Crystal’s Team Pick: 25 Lessons For Creatives In Patti Smith’s ‘Just Kids’

At the moment I’m reading Just Kids, a book of prose penned by Patti Smith documenting her time in New York during the late sixties and early seventies. It’s a remarkable story that focuses on Patti’s relationship and creative partnership with photographer Robert Mapplethorpe and their growth as artists. I highly recommend it, even/especially to those who’ve never heard these names before.

Just Kids offers up many inspiring insights into the creative process and lifestyle, and they’re compiled in this wonderful article by Nextness: ‘What Matters Is The Work: 25 Lessons for Creatives in Patti Smith’s Just Kids’.

A few highlights:

1.  Never apologise for being an artist.
No one would see what [Robert] had seen, no one would understand. He’d had it all his life, but in the past he tried to make up for it, as if it were his fault. He compensated for this with a sweet nature, seeking approval from his father, from his teachers, from his peers. He wasn’t certain whether he was a good or bad person… But he was certain of one thing. He was an artist. And for that he would never apologise.

11.  Delight in a trusting creative partnership.
Both of us [Patti and Robert] had given ourselves to others. We vacillated and lost everyone, but we had found each other again. We wanted, it seemed, what we already had, a lover and a friend to create with, side by side. To be loyal, yet free.

21.  If you miss a beat, create another.
When we got to the part where we had to improvise an argument in a poetic language, I got cold feet. “I can’t do this,” I said. “I don’t know what to say.”

“Say anything,” he [Sam Shephard] said. “You can’t make a mistake when you improvise.”

“What if I mess it up? What if I screw up the rhythm?”

“You can’t,” he said. “It’s like drumming. If you miss a beat, you create another.”

In this simple exchange, Sam taught me the secret of improvisation, one that I have accessed my whole life.

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Founding member. Former writer. Still loves Autostraddle with her whole heart.

Crystal has written 320 articles for us.


  1. I absolutely fell in love with this book and Patti for that matter. I really hope she writes another memoir or something like that!

  2. YES! I love this book! I got it at the airport flying to my parents for Christmas. It sucked me in like Harry Potter. I’ve read it 3 times since then and whenever I’m in NY I look for her lil spots (if they still exist). This book is SO good! Makes me happy to see this :)

  3. I recommend Just Kids to people all the time; it’s INCREDIBLE.
    It’s the ultimate ‘you do you’ message. She also does shows in NYC at the Bowery Ballroom the 29/30/31 of December (it’s full of old/awesome hippies) which I also highly recommend. She’s an amazing musician and person! “Jesus died for somebody’s sins but not mine.”

  4. I read this a few months ago, it is a great love story, a tribute to Mapplethorpe and I was glad she wrote it and shared that time period as she is a fairly private person.

  5. This was almost perfect, and I will probably have to read the book, as it seems like the exact thing I have been looking for since I graduated from art school a year ago.

    Number 15 really struck me as something I have been struggling with for most of the past year:

    15. You will experience low periods.

    “In my low periods, I wondered what was the point of creating art. For whom? Are we animating God? Are we talking to ourselves? And what was the ultimate goal? To have one’s work caged in art’s great zoos – the Modern, the Met, the Louvre? I craved honesty, yet found dishonesty in myself… It seemed indulgent to add to the glut unless one offered illumination.”

    My ongoing question has been, “why is this endeavor important? What is the point besides my own gratification?” I want there to be an obvious virtue in making art. Although this doesn’t give me an answer, it’s always nice to know there is someone out there asking the exact same thing, and eventually getting over it and who keeps truckin’ on. Though, if anyone has an answer, that would be AMAZING! thanks.

  6. This has immediately gone to the top of my reading list. No lie, listening to Patti Smith helped me be okay with my gayness.

  7. Reading this book made me feel like I’m not doing enough with my life.

    So I beat DragonAge II and I feel better…

    /am re-learning guitar this summer. And am potentially starting a spoken-word band with my brother. And am buying “Horses” on vinyl.

    At least the first and last things anyway.

  8. This book seriously made me fall in love with Patti Smith even more than before. She did a book reading at the Smithsonian last winter and I was totally upset I couldn’t go because I had to work. I ended up going a couple of days later (Hide and Seek exhibit) and when I went into the gift shop this book was there and the lady who was cashing me out was like “Oh Patti was just here the other day (Me: T.T) and I’m sure you already noticed this but Patti Smith autographed it too.” It slightly made up for missing seeing her in person.

    I felt inspired as I read it. This book just makes me want to do more. I made a bucket list for the summer and it was slow-going at first but since I finally finished reading it like 2-3 weeks ago I’ve been crossing off the things on my list a lot more often. Seriously, everyone needs to read it…now!

  9. The book has been sitting on my bedside tablewindowdesk for weeks. I’ll open it tonight.

  10. I came across this book in a Goodwill the other day and almost nabbed it. Now I regret not doing so! I think I may pick it up for the AS Book-a-thon. :D

  11. I would recommend this book to anyone with a soul, because it is seriously so good and beautiful and ART.

    Actually, I would also recommend this book to soulless people, in the hope that it would help them develop a soul. Maybe throw it at Michele Bachmann along with glitter?

  12. Just Kids the best book i’ve read in a while and I read A LOT. Her other work written work is just as phenomenal.. but fuuccckk have you seen her live!?

    Wild Flag covers Ask the Angels at the end of their set in honor of Just Kids winning the National Book Award for Nonfiction.
    The only cover that holds a candle to the original is The Distillers

  13. Some of Robert Mapplethorpe’s work is really neat. He has some pictures that have a lot of elements from classical Greek art.

  14. This has just been sitting on my bookshelf for far too long… this is definitely inspiring me to finally get reading! Patti Smith is incomparable.

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