Ashley C. Ford
Ashley C. Ford:
“I want to do all the things, all the time,” admits writer Ashley C. Ford.
Currently working as a senior features writer at Refinery29 alongside writing a memoir, juggling freelance work – Ashley has written or guest-edited for The Guardian, ELLE, BuzzFeed, Slate, Teen Vogue, I-D, Lenny Letter, to name a few – and dreaming up miscellaneous collaborations and projects, Ashley’s career is currently a smorgasbord of opportunity.
But she also recognises the limits of her own bandwidth and is mastering the art of saying no. "At least in my experience, nobody really prepares you for the possibility that you'll have to say no to things you don't want to say no to because you're just one person. You have to protect your time, space and your creative energy, and it's hard."
For Ashley, it’s somewhat of a surprising circumstance to find herself in – having to say no to opportunities – as at the beginning of her career, she had trouble imagining herself as a writer. Like many of us, the voice in the back of her head took over – "Who are you to be a writer?" "Who are you to tell stories about your or your life."
"I had a bad habit of not pursuing something if I couldn’t imagine myself in a certain position, in a certain industry, whatever it was. Truthfully, I was afraid to imagine being a writer incase it didn't come true. I was afraid to have a real dream and real motivation, only to find that I am not wanted."
What helped overcome this sense of imposter syndrome was moving to New York City. “Maybe I felt odd in Indiana, but I do not feel odd in Brooklyn, I'll tell you that!”
For those who can't make the move across states, countries or continents to find where they and their voice belong, Ashley recommends finding your community where you can. “I was still very lucky when I lived in Indiana to be surrounded by people who loved me and cared about me. Honestly, they were integral to me being able to make the first steps toward loving myself as I am, and taking those first steps towards dreaming up a life for myself.”
Even as we inch closer towards loving ourselves as we are, we can often find ourselves being our own worst enemy – whether it be in our own aspirations or approach to how we build our days.
“I was the queen of setting unrealistic expectations for myself. When I inevitably failed, I would internalise that as meaning I wasn't the kind of person who could do certain things or who could meet certain goals or expectations.”
But as Ashley reminds us, this approach is a “cop out.”
“It was essentially an excuse. It was a way for me to convince myself I’m not the kind of person who can do a certain thing, when the truth is, maybe you're not the kind of person who over a weekend can decide to give up sugar, start waking up at six o'clock, start meditating, start learning calligraphy, and all this other stuff. But maybe you are the person who could wake up a half-hour earlier tomorrow, and then maybe try that for the rest of the week.”
To let go of stifling expectations, we have to resign from the idea of perfection. “I think I spent a lot of my life wanting to jump over progression straight into perfection. I didn't want to have to go through the part where you only get incrementally better and it was crushing my self-esteem and really messing with my self-confidence, too. I just got to a point where I was like, why be your own bully?"
From pragmatic writing tips and email habits, to sharing the ins out outs of her day, Ashley teaches us that everything comes back to compassion. “The best part is that when you start being compassionate with yourself, truly compassionate, it is so much easier to be compassionate with everybody else.”
“I think I spent a lot of my life wanting to jump over progression straight into perfection. I didn't want to have to go through the part where you only get incrementally better and it was crushing my self-esteem and really messing with my self-confidence, too. I just got to a point where I was like, why be your own bully?"
I'm usually waking up around six o’clock right before the sun comes up over the buildings outside my window.
My fiancé Kelly usually keeps sleeping, he's so good at sleeping. I get up, go out to the living room, write, answer emails, and do whatever I need to do. I am trying to insert a little bit of a meditation practice in between, which is tough. My brain is just going all the time, so it's hard, but I'm trying.
I have about an hour and a half of just me time in the mornings. I’ll hear the cars outside but everybody's still being pretty quiet, so it's really nice to have that time to just be in my head.
I’ll also try to look at my intentions every day. I’ll try to focus on certain intentions for an amount of time until I feel that I've taken it in and it’s become part of me.
The best example of that is not say no to myself before other people say no to me. I would get it in my head that there was an opportunity that I wasn't good enough for, or I wasn't ready for, even though it was something that I really wanted and probably very capable of doing well. I was holding myself back.
