How to Survive (and Stay Sane) in the Creative Industry

This post about the creative industry is a guest post by Anna Mocikat, author. You can read more about her on her website. Anna was also a guest on The Part-Time Artist Podcast, check out her episode here.

I have been a professional writer for more than 20 years. During this time, I worked in the movie industry, the video games industry, and I published several books.

I’m happy to report that I’m still alive, mentally stable, and content with what I’m doing.

However, this wasn’t always the case. Like every creative professional who’s been in this game for so long, I went through pretty rough times. The creative industry is brutal, and I have seen many brilliant people destroyed over the years.

So, how have I managed to still be around after two decades, stronger and more successful than ever?

When Céline asked me if I was interested in writing a guest blog for her, I decided to contribute with a small “Creative Biz Survival Guide”. Here we go!

Ask Yourself If This Is Your Way

This might sound discouraging, but it’s the truth. I have been invited to speak at schools many times, and every time students had many questions about how to become a novelist/ screenwriter/ game writer. Here’s what I told them every time:

“Look inside yourself, listen to your heart and soul. Ask yourself: is this really what I want to do? Do I need to be creative on a daily basis like eating and breathing? If the answer is yes, then you have no other choice but to walk the path into the creative industry. If there’s anything else – anything at all- which would also interest you, do it.”

Why do I say this? Not to smash enthusiasm and destroy dreams. Not at all. But as mentioned before, the biz is brutal. Choosing the path of an artist of any kind is choosing a path full of insecurities. The life of an artist is a constant rollercoaster ride with ups and downs. Not everyone is able to deal with that on a daily basis.

Grow a Thick Skin

This might sound obvious. But it’s one of the most difficult things to accomplish. It’s ironic, really. Artists and creative people are mostly very sensitive, emotional beings, perceiving the world around them in a more intense way than others. We are by nature, more vulnerable than most.

Yet we have to deal with rejection and criticism all the time. It’s impossible that everyone will love an artist’s work. Some will hate it, and they won’t hesitate to articulate this, often in public. It hurts. It hurts every single time. It still hurts me after such a long time being a creative, and it will probably never stop.

But that’s not all of it. Working in the creative industry is like swimming with sharks – without the security of an iron cage. I don’t know why, but our business is filled with people, often in executive positions, who outright enjoy dragging others down. Some do this because it makes them feel better and more important, some have experienced emotional abuse at the beginning of their careers and are now passing it on to others further down the food chain, and some are just assholes, plain and simple.

The only way to deal with criticism and the sharks is a thick skin. It took me a long time to grow one. My approach to deal with attacks is to shrug, smile, and think “screw you”, but everyone develops their own defence mechanism.

If you don’t manage to protect yourself emotionally, however, the creative industry will ultimately destroy you sooner or later.

Surround Yourself With Supportive People

Of course, it’s fantastic to have family and friends who support you on your journey. Some are not as fortunate, however. They don’t have people close who have their back. Others do, and it’s not enough. This is why networking is so crucial for us creatives. 

I know it’s easier said than done. Especially since many of us are introverts who want nothing else but sit at home and create. But only very few can succeed being a lone wolf. It’s much easier when you have a pack supporting you.

Find other artists with similar interests and connect with them. Create a network, support each other. Share your knowledge and your expertise, help others. This way, others will help you as well. Besides, nobody will understand you and what you’re going through, with all your struggles and self-doubts, like another artist will. We are all in one boat. If we work together instead of against each other, we all will profit from that. This brings me to my next point, however.

Don’t Be Naive

Don’t trust everybody blindly. There always will be people who will try to use you for their own gain. There are plenty of narcissists among creatives, who only care about themselves. Not everybody is your friend. Choose wisely who you want to deal with. Over the years, I have learned to always listen to my instincts. My heart wants to see good in everybody, my brain sometimes tells me that everybody deserves a chance, but my gut is always right. Listen to your instincts when dealing with people in our industry.

Besides, always protect your ideas. Don’t present them to just anybody. Some people have zero scruples when it comes to taking somebody else’s ideas and sell them as their own. Others do it without even realising it. I had to learn this lesson the hard way. Always protect your ideas.

Don’t Compare Yourself To Others

We all have heard stories about people reaching success through pure luck. A screenwriter who bumps into an executive by coincidence at a birthday party and sells them his screenplay, an author who contacts an agent over Twitter and gets a three-book-deal – and other stuff like that. It’s easy to feel discouraged or even worse, grow bitter, reading such stories while you’re staring at your hundred’s rejection letter.

Yes, such success stories happen, but they are extremely rare. Some people are just lucky and achieve great things without having to work for them. Unfortunately, the world isn’t fair, never was, and never will be. However, such cases are the exception. I’ve met countless creative people from various fields over the years and can say that most who are successful got there because of hard work and persistence. Quite often, they have been working extremely hard over many years to get where they are now. Of course, you always need some luck for everything you try and do but it’s by far not the only factor for success. 

Besides, don’t forget that art is always subjective. Just because you get a hundred rejections doesn’t mean you’re a bad author. It means that the people you presented your work to have a different taste. Others may (and will) disagree. 

Finally, don’t forget that decisions who to represent, publish, etc. are not necessarily made on quality. Often they are political. It may not be your work which is not good enough, it may be that they are looking for a particular person, which you are not.

Never Give Up!

If creating is your passion, if you have this urge inside you, if you can’t live without your art – then never give up on yourself. No matter what happens, keep going, keep trying.

There always is a way if you want something with all your heart and are willing to give everything to achieve it. There is no perfect way to success, and success itself can be defined in many different ways. 

If one door closes in front of your nose, don’t be depressed and give up. But don’t start banging at the door with your head either. All you’ll achieve this way will be a bloody forehead 😉

If one door closes, look for another way, as there always is one. Sometimes you need to walk around the corner and find a hole in the fence to get inside. Sometimes you need to go into a completely different direction before you can try to open the door again. There is no perfect way, but there always is a way. You just need to find it!

We all chose a difficult path. But it’s also an exciting lifestyle full of surprises; it never gets boring. I had to deal with many disappointments during my 20-year career. I experienced failures and rejections, I have been bitten by sharks more than once. And yet here I am. And I wouldn’t want to live any different life.

I hope my little survival guide can be of help to some of you! Thank you very much, Céline, for giving me the opportunity to contribute to your fantastic blog. Keep doing what you do!

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