Showing my work

I watched Austin Kleon’s “Show Your Work!” Creative Mornings talk last week and was inspired by his suggestion to share not just a finished product, but the work in progress. It is inspiring to me to see how others work and to be reminded that art doesn’t just appear in perfectly polished form.

Creation is a messy, humbling process with dead-ends and u-turns and much floundering and procrastination and self-doubt. Lots of self-doubt. (Is it just me that feels like a fraud constantly on the verge of being found out?*) It can be invigorating and satisfying and joyful, too. I’m working now on preparing a talk I’m giving on June 2 at the Collegiate Information and Visitor Services Association (CIVSA) annual conference in Alexandria, VA. I’m the opening speaker with an hour on the program in a big theater, so I’m feeling some pressure to be awesome.

I came up with a title and short description months ago so it could be promoted in the conference program, and I immediately created a Keynote document that I’ve been dumping ideas into ever since. It’s a “kitchen sink” approach. Any thought or quote or image that seems remotely interesting and relevant gets dropped in over the course of several months. But only in the last couple of weeks have I begun putting it all together. I love Keynote. (For those who don’t know, Keynote is Apple’s version of slide software. It’s a beautiful, smart app that blows Powerpoint away.) I spend most of my time in Keynote in the “Light Table” view. It’s a great perspective for seeing connections between ideas and assessing the flow of your thoughts. Keynote is a powerful tool to plan projects in, even if you don’t need presentation slides. Here’s what my presentation looks like at the moment:

Best.Week.Ever. light table view

Since I’ve been crafting this talk over the last two weeks, I’ve been tweaking slides and adding images and rearranging the order of ideas. I’m no designer, but I care how each slide looks. I often get lost in small details of typography and which shade of yellow I prefer at the expense of the big picture of the key themes I’m supposed to be addressing. And I find myself getting infatuated with a slide or image that may not really belong. When that happens, I open up my writing app and just start writing. I simply write what I imagine I will say during my presentation. This helps sort out the flow and gets to the heart of what I’m trying to accomplish. I keep coming back to “Why?” And “What’s the point?” And “How do I hope my audience is different at the end of my talk?” Writing it out helps point me in the direction I need to go. I use iA Writer on my iPad mini for any long writing. I’m more focused when writing on the iPad than I am on my iMac. And iA Writer is a gorgeously designed, minimal app with very few features. It’s great for just writing, not for fiddling around with settings and formatting and such. It syncs your documents in iCloud or Dropbox, and there’s an equally beautiful Mac version of the app.

iA Writer on iPad mini

(I really like Apple’s wireless bluetooth keyboard, by the way. The feel of the keys is great, and the size is just right. I don’t write enough to need an iPad/keyboard combo case that’s with me all the time, so I just purchased Incase’s Origami keyboard case, which is made especially for the Apple keyboard. It’s perfect for my setup.)

Working on this presentation has reminded me how much I love creating and getting lost in a project I’m excited about. I skipped lunch last Friday because I was immersed in working on this. I never skip lunch. Lunch is my favorite meal of the day. That’s how satisfying I find this process. I find myself reviewing the slides on my iPad each night and tweaking details almost every time I open the presentation. Fortunately, iCloud has been rock solid at keeping everything synced nicely between my iPad and my Mac.

I’m still a long way from a finished presentation. I may scrap half of what I’ve already done before June 2 arrives. And once I begin rehearsing out loud, which is crucial, I will make more changes.

Okay, back to working on my work. Was this post just another bit of procrastination? Maybe. Now it’s time for lunch.

*I just looked at my presentation from last summer’s conference, where I was the closing speaker, and now those slides look ugly and half-done to me. I’m terrible. Why do they keep asking me to speak at this conference…?

11 thoughts on “Showing my work

  1. […] I use Apple’s Keynote software instead of PowerPoint, but it can be misused just as easily. They are fine pieces of software that need to be used simply as tools to support presenters rather than serving as the centerpiece of a presentation. I could go on (and I have) about what I’ve learned about presentation design, but the key is to understand that a presentation is about the interaction of the speaker and the audience. It’s about a transfer of emotion. It’s about provoking a change in thinking or action. It’s the speaker guiding the audience on a journey from “Why?” to “How?”. […]

  2. […] Showing my work helps remind me what a rewardingly messy process creation is. An audience typically only sees the well honed final creation, but it’s worthwhile to share openly the process that creates the product. I take heart when I see an artist show the rough drafts and discarded wrong steps. […]

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