Ashley Ellington Brown is the author of the award-winning guide, A Beautiful Morning: How a Morning Ritual Can Feed Your Soul and Transform Your Life.
Tell me about your background. Where you grew up, where you live now, education, work experience? Share some interesting things about yourself that we should know about.
I grew up in New Orleans, Louisiana, and I ALWAYS had my nose in a book when I was younger (and often do today, as well!). Some of my childhood favorites were A Wrinkle in Time, the Narnia books, and From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler.
I graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in Foreign Affairs, which I never used! But I’d always enjoyed writing and I wrote a lot of papers in those courses, so it was helpful in that way. Learning about other cultures (I focused on China and Japan) was also fascinating.
I’d had a summer job as assistant to a marketing director during college and found that field very interesting, so I went to work at a small ad agency after graduation. I started as a receptionist and worked my way up to copywriter and account executive. I also worked as a book editor and an internal communications manager for a multinational corporation that owned and operated funeral homes and cemeteries! I went freelance in 2000, when my husband and I moved to Pensacola, Florida.
What inspired you to write this book? What is the story behind the story?
I was sitting outside with my coffee one morning, which was part of the morning ritual I had begun a few months earlier in an effort to start my days more cheerfully and peacefully. I had just started an online writing class led by Martha Beck, and I was wondering what she did each morning. Then I thought of other women who inspire me, and wondered if they had some sort of practice they did each day that helped them live their best lives. It occurred to me that that would be a very interesting book, and I decided to try to write it.
What has been your biggest challenge or obstacle?
Believing in myself. I didn’t get a lot of support for being a writer when I was younger, and was encouraged to go into a field that would make money (which is why I chose advertising, and didn’t even consider full-time writing as a career). When I got the idea for the book, I was nervous that I wouldn’t be able to do a good job. While I had more than 25 years of experience as a professional writer, it was always for clients or bosses. This was the first time I’d done something for me, and the first time I’d written a book. But being a published author had been a childhood dream (I wrote multiple “books” when I was little), and I didn’t want to let doubt keep me from accomplishing it. Plus, every time I interviewed someone and learned how vital their morning practice was to them, it reaffirmed my initial idea that this book could help others, and that spurred me on.
What has been your biggest “aha” moment or success?
Publishing my book, and then having it get positive reviews and win multiple awards, was certainly my biggest professional success. I poured a lot of my heart and soul into creating it, and worked very hard to make it as good as I could. Especially since I self-published, it was extremely fulfilling to have external validation that the book was well done, and that others found it appealing and helpful.
What authors do you like to read? What books have had a strong influence on you or your writing?
I love so many authors and books, it’s hard to choose! But some favorite authors are Madeleine L’Engle, C.S. Lewis, Judy Blume, Anna Quindlen, Elizabeth Berg, Ray Bradbury, Antoine Laurain, Alexander McCall Smith, Jincy Willett, Anne Lamott, Mary Oliver, May Sarton, Michael Chabon, Ursula K. Leguin, and Erin Morgenstern. Some of my favorite nonfiction/personal development authors are Martha Beck, Elizabeth Gilbert, Julia Cameron, Thich Nhat Hanh, Brené Brown, and Gretchen Rubin.
In terms of an influence on my writing, I love Stephen King’s On Writing, Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing, Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, and Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones and Wild Minds, as well as The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh, and Simple Abundance by Sarah Ban Breathnach. Those last three are not only inspirational and full of priceless wisdom, but the writing has such a lovely, peaceful, uplifting rhythm. I tried to have a similar feel in my book.
Do you write every single day? Any writing rituals?
I was doing Morning Pages (from The Artist’s Way, where you write three pages longhand every morning), but I’d gotten out of the habit. I’ve just re-dedicated myself to writing something every day, as it really does keep the pump primed. I’ve found that when I sit to write at my computer, it feels like work; if I want to access something more personal, I need to be somewhere other than my office, with a notebook in my hand.
What are your interests outside of writing?
I love to travel and I find great joy in planning our next trip. I also enjoy learning new things, going to the beach, doing yoga, baking, and getting creative (I like to play with paints and explore fun tools like alcohol inks).
Share some tips for other Authors or Aspiring Authors: What would you do differently? What would you do the same? Please share anything you think would be beneficial to those reading this.
I wouldn’t have waited so long to work on my own writing. I wish I’d continued to explore my own voice when I was younger, rather than focus solely on client work. It’s difficult to get out of the mindset of writing for others (and writing as a job rather than a passion).
And when you have an idea, keep going! The feeling when you finish is truly magnificent, and worth all the effort. Also: what you have to say is important. The world needs your voice. Writing is a sacred act that can be healing for you and for others. Be brave and put yourself out there. And gather a team around you to cheer you on. Doing this alone is so difficult; having someone to encourage you will make a huge difference. Try to talk to other writers, or get professional assistance. I worked with a book coach (Cynthia Morris) who made the process less overwhelming and gave me valuable advice.