Then one day I was having a conversation with an editor and I told him I have some ideas, but admitted I'd only given him the best two. Then he said politely, "You had ten ideas, but you only showed me two because you were scared that the other eight weren't good enough? It's my job to tell you what's good enough. And if something's not good enough, maybe we can make it good enough."
I am now less caught up in the idea of perfection. I used to only want to put my best forward, but now I’ve realised something might suck and that’s okay. Sometimes you’ve just got to let people know that you're interested in trying something and they can help you figure out how to make it work.
Once something sinks in like that I change the intentions. I feel like it's an evolution. I'm not really ever trying to be done – I'm trying in to get better all the time.
"I am now less caught up in the idea of perfection. I used to only want to put my best forward, but now I’ve realised something might suck and that’s okay."
I will then make myself some tea and when I hear Kelly stirring, I will also make him some coffee.
We will usually sit on the couch together under a blanket with the windows open. He’ll have his coffee and I’ll have my tea, we might talk or we'll read, and then eventually we get up and start getting ready around each other – I usually shower at night and he showers in the morning.
Breakfast is usually two strips of thick bacon and a banana. It tastes amazing, and it's also just a lot of potassium and protein in the morning, and I need that. Every once in awhile I have a donut or something . I don't know if it's because I'm now 30, but I feel it now and it makes me groggy or listless for the rest of the day. If I just have my bacon and banana, I'll feel great.
Even though I get up earlier, Kelly actually leaves the house before I do, usually around nine when he has that opening shift at the bookstore. I’ll leave usually fifteen minutes later and catch the train and go to work at Refinery29 in the Financial District
I also end up working from home a lot because I often need to call someone to get some information for a particular piece, and right now it is hard to record an interview in the office.
So I usually just try to schedule all those for the morning or for the evening, and then just do them from home.
"Every once in awhile I have a donut or something like that in the morning. I don't know if it's because I'm now 30, but I feel it now and it makes me groggy or listless for the rest of the day. If I just have my bacon and banana, I'll feel great."
I arrive at the office around ten. I’m not very ritualistic about my desk or writing – I can write from anywhere and I love to write from different places. My preferred place to write is at my kitchen counter, standing up.
Being in an office is actually really distracting for me because I like talking to people.
That said, it's working out well so far. Part of that is because Refinery has been so awesome with me about needing to work by myself, so there's no nervousness about working from home when I need to. I’m a writer and they understand that I can do what I do from anywhere.
Of course I try not to abuse it, I go in when I can or when it makes sense for me to be there.
My only work ritual is that I refill my water bottle around noon. That's it. That's the only thing that's constant!
On any given week, I am working on about three articles no matter when things are due to come out. I'm always working ahead on probably two more pieces, or two more projects.
It's been great getting to know my editors, Caroline Stanley and Yael Kohen – they're always pushing me to try new things.
I'm a fantastically slow and perfectionist writer. Anytime there's a deadline or whatever, I'm like, "Just let me look over it one more time. Just let me add this one thing." I'm very connected. I'm very attached to the things I write. And in my mind, there is never enough time to do and say exactly what I want to do and say. But I do an okay job and if they're happy, I'm happy.
Most of my ideas are in my head, but that's not always the best way to go, so I try to write things down. I always keep journals and notebooks with me. I keep separate calendars for my Refinery work and my freelance work and try to put things on my calendar to let me know when they're due, when I'm working on them, and when they're really, really due.
I spent a lot of my workday doing research, because like quite a few people, it’s hard for me to write sometimes in the office environment. It's a lot of reading, it's a lot of information gathering, and then a lot of note-taking. I'm great at taking notes at work. I'm great at going over edits at work. I am just not great at writing in the office. So I usually use at least one morning a week to just do the writing that I need to do from home.
"I'm a fantastically slow and perfectionist writer. Anytime there's a deadline or whatever, I'm like, "Just let me look over it one more time. Just let me add this one thing." I'm very connected. I'm very attached to the things I write."
At work I usually order some fish for lunch. I like sushi. I like poke. I used to do milkshakes on Fridays but not anymore because dairy betrayed me.
