Interview by Madeleine Dore
This article was originally published on Kill Your Darlings
Writer, broadcaster and television producer
When writer, broadcaster and television producer Marieke Hardy was offered the job as Artistic Director of the Melbourne Writers Festival, she volunteered to do it anonymously.
‘I wanted to make something that is kind and put something beautiful and meaningful in the world – I didn’t need people to know it was me in order for it to exist.’
With years of following her own confetti-filled heart and creating meaningful experiences for people – from the literary event Women of Letters co-created with writer Michaela McGuire, to a plethora of anonymous live art and experiential theatre events – a thread of altruism runs through everything she creates.
‘The world is a really, really tough place and to find and create a space where we can be kind to each other is a big driver of mine.’
The structure and pragmatism required to deliver a festival was a welcome challenge for Hardy – though after years of self-funding, dealing with industry lingo, budgets and other restrictions required some adjusting.
‘I found myself sitting in meetings late last year thinking, “I’m quite stupid because I can’t understand what these people are saying. I don’t know what strategic value alignment is. I don’t know what a KPI is.” I lost a lot of confidence and I thought I mustn’t be very good at this job.’
For someone so accomplished to admit to feelings of imposter syndrome is comforting – and equally, her perseverance shines a light on how to get through such experiences.
‘I took time away over Christmas and reminded myself why I got the job and what I’m good at. It was really helpful to look at what I’ve accomplished and think, “Wait a minute, I don’t think my life or creativity has suffered for not knowing what a fucking KPI is”.’
Trusting her own instincts, methods and work ethic has seen Hardy and the MWF team create a deliberately unconventional festival. The program features some of today’s best local and international literary talent, performance duets, immersive theatre salons, funeral parlours, pet meditations and intimate book clubs alongside festival favourites and industry insight workshops.
In her own words, this year’s festival is ‘a place where people can hug each other and a place where people are very human.’
Marieke shares how she maintains her creativity – and sanity. From flitting between Twitter and emails, to solo dinners to nurture her inner introvert, Marieke provides insight on finding space amongst the scattered moving parts of a busy working life – and how it’s always important to have something to look forward to.
‘In my work life, social life and emotional life, I’ve always got something to look forward to – and sometimes that’s a donut.’
A day in the life
I get up at 6.50 in the morning and go to a yoga class three or four mornings a week – I don’t necessarily like doing yoga in the morning, but I’ve had to adjust since working in an office. I’d rather get on the mat at 7.15am than not at all.
On the way home, I get my coffee from a beautiful boy with a nice smile who makes coffee like he’s in love with it. I usually check my email while I’m waiting for my coffee – I try not to check it until after yoga so I’m not thinking about work during the class. When we were putting together the program, there was a time when I was waking up at 3am and checking to see if an artist I wanted to program had replied, but I’ve managed to stop that now.
I’ll go home, get ready for work, have a simple breakfast – either a piece of toast or porridge – then I go get the train. On the train I try to meditate, listen to music or read a book by someone in the festival.
I get into the office at about 9.30am. It took me a while to realise the courage to come in that little bit later – when I first started the job, I was doing yoga at 6.30am and was really tired because I wasn’t sleeping properly. Then I decided I was going to start a little bit later and finish a little bit later.
There’s no question that I do the hours, plus more – I work everywhere and all the time. Being able to find some flexibility to look after my mental, emotional, and physical health is so integral.
Days in the office have been interesting because I’m learning so many new systems. In the first three or four months of the job, a couple of things really threw me – one was how many meetings I got pulled into. After a day of meetings, I’d sit back down at my desk to answer emails. I wasn’t doing inspirational, creative stuff – I hadn’t had any time to write, to create or to see what the narrative of the festival would be.
I had to get really strict about taking time away from the office so I wasn’t dragged into meetings all the time. I started working from home every Monday just to make sure I had the space with the programming grid that my heart needed.
I’ve never been one of those people who forgets to eat. I think about food all the time, what I’m going to eat next and how delicious it’s going to be. It’s one of my favourite things to think about. I eat all day – I’ve got chocolate and fruit at my desk to keep me going.
