Creative Block: Moving Forward When Your Industry Is Not

Words by Jasmina Matulewicz
Illustration by Lauren Chapa

In the words of The Financial Times, creative industries are facing a ‘cultural catastrophe’, what with everything 2020 has thrown at us so far. It’s no surprise, then, that they’ve opted for saving themselves before saving anxious graduates. The uncertainty is likely to stick around for a while, so what can we do to pass the time?

Having officially finished university in June, education feels distant, like it had happened in another lifetime, and I often have to remind myself that, actually, I worked my ass off to get here.

Between unpaid work placements, a retail job, and practically living in the library, I graduated with a first-class bachelor’s in journalism. ‘A journalist in the family, would you look at that!’ my stepdad wrote in a cheery graduation card. And although both my LinkedIn and my academic profiles confirm the title, I feel far from satisfied.

A qualification was the first step in a twisting staircase leading up to a career in magazines. Had everything gone to plan, this summer would have, ideally, included a graduate scheme at The Telegraph, an editorial placement at Penguin Random House, or a junior role at a local paper. A few months and a few respectable by-lines later, I would have secured a glamorous job as a feature writer.

Alas, reality hit, as did rejection and cancellation emails, half-apologetic notes of appreciation not doing much to alleviate a growing feeling of hopelessness. I considered wrapping myself back up in the safety net of education, or making use of my European passport now that I’m no longer tied to a timetable. A global pandemic renders both of the above slightly less desirable, so, disappointed, I spent the last month or so questioning my purpose over chocolate ice cream.

I’m not one to preach mandatory productivity during a pandemic but, evenings reserved for sci-fi novels and dreaming about hiking the Himalayas, I’m trying to move my plan along. Snail speed, but moving. Think of it this way: if it’s getting you half a step closer to your goal, it’s probably worth your time.

In terms of securing grad schemes and creative jobs, you’ve got to be proactive. Research shows that 60 percent of jobs aren’t advertised – I’d found my first editorial assistant placement by sending a chancy email, so get ready to spam editors and producers and heads of departments with your CV. Online databases like Journojobs will have updated vacancies, too, but having a polished-up LinkedIn profile and checking out their Jobs page can go a long way. Apply for as many as you can and bug them for interview feedback if you get rejected. And, in the meantime, take a Skillshare class on Photoshop or SEO or social media marketing. Get onto that webinar you’ve been eyeing up all week; most of them will have sponsored places if you’re worried about prices. Network, pitch ideas, and remember that if you’ve got this far, you can go further.

University portfolios go a long way. My group dissertation project was a whirlwind of planning, writing, and designing a 24-page magazine. We wrote about the culture of London after hours, providing a community for the capital’s night owls, but when lockdown hit, we had to rip up our flatplan and start over. We had to rethink our message and adapt to everything changing, from the people we featured to the imagery we sourced. Though lectures and seminars were quickly replaced with YouTube tutorials and frustration at Zoom’s 40-minute limit, a printed copy of Dark Mode Magazine is propped up on my desk, a reminder that this is a hurdle that we will, eventually, cross.

As of last week, I’m interning remotely at a local magazine, and I feel like, finally, something is moving along. I’ve been managing social media for a national media organisation on the side as well, and though I’m not getting paid for it, a neat list of email addresses of high-profile editors up my sleeve is always handy. Half-steps.

You should be proud of yourself for graduating in a time of utter chaos. Don’t settle for less. Our industry is struggling, and it might for another while, but when its recovered and ready to resume, we’ll be waiting.

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