Establishing yourself in your chosen creative field can be difficult, dispiriting work: years of toil measured by the number of emails and letters that are met with rejection if they get any response at all.
After all that, once you’ve finally made it inside the tent you come to realise why you struggled: it wasn’t that big to begin with. Despite intense fluctuations there are only a finite number of literary publications, theatres, television production companies, orchestras or children’s book publishers out there, and accordingly a finite number of people working at them. This brings the unexpected side effect that the more specialised what you do is, the more likely that you’ll run into the same people over and over again.
Here are some strategies for dealing with the pitfalls you’ll face.
A semipermeable membrane exists between people who write about things and the people who make the things they write about. As an arts journalist I often have to review work that someone I know has been a part of. It’s one thing to excuse yourself from writing about a film directed by your best friend, but what about a TV programme script-edited by a person who once worked for the same publication as you, or a stage play lit by someone you’ve been chatting to on Twitter?
Such conflicts of interest are found in any creative profession, only increasing as your career progresses and you get to know more people in your industry. The best response is to acknowledge that bias is actually a discourtesy: everyone wants to make the best work possible, and honest, meaningful engagement with the efforts of others is the most constructive way to aid in that. Free rides don’t help good art.
Burning your bridges
Sooner or later you’re going to end up in a job you hate down to your marrow. The sort of job that makes you wake up at some godless hour wishing you still worked in that fish factory pulling the pin bones out of salmon. Sadly, there will always be toxic people and toxic work environments, and after escaping from such a horrid situation it can be tempting to express your feelings publicly. What’s a couple of ill-tempered tweets after what they put you through?
The problem is that all of those ghastly people are still going to exist the day after your splenetic blog post, and maybe they’re going to end up working for a company you’d like to work for too. Even if that nightmare scenario doesn’t happen, everyone in your industry could fit into a reasonably small village in Anglesey, and inevitably they’re going to pop up again. Take the high road, and just hope that they leave the profession to focus on an unsatisfying career in fish deboning.
A bestselling author’s work is so poor that it’s entirely rewritten by her editor. The newly filled job of running a major arts organisation was offered to someone else first. A famously strait-laced actor keeps a big bowl of cocaine on his coffee table. Industry gossip is irresistible because it uses lurid details to recast the successful as foolish and fallible.
But while avoiding the temptation to disclose that an Oscar-winning producer is sleeping with most of the British film industry might be impossible, there’s a difference between open secrets and genuinely sensitive information: a peer struggling with addiction or a difficult family life.
If a piece of gossip would feel at home on the Mail Online’s Sidebar of Shame then it’s probably best to not share, for the sake of your mortal soul if nothing else.
Going to war
Given the relentless promotion of the idea of individual accomplishment, it’s wonderful to discover how collaborative a career in the arts can be. I’ve worked at Oh Comely magazine with the same group of people for four years and many of my most rewarding professional experiences have come as a result.
Working with like-minded peers towards a common goal can be immensely satisfying – you’re not just co-workers but a team, battling against the odds. These challenges go beyond the usual deadlines and disasters: with cuts to arts funding, diminishing newsstand sales, online piracy and any number of other encroaching threats, to work in a creative industry is to experience near-constant implosion.
The danger is that this creates a siege mentality. The enemy becomes another lifestyle magazine, dance company or boutique festival rather than the difficult marketplace you’re all operating within. Not only does this attitude preclude the possibility of fruitful, unexpected collaboration, but is self-sabotaging: just because someone else loses doesn’t mean that you win. It’s important to remember that in the ways that truly matter you’re all on the same side.
Getting a bad reputation
About 15 years ago a notable radio DJ – who shall remain nameless – was nearly fired after he was caught stealing CDs from the office. If you worked for the station at the time, it’s almost certain you know exactly who I mean. Gossip works in both directions: once a piece of unsavoury information attaches itself to you, it becomes difficult to dislodge it.
Even if you’re not prone to petty larceny, there are a host of improper behaviours that could trail behind you for a good stretch of your career. Thankfully, avoiding many of them just requires common sense: don’t plagiarise, don’t take advantage of expense accounts, do the work you’re paid for, industry events aren’t good locations for binge-drinking, and never break the magicians’ code.
Ultimately the key to coping in a small industry is much like anything else in life: try to behave like a decent human being and things will generally work out for the best.
To read the original article at IdeasMag, click here.