Interview by Madeleine Dore
This article was originally published on Kill Your Darlings
Writer and activist
‘My hobby turned into my job,’ says disability activist and writer, Carly Findlay.
What first began as a hobby – writing and blogging about her skin condition, Ichthyosis, as well as varied interests from fashion to food – has led to numerous accolades and several blogging awards, including being named one of Australia’s most influential women in the Australian Financial Review and Westpac 100 Women of Influence Awards for 2014.
Carly regularly writes on disability issues for publications, including the ABC, Daily Life and SBS, and she appeared on You Can’t Ask That and Cyberhate with Tara Moss on ABC TV in 2017.
Despite the recognition and success, there is still a delicate balance to strike between the love of a hobby and the expectations of a profession.
‘I don’t want to push myself so much that I don’t enjoy it,’ explains Carly.
I don’t want to push myself so much that I don’t enjoy it.
For anyone with a passion for writing, it’s an important reminder that a relentless work schedule doesn’t automatically equal success – in fact, overwork or high expectations can stifle it, especially during the beginning stages of a practice.
‘It’s important to do it as much as you can, and maybe keep the writing stuff on the side before making a big jump.’
Amongst working as a freelance writer, speaker, consultant trainer and writing her memoir Say Hello, Carly has recently joined the Melbourne Fringe as Inclusion Coordinator. There’s also the Refreshments Provided podcast she co-hosts with Jason-Scott Watkins and a recently launched newsletter where she shares insights behind the writing process.
While it appears to be a lot to juggle, for Carly having a diversity of projects and interests is what ensures creative rejuvenation and self-protection.
‘If I just had disability activism and writing to focus on, I would get quite burnt out and overwhelmed by things.’
From the book writing process to advice for emerging writers, Carly Findlay reminds us to enjoy the process.
‘It takes time, it takes work, things don’t just happen overnight. That’s something I have to keep relearning myself, but perhaps it also applies when it comes to other people’s expectations, too – it’s a lesson we all have to learn.’
“It takes time, it takes work, things don’t just happen overnight. That’s something I have to keep relearning…it’s a lesson we all have to learn.”
I used to work for the government and had this very structured day and structured life, so I still quite like having a routine and getting up at 7.00am and doing something before work begins.
I used to start the day reading the news, but I probably look more at social media now before anything else.
Since I’ve been freelancing, I’ve been going out a bit more for breakfast to get out of the house. On the days I’m working from home, I’ll usually have two meals a day – brunch and dinner – and when I’m working at Melbourne Fringe, I try and have three.
If I don’t commute to work and I write from home, I start my day by doing a little housework. I also listen to podcasts or audiobooks for most of the day while I work from home.
On the days I catch a train or a tram to work or the studio, I use the commute to look at social media, schedule posts or read a book on my Kindle. Also travelling to Sydney quite regularly for a consulting job means I have a lot of spare time in taxis, airports and on the plane to listen podcasts and read, which is good.
I’ll go to my co-working space once a week and try and set a goal of writing 1,000 words a day for the book, but at the moment because I’ve just started the editing process I have been moving stuff around into chapters.
I’ll get to the office around 10.00am – the later start is taking a bit of getting used to. I’ve just started at Fringe; at the moment I’m looking at how the festival works and what work has previously been done in the area of disability inclusion and access.
I think it’s going to be really exciting – the work that I do will hopefully ensure disability inclusion and access is embedded into everything they do. In three years, when the project is up, hopefully my job will no longer be needed because accessibility will be at the forefront of people’s minds. I also hope it starts conversations with other arts organisations in Melbourne.
In three years…hopefully my job will no longer be needed because accessibility will be at the forefront of people’s minds.
On the days I’m home I often work from bed. I need rest and it really helps that I can do that for some things. I often have a bit of a giggle when I get something published say on The Age and think, Oh I wrote that in bed!
When I am working from home, I also catch up on admin – following up on emails, doing invoices and planning the night’s dinner in the afternoon.
On days I’m not working at Fringe, I might have a speaking gig at night and that is all that I have on for the day.
It’s quite good having friends in the same industry because I might see people at events. I also try and catch up with people during the day – Facebook Messenger is really great for that and it’s important to have a place for chatting about challenges sometimes, too!
On the evenings I’m home, I usually sit on the couch and watch TV – mostly cooking shows and I’ve been watching some Hallmark shows on Netflix, which are quite fun.