I try to keep meetings to a minimum but every once in awhile I am in there voicing my opinion on one thing or another. I try to schedule them after lunch because if I’m wrapping things up at the end of the day and I have meetings, that feels terrible.
I have an automatic email responder that explains I check my email at ten, two, and six each day.
I check it more than that, but the point is really to manage the expectations of the people who email me. I'm shocked by how many people email and tell me that they know I'm busy, but also could I respond to some very complicated email by the end of the day.
I am not an email machine, I'm a writer. There are a lot of things that I want to do and a lot of things that I want to make and I can't devote what is essentially half of my creative energy in a day to answering emails. That is not my number one focus and it never will be. Yes, I am happy that you reached out, whatever you wanted to tell me, whatever you wanted to ask me, whatever you wanted to offer me, whatever it is, thank you for reaching out, but your patience is required.
Checking three times a day was also part of being realistic and making myself accountable. I could tell myself I’ll only check email once a day, but then be angry with myself when I couldn’t live up to that expectation. Or I could set a reasonable expectation and feel really good about the progress I'm making.
"I am not an email machine, I'm a writer. There are a lot of things that I want to do and a lot of things that I want to make and I can't devote what is essentially half of my creative energy in a day to answering emails."
I am usually finished by about six or six-thirty, but every once in a while I’ll stay later. Especially if Kel is working late doing a closing shift at the bookstore, then it’s great to just stay at work when everybody's already left and keep writing. The ten-to-six work hours are there, it’s just that it doesn't necessarily match up with my working style and I'm lucky to work for a company that’s been really flexible with me on that.
If I stay later, I usually let myself order a burger and fries from Shake Shack around the corner.
If Kelly gets off at five-thirty, he'll make it home before me. The general rule is that I cook because I love to cook and I’m better at it, but sometimes I’m not in the mood or I'm really busy, so Kelly cooks. I’ll reach out to him during the day to see if he can cook dinner that night and see what he needs, and then I’ll have those groceries delivered for him when he gets home.
I usually shower before we sit down for dinner, I want to be super cosy. I get into my pyjamas and put on warm socks.
We end up eating a lot at steak, we a lot of broccoli, we eat a lot of sweet potato, we eat so many things with the onion, jalapeno – we like a lot of flavour. Whatever we eat is usually just super flavourful and we tend to lean towards spices.
Kelly and I read quite a bit in the evenings. I read on my commute, too. I'm always reading something. Lately it's been more articles than books, but I'm trying to flip that.
"The ten-to-six work hours are there, it’s just that it doesn't necessarily match up with my working style and I'm lucky to work for a company that’s been really flexible with me on that."
It’s good because Kelly isn’t on social media at all and isn’t really on his phone all that much. It's weird when you're the only one on your phone and there’s just two of you, so I naturally end up not being on the internet or not being on my phone as much in the evenings.
I always try to drink water right before bed so I don't cotton mouth as soon as I wake up. I keep water next to the bed as well.
I usually fall asleep on the couch before I go to bed because I really like hanging out with Kelly so I just want to be with him longer. We'll be watching something that I'm not really interested in or he'll be playing a videogame or something and I'll put my feet on his lap and just go to sleep. When it's time to go to bed, he’ll wake me up.
Also, I have a stuffed elephant named Hank who I sleep with often.!
"It's weird when you're the only one on your phone and there’s just two of you, so I naturally end up not being on the internet or not being on my phone as much in the evenings."
We have friends and we love them but we both lean toward being homebodies. We end up spending a lot of time just here in the evening and on the weekend, but we are trying to go out with with friends more because it's one of our goals.
Saturday I go to therapy. Kelly usually has Saturday off, so while I'm at therapy he is usually having his alone time for the week.
Sunday is usually my big writing day when I work on the book because Kelly goes to work. We each get a day a week that’s ours to do whatever we want, which feels good.
I’m finding the book writing process hard, real hard, but also fulfilling. The hardest thing about it is that I’m so used to coming up with a lot of the format for personal essays in my head before I put anything on paper so by the time I'm typing it up it's like I already have an outline in my mind.
Books are different. The construction of it is the hard part for me as I have to be really intentional and I have to not try to hold all those things in my head. I have to be a little more organised than I’m used to, but I enjoy it.