The assumption of what it’s like to make your living in the creative industry adopts many guises, but one of its more common forms is that we each have the life of riley, that we ‘push around a pen’ or ‘stare at a computer screen’ all day, whilst the more physically demanding trades become some kind of badge of honour thanks to the graft involved.
The killer difference, as we all know inside the industry, is the constant mental battle we find ourselves leading. If you want to go the distance in the creative industries, you have to care. Furthermore, caring is simply one outcome of an ingrained passion to make something from nothing. But we cannot just push around that pen and expect to make magic. Hell, if it were that easy, then the percentage of those who earn a full-time living and enjoy the work they do would be significantly higher. In a nutshell, our creative output is the result of a highly complex equation made up of outside influences.
The whole EU referendum debacle this year was sandwiched right in the middle of my record longest quiet spell of eight weeks. Once past the halfway point, the familiar voices began to murmur in my mind, reminding me that London rent is somewhat less forgiving than my previous living costs in Manchester and Preston. I handled it much better this time, given my eight years’ worth of experience, but it’s always a rollercoaster of emotions.
On the climbs up, I would wake up feeling thrilled at the prospect of a day ahead of me, pure and without the routine pollution of client amendments or accounts updates. A chance to really make some progress on those personal projects that you would be too tired to attend to after a long day of earning money.
On the plummet downwards I would sit there, feeling anxious and without purpose or direction, just when I had gathered some impressive momentum.
All of this is a battle fought internally and it can feel exhausting. Nothing really changes; it’s just in the mind. Some days I would make huge strides forward and others I would go home mid-afternoon feeling like I needed to start applying for positions of full-time employment.
Then at the end of what amounted to eight-weeks with only one commission came to a close in emphatic fashion, with a deluge of work, seven commissions in ten days. But the strange thing was, I had grown so used to governing my own schedule in the absence of client deadlines, that when the work returned, I felt a new level of pressure.
Despite having turned jobs around in less than one hour and having never missed a single deadline in my entire career, I felt certain that I was going to struggle, that I would freeze under these new client parameters, reintroduced to a tangible schedule without half my confidence.
Experience told me that I had nothing to fear. When did you ever let anyone or yourself down? But the idea of now performing consistently across sixteen illustrations kept me awake at night.
The thing is, creative industry success is remarkably confidence-driven and psychologically determined. We’re not all that different to sporting professionals. I recall feeling a certain dread when I watched Ricky ‘Hitman’ Hatton make his way to the ring to face Manny Pacquiao shortly after the end of his undefeated streak by Floyd Mayweather. I understood the barriers that had likely been erected in his own mind, aware that he was no longer invincible.
No matter what level we reach, how good we get, how many huge clients we perform for under great pressure, we’re all going to suffer spells of self-sabotage and auto-empowerment. It’s crucial to embrace both and understand it will always be this way. In the end, I began drawing again without paying too much attention to the rapidly growing mountain of deadlines. After all, I could only do so much in a day.
Instead, I focused on the more urgent aspects of the schedule and got my head down. Sure enough, I loosened up like an athlete returning from injury. My decision-making became instinctive again and before I knew it, I was firing on all cylinders. I’ll remember that process for next time my clients all vanish at the same time, which they will. It’s easy to think you’ve lost it or that you rule the world during these mental spikes and crashes, but always remember, it’s all in the mind!