Eating at the desk is one of the things that I was hoping wouldn’t happen in this job. Then of course on day one I ate sushi rolls at my desk and thought, ‘Fuck, I’m turning into that person.’ It’s tough because there’s so much work to be done.
I’m constantly overstimulated – I go from writing, to email, to writing, to Twitter, writing, Facebook, Facebook, Instagram, Instagram, writing, writing, email, email. That’s just the way my brain works.
But I don’t get lost in social media, it’s just part of the stimulus for me. I’ve never felt, ‘Oh no, I’ve been on Twitter for an hour and I haven’t done the things I was supposed to.’ That said, I don’t think it’s super healthy because I’m pretty exhausted and overstimulated, but I try not to have any self-judgement about that because it seems to work for me.
Meditating daily really helps. I’ve got a very haphazard meditation practice. I’d love to do it in the morning but I get up so fucking early, there’s no way I’m getting up ten minutes earlier to meditate, so instead it’s anytime and anywhere I can.
It takes five minutes every single day; it’s changed my life. It means that I can navigate the challenges of this huge job and the emotional aspects of those challenges.
For the last twenty years, I’ve had a very strict rule about not working at night. When I was freelance, I would get up at 7am, have coffee and then sit at my desk and break for yoga in the afternoon. I’d knock off around 5pm and cook, drink, eat and all that stuff.
I still try not to work at night, but I’ve found it harder with this job – I’ll look at the time and it will be 7pm and I’ll still be working, which is not ideal for me. I do try and finish at 6pm or 6.30pm and go and meet someone for a meal, or go to dinner by myself and read a book, which is really one of my favourite things to do in the world.
When we were deep in the programming stage, I was working till 9pm or 10pm for maybe a month and I was miserable. It is not my jam to work that much. While I’m a workaholic and I think about work a lot, I really like to switch off and I’m pretty strict about maintaining that.
I am not a night owl – I go to bed about 10pm or 10.30pm. Late for me is 11.30pm.
I have a night-time meditation I often do because I’m not a very good sleeper. I also know to cut off work conversations around eight o’clock, otherwise I’ll have a really unpleasant sleep and wake up at 3am really distressed and concerned about something.
Behind the scenes
On understanding your personality tendencies…
The biggest gift of my life was understanding that I was an introvert. For years I wouldn’t understand why I was so exhausted after doing something that was my passion. After a Women of Letters event, I would be so hard on myself about socially isolating myself or feel I was being rude for needing to be alone afterwards.
I eventually understood how emotionally exhausting it is for me being around big groups of people or people I don’t know. I realised I need time on my own as a self-nurturing thing. It’s really, really important and I am ferocious about maintaining that too.
On trusting that the creativity will come…
Working on lots of different things at once is the best way for my brain to operate. The worst writer’s block I’ve ever had was years ago when I only had one job – I was so stuck.
I’ve learned that if the creativity is not coming to you for a project, then do something else and trust that it will get done another time. During all the Mondays that I worked from home for the festival, not all of them were fruitful in the creative sense. But I was confident that I needed time away from the back-to-back meetings to sit on with the grid and go, ‘What is this? What do I want to say? What do I want it to be?’ You cannot find the thoughts if you’re booked at 10am, 12pm, 2pm and 4pm in meetings.
On making things even when you don’t get paid or recognised…
I’m forty-two now, and when I was starting out no one knew what the fuck I was doing – but I was still very driven in terms of making things, even when I wasn’t being paid. I just kept creating and kept blogging – no one made any money from blogging, but it was a creative practice and kept me writing every day and engaging with other writers.
A lot of the anonymous work I do now is self-funded. I never get grants – I mean I did have the privilege of receiving the Sidney Myer Creative Fellowship in 2016, which, if you’re going to get one that’s the one to get! – but I’ve gone for arts grants for all my projects and always get rejected.
Self-funding means I can have an idea and put it into the world. It means that my financial situation has been very fluid over time – I’ve had times I’ve been flush and times I’ve been broke – but I still maintained the same level of creative output.
That you keep trying and making art and interacting with others is all that matters. You’re showing up.
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