough to mash up The Hunger Games, The Walking Dead, and 1984.

You’d think we made a Fifty Shades of Jesus book or something.

(Note to self: million dollar idea!)

As a creator (first a cartoonist, and then a writer), I’ve always prided myself on my creativity. Being called a “plagiarist” made my stomach turn.

Even though I’d only read the first half or so of The Hunger Games, and we only outright lifted the opening part where everyone scrambles like crazy to get the good shit, I still felt sick in my gut, and defensive, as if I were guilty. That all ideas should be New and Completely Original.

Forget that The Hunger Games was slammed for “ripping off” Battle Royale.

Forget that our other series, Yesterday’s Gone and WhiteSpace, both do things that I’ve not seen any other book or TV series do.

Forget that lots of people love our stuff.

I still felt like a BIG FAT PHONY.

In fact, there was a time I didn’t even want to write! I was in a dark place — hating everything I attempted to write.


3d-Steal-Like-an-Artist-NYTSean sent me Austin’s little black book, Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative.

Suddenly, I felt better.

Less like a BIG FAT PHONY.

Austin’s book talks about how so many artists (writers, musicians, painters, everyone) steal from those who came before them.

Of course steal is a provocative word, and I certainly never considered myself a thief of ideas!

But while reading the book, Austin made the case that we’re all inspired by the things we love.

For me, it’s comic books in my childhood, serialized TV shows I love like The Wire, Carnivale, Battlestar Galactica, Breaking Bad, and of course, Stephen King’s The Green Mile, the first serialized book that grabbed me hard and never let go.

All artists build on that which came before them.

The thing that separates art and theft is whether you bring your own ideas to the process. Whether you surpass the originals you’re inspired by (or at least come close, I suppose).


Austin’s thoughts on creative theft lifted me out of my funk, but so did his thoughts on creativity, the love he pours into his art, and the fact that he’s also a writer who draws.


I felt like I was connected with a kindred soul, someone who wasn’t just publishing his art, he was also discussing the process, and sharing it on his website.

This lit a fire in me, a fire which will drive my personal site’s direction throughout this year.

I like to think that we answered haters and critics with Z 2135.

Who knows how the series will be remembered, as just another rip-off or something more, but I do believe that without Austin’s influence, I might not have had the stamina to march forward, and co-write Z 2135 with Sean.

Thank you, Austin, not just for lifting me out of a deep, dark depression, but for reminding me what it means to be a writer, and an artist.

And thank you to Sean, my writing partner, and creative compass.

Get Austin Kleon’s remarkable book here (it’s a short and easy read that will stay with you for a lifetime):

Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative

Amazon US:

Amazon UK:

12 thoughts on “How Austin Kleon Pulled Me From the Darkness

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  1. I read a ton of books, and Steal Like an Artist was easily in the top 3 books I read last year. So much brilliance and honesty in it, and it really got me fired up too even though I’d never felt like a true “creative” before. Since reading it I’ve published 3 children’s books and have several more on the way soon. I owe a lot to Austin as well.

  2. Wow, great stuff, and so timely for me.

    Posts like this remind me that I really should get out and chat with other authors from time to time, to commiserate over the crappy stuff.

    I just released my third book, Lawgivers ( and even though my story has only one general idea in common with the Judge Dredd series, its a totally original work that stands on its own. Even so, I knew in my gut that someone would draw an instant connection and label me a copier. Without actually reading my book, of course. Such accusations are always easier in ignorance.

    Sure enough, one day after launch, I get the Its been done before comment. So frustrating.

    Anyway, just wanted to say thank you. You guys are rockstars.



  3. Nice blog piece Dave. Never heard of Austin but will check it out. In these post-modern days, everything is a reference to something. You don’t have to be a genius to spot the works that inspired Harry Potter, but as you & Austin say, Rowling honoured those stories and traditions.

  4. Need to get this book and put it on my desk to stare at everyday, or I could just print out this post and frame it. ….Good idea. I’ll put the book on my iPhone instead ^_^ Thanks for writing this. It spoke to me. I managed to get a move on writing because I gave myself permission to fail spectacularly everyday and just left the words in Scrivener. Magic must have happened when I shut the file, because going back, I swear I can’t remember writing stuff that was so readable and mine.

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