One of my best friends recently landed an internship working in the costume department of a cable television series. She called me, excited to discuss it and explained how she hoped this experience would help her to build a career in her industry. As we discussed this, I received an email notifying me that an article I had written was accepted for publication. We shared our mutual elation, for ourselves and for each other. The conversation, while fun and exciting, threw something into stark relief.
This should probably be obvious, but artistic people don’t get jobs, they get gigs. I mean, sure, I have my day job. It pays the bills and feeds my kid and, despite it not being my first love, it’s a valued and rewarding experience. I love my job, but it’s not my career.
Artistic careers often require the infamous day job, and that’s because building an artistic career is like building a Lego set with ambiguous directions. Let’s take a writing career as an example (because it’s the most familiar example I’ve got).
Take brick 1 – some kind of blog post. Add brick 2, an article about something. Brick 3 should be a short story of any length. Add a job working for a magazine as Brick 4. More of Bricks 1-3. Brick 5 is a novel. Brick 6 is a writing class. Brick 7? Social networking. Done with that? Add more. Does the order matter? Not in the slightest.
Every step builds upon the one before. There is no continuous strip of work. We create things and, once the brick is laid, we set to work making another brick. There is no settling in. No time to be lazy. Time not working is time spent losing work. You can never do enough, unless you’re ready to pack it in and move on to another kind of life.
It takes a painfully long time to build a successful career in the arts. We build this career, brick by damn brick. Day by damn day. Gig by damn gig. And we hope it doesn’t topple down around us.
So if you’ve chosen this life for yourself – if this is what you live for, keep working at it. You’ll get there. Don’t lose hope when it takes a long time, when you start getting tired. Build that tower. Make it happen.