Make it or break it. It’s a phrase that on first hearing seems trivial enough, that is thrown around with ease in conversation and Hollywood films. But on closer inspection its implications are far more serious. It is an ultimatum, and one that is specific to the arts. It is an idea that is spun from talent competitions that shoot people to the top overnight. It erases the path that so many freelance creatives take, years of hard work that begin in self-published articles and, if we are lucky, ends in book contracts. And even then it doesn’t end. What constitutes making it? Is it fame? Is it being able to live on what you make from your art? Is it one poem or seven books? Is it the masterpiece? There is no end to the process of creating, for most creatives I know anyway.
The creative professions do not have the same support systems as so many other jobs
And if we don’t make it, then break it? We are expected to sacrifice our mental health, to push ourselves to the point of breaking, in order to have the chance (not even the guarantee) of the elusive concept of ‘making it’. The creative professions do not have the same support systems as so many other jobs. If we are too sick, too tired to work, we do not get paid. If we want to go on holiday, take some time off, we do not get paid. It is therefore so easy to forget your own mental health. Besides, there is a history of great artists with mental health issues: the likes of Virginia Woolf, Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh pave the way for young creatives. The struggle, it seems, is an obligatory part of creating. Is it almost a rite of passage to fall apart? How many artists have you heard say they cannot work unless they are sad? I’m guilty of having said it myself. And of course, when we are sad, we make. It is how we express, it is how we bleed, how we hurt. But, if making is to become a career, it cannot be one that only thrives in times of sadness. We must learn to write on a Monday and a Wednesday and a Friday, when it is raining and when it is snowing and when the sun is shining like it might never stop.
We have already chosen a volatile path, a path without safety nets and pensions. Push yourself, aim for whatever your version of ‘making it’ looks like, but do not collapse in the process. Treat yourself to a lie in, take a day trip to the beach, burrow into a duvet and watch a whole Netflix series in a day. Be kinder to yourself. Because we do not need to break, to make.
Banner image: Kevin Michael Klipfel