Ashlee Gadd ’08 takes inspiration from motherhood in her first published book, Create Anyway: The Joy of Pursuing Creativity in the Margins of Motherhood (Bethany House Publishers, 2023).
Gadd first began sharing her experiences of motherhood online in 2014, while she was six months pregnant with her second child. Unsatisfied with how motherhood was represented in online platforms, she decided to create Coffee + Crumbs with a small team of women. “We publish stories and not advice, and work hard to transform the holy work of mothering to art,” Gadd said.
This forum gave Gadd the opportunity to publish a book, and she decided to start Create Anyway. Gadd said she hopes that Create Anyway can show mothers how they can pursue their creative efforts, and how deeply the act of mothering is intertwined with the creation of art.
Here, Gadd shares her personal and creative experience as a writer and parent.
Besides writing, what is your creative outlet?
I love photography, I love to take pictures. I’ve been teaching myself to shoot film. I have a history of digital photography. It’s been a really nice challenge for me. I started during covid. It’s been a really nice change of pace from the digital.
How has your experience as a mother motivated you to write Create Anyway?
My experience of creating art alongside motherhood has really shaped my experience of motherhood and that is what really inspired this book — knowing how influential this practice of creativity has been on my life and how it’s really allowed me to see motherhood through a different lens that I wish other women would give themselves permission to pursue.
How has the writing process affected your relationship with parenting?
My writing process has helped me process a lot of my mothering journey, not just events that have happened in parenting, but the emotions behind it. Writing for me is like free therapy. I think the process of writing and learning how to process motherhood has helped me be a better mother. I don’t let things just sit in my chest until they boil over. I tend to let all that slip out on the page, and I think that it is a really beautiful release.
What mindset do you hope mothers can take away from your book? Do you think this book can give perspective on motherhood to other people?
I hope mothers can take away the mindset that motherhood and art can and should coexist. Motherhood can enhance our art, and art can enhance our mothering. I think for so many of us, we believe as young mothers that we have to choose one or the other, going all in on mothering or all in on art, and that we can’t possibly make time and space for both. Pursuing my art and creativity has made my experience of mothering better and subsequently motherhood has unlocked a whole new passion and desire for my art that I didn’t have before. It’s pretty profound to watch the two parts of myself intertwined.
I have heard from a number of women who aren’t mothers who read it and loved what I had to say about the creative practice. The book is half about motherhood and half about creativity, and you can take away what you wish, but that targeted audience is mothers that are interested in creativity or women who want to be mothers who are wondering how exactly to pursue their creative efforts.
How do you predict the later stages of motherhood will influence your writing?
I’m getting to that point; my oldest is 11. There was a point when my kids were so little that writing about them was the same thing as writing about me. Our lives were so intertwined that our story felt like one story, and as I look ahead to the years in front of me, I’m really starting to feel that split, especially with my older boys who are 11 and 8. Their stories are their stories, and my stories are my stories. I’m starting to feel that shift in my writing. There’s a really beautiful dance to how we write about other people. There’s a level of discernment that we need to have and permission. My children come first always, and their protection and privacy and autonomy in this world are more important to me than writing a story about them.