I also do a podcast, Refreshments Provided with my friend Jason-Scott Watkins discussing food, films, books and other podcasts, so sometimes at night I’ll spend time coming up with topics, recording, doing the show notes or creating posts for our podcast Facebook group. I also started a Facebook group called Shop Your Wardrobe so I do a bit of that admin at night as well.
I’ve been having a lot of trouble with light sensitivity in my eyes and reading can be difficult, so often I put the iPad on speaking mode or listen to an eBook or podcast before my partner Adam sends me off to sleep.
I probably go to bed too late because I’m listening to podcasts or, if something angers me on Facebook, I could be typing away furiously till 11.00pm! I probably need to get better at that – I’ve heard people remove electronics from their bedroom, but I don’t do that. I like the background noise of a podcast because I always want to be learning and making the most of my time.
I like the background noise of a podcast because I always want to be learning and making the most of my time.
INSIDE THE WRITING PROCESS
On the book writing process…
Before writing the book I’d only written short articles – 5,000 words was probably the longest I’d written for publication. The book is different because it’s 85,000 words – I didn’t know what a good structure looked like, or how much or how little to include, so it was really good to receive the feedback from my editor.
The writing process was a bit like dumping everything in my mind out on the page. I had six months to write the first draft, but I wrote about half of it in six weeks. I was initially working from home and felt a bit lonely – it’s also really easy to fall asleep or drift off watching Netflix when you’re working from home!
I met an artist who asked if I’d like to come and write the rest of the book from her studio – so I had about five weeks in the studio to write that. Except for the days when I was in Sydney or the couple of days when I was unwell, I went in everyday including weekends sometimes and just wrote, I think because the pressure was really immense.
The writing process was a bit like dumping everything in my mind out on the page.
On Facebook statuses and using phone notes to avoid fear of the blank page…
My method of organisation for the book was really poor. I have always written mostly on my iPad and the same goes for the book. I had all the chapters divided into notes and, about four months into the writing process, I collated them into a Word document and worked from my computer. I gave the completed manuscript draft to my publisher at the end – she’s probably thankful it was in one document and not 40 different iPad notes!
A lot of my blog posts have started as Facebook posts responding to a microaggression or news article I encountered. A few days ago I received a ridiculous message from a woman asking me how she should behave in front of someone with a facial difference – whether she should look away, or look. I just thought, Oh my gosh I can’t believe somebody needs the instruction to be that prescriptive. So I used that question as a basis for my introduction for my book. Just jotting down those questions or ideas can help inform my work.
There is no shortage of inspiration for writing, I have endless lists of things – I probably just need to have a better filing system.
On overcoming the expectation to always be working…
I do struggle a little bit when I have spare time and think maybe I should be doing something else – but then I won’t do anything at all and I’ll just have a nap!
I recently wrote about the need to prove myself as a worker with a disability. There is always the idea that you have to be grateful for getting work, you have to be working at all times and, if you are not working between the hours of 9.00am to 5.00pm, you are lazy.
There is always the idea that you have to be grateful for getting work…and, if you are not working between the hours of 9.00am to 5.00pm, you are lazy.
But I realised, when I reached a point where I didn’t have to ask for money when I went freelance and part time, that I’m actually okay – I don’t have to be working all hours of the day.
On the expectation to be perfect…
I think there is an expectation to do activism or writing in a certain way and it can be really hard to make a mistake. Especially on social media where people are there to catch you out –often just for an autocorrect typo!
It can also be really hard managing expectations in the activism or disability community. I want to be as inclusive as possible, but perhaps to other people it may seem that I’ve sold out because I’m in the mainstream. I don’t want to be seen like that at all.
On how success often comes with sadness…
I feel really proud of what I’ve accomplished, but I feel a little bit lonelier too. There may have been some friendship fallouts because of what I’ve been working on – not through anything I’ve done personally, but perhaps because of the way people have perceived my work, so it is difficult to navigate that.
Tall poppy syndrome is real – I’m sure I probably reacted similarly in the past, but now whenever someone tells me about their success or their great news, I’m so excited for them and I hope people would be like that for me. There is enough pie for everyone, enough time and space for everyone, we can’t all write or do activism work in the same way.
There is enough pie for everyone, enough time and space for everyone, we can’t all write or do activism work in the same way.
On advice to emerging writers…
Just start. So many people say they are a writer but they don’t write – you have to just write.
Also building an online presence is really important because editors can see what you do, publishers can see what you do, you can show you can build a community, you can show that you respond to people, that you respond to criticism and you also you build a body of evidence of your work.
Don’t worry what other people might think, just do it, and who knows who might be reading?