In the Margins of Motherhood / A Review of Create Anyway

Create Anyway by Ashlee Gadd

There are few books I have read on creativity that are so absolutely satisfying, personal, and broadly practically applicable as Create Anyway: The Joy of Pursuing Creativity in the Margins of Motherhood. This recent release by Ashley Gadd (Bethany House, 2023) is, frankly, a remarkable book.

Gadd, a wife and mother of three in Northern California, founded Coffee + Crumbs, an online storytelling community for mothers. She describes her work time as “writing in the margins.” Those margins or the cracks of the day may be the only time a homeschooling or mother of young children can create.

Born that way

There are those of us with a burning desire to make something, to create, to arrange, to beautify, to put our hands to some craft or project and make something of it, whether or not the finished project is for our gratification, something consumable like a delicious cake bound to be devoured by your children, something foundational that will grow with us like a garden, or something artistic destined for the gallery walls of the local arts center. There are those of us who are incomplete without this action. Gadd recognizes this, being one of those types herself.

The 19 chapters of Create Anyway address a broad scope of heart issues related to motherhood and creativity: the doubts, insecurity, fears, challenges and obstacles of living motherhood and creative life. It targets the lie from social media or online experts that the only way to build a successful portfolio is to charge for everything, to post everything online, and to make an online following that meets the magical metrics of the gatekeepers in these fields. I’ve written before about how elusive those goals are. Gadd reminds us how little they matter.

The book is written from a Christian perspective grounded in the belief that God as the Creator has endowed human beings, made in his image, as co-creators, little creations of him who are drawn to create as a way of living out the Imago Dei. It is part of human nature to create.

Golden and Glittery Lessons

There were lessons in other chapters that I remember learning in the early days of my business as a writer: Permission to do the thing whether or not it’s paid work and that what you need is within you. The easy part is getting the words down; the hard part is turning those words into art. Creativity begets creativity.

Professionally, having moved through the lessons of “Mission over Metrics” and giving myself permission not to pursue an online following aggressively, I find myself working through those ideas in “Abundance over Scarcity” and “Throwing Glitter,” which not only address refraining from comparing ourselves to others but actively building up those around us, especially those in creative work. That I can see the writer I was ten years ago and five years ago and the writer I am today in different chapters of this book speaks to the magnitude of what Gadd is doing here.

Each chapter closes with Creative Exercises and Journaling Prompts to help the reader interact with the material personally.

Better shared than stored

I am eager to share this with others. Create Anyway is for any woman who has a passion she pursues or wants to pursue. Or shoot, even a hobby she is trying to make time for.

It’s for the artist about to deliver her first child. It is for the seasoned entrepreneur constantly readjusting her workload to make space for her family.

Or the woman who doesn’t feel all that creative, to begin with, but describes knitting as therapeutic and spends time in the evening exploring new stitches may even find permission to stop downplaying her creative contribution to the world, which she’s learned to talk down because it is not posted online.

Gadd does waste a moment.

The book itself is beautifully hardbound with a sewn binding, the pages slightly glossy, making the most of its color photographs taken by Gadd on film. These are not ornaments for a beautifully laid-out book with plenty of white space. They are illustrations of her point.

Gadd’s illustrations wove together the lesson at the heart of this book which she lays out early in the Introduction. “I used to believe motherhood and creativity were opposing forces—that my mothering was in the way of my creative work, and my creative work was in the way of my mothering,” she writes. “I’ve realized that motherhood inspires creativity, and likewise, creativity inspires motherhood.”

Create Anyway will be on my desk for a time. I hope you’ll consider adding it to yours.

I received a copy of Create Anyway for review from Bethany House. The opinions expressed in this review are my own.
Previously published in the weekly column, “Here’s to the Good Life!” in the Hughson Chronicle & Denair Dispatch.

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