Ashley Griggs’s journey towards becoming a writer has been both inevitable and far from a direct path. Growing up in Herndon, Virginia, she spent her childhood conjuring up imaginary worlds and narrating her life on her parents’ heavy video camera. During her junior year of college, Ashley interned at the Cannes Film Festival, a thrilling experience that solidified her dream of writing unique and meaningful stories that have the potential to bring people together from all corners of the world. After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts in Film Studies and French, Ashley worked in video production and software marketing. Nevertheless, her love of writing persisted and she soon enrolled in the Rita & Burton Goldberg Department of Dramatic Writing at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts where she was awarded a Future Screenwriters Fellowship and was a finalist in the NYU Graduate Screenplay Showcase. Ashley earned her Master of Fine Arts in Dramatic Writing from NYU in May of 2014. Now living in Los Angeles, Ashley hopes to write stories that express the high, low, and in-between moments of the human experience, while also challenging viewers to look at the world in new ways.
You are someone who seems incredibly calm and centered. How would you describe yourself as a person and where do you think that ability comes from?
I tend to internalize a lot of things, so it may appear that I’m always calm and collected, but that’s definitely not the case. I’ve always been in my head about a lot of things, and it’s not even a conscious choice, it’s just how I am. I might hash out emotions with people I’m really close to, but typically I deal with things in my head.
What are the advantages and disadvantages to being an internalized person?
The advantage is if I’m not constantly talking about something, it doesn’t make the situation grow. A disadvantage is that working things alone can be [difficult]. I just don’t like to worry people. I do think this relates back to my career path because through internalizing things, I’ve created stories out of situations. I used to do this when I was little, where I’d take an experience and make something crazy out of it in my head. It’s how I dealt with things.
Some studies that correlate artistic people with higher probabilities of mental illness or emotional dysfunction. Do you think that’s true based on your observations?
I think it’s true. I don’t know the science behind it, but it’s definitely true for me and a lot of writers and artists I know. I started having severe panic attacks and anxiety when I was six.
I didn’t know that!
Yeah. That’s something I’ve been dealing with since then. Looking back, it makes a lot of sense. Because I’ve always processed things in an internal way, my anxiety grew from that and my choice to express things by writing them down grew from that too.
Do you still have to manage panic attacks? Do you still get them?
It’s taken many shapes and forms. There have been waves of it at different times in my life. A lot of it comes from self-confidence issues, but I think there’s also a physiological component. There have been moments in my life when there’s been a lot of change. Though I love change in theory, my body can be very adverse to it.
I think everyone can relate to coping with change, even if it’s voluntary. What are some things that help you manage change, or even just everyday life?
The biggest thing for me is my faith. I went through a period in college when I was thinking about dropping out because I was struggling with a lot of anxiety. So I started making sure I went to church and read the Bible and prayed regularly. And it’s not even the routine of Christian life, it’s just faith. Things got easier the more connected I was to it.
Were you brought up with it or was it something you discovered along the way?
It was always a part of my life in that I was raised in a church-going Christian household. It’s a hard thing to explain, but I’ve always naturally gravitated towards God whenever I was stressed or anxious. In sophomore year in college when I was going through a really hard time, reading certain scriptures and praying and feeling connected was what helped me get through it. That was a particularly hard year, but every year there’s a point when I’ll go through a tough spell and work my way through it.
We know a lot of writers who are Atheists, so is your faith something you would talk about to someone else to help them?
It is tough. People get very touchy when you start talking about religion, but it’s really helped me. It’s a very personal thing. In today’s society, a lot of people have grown up as Atheist or avoiding spirituality of any form. So even bringing it up can be seen as an attack to them. You have to have those conversations with people who are open and willing to have them.
If someone wanted to explore spirituality or they’re out of practice, what would you recommend?
If you’re curious about going to church, just try a bunch of churches. Definitely try to meet someone there, introduce yourself. The Bible is hard because it’s really long, but try it out. I’d say start with the New Testament. I’d also find a group that you can commiserate and share stories with. There’s a lot to be said of just having a group of like-minded people.
So I knew you went to church and you were a person of faith, but I didn’t know you also practiced meditation until recently. When did that start?
I started practicing it regularly just after moving to Los Angeles. I started going to a church out here that I really liked, and one of the young ministers preached a seven-week series where he connected each day of the week to a different meditation. There’s an intention behind each day and it’s been really helpful to clear my mind and connect to God. I like to write every morning so it helps me focus my mind with the writing.
Some writers believe that practices which help clear your mind can detract from their writing, but you actually find it adds to it?
I just don’t think I could function if I wasn’t taking care of myself. I don’t think that’s a healthy way to live life, and I agree that a lot of writers believe that. You have to know yourself, but if living in an imbalanced life is what makes you creative, that’s a choice you have to make. But it’s not something I would want to sustain.
What is your relationship to your self-care routine to your writing?
Honestly, I go through phases with this. Right now I’m in a phase where I’m not really writing and it doesn’t feel great. When I write every day I feel a lot better. Personally, I write best in the morning, for at least 30 minutes. But it’s tough because you also want to live your life and you have things to do. So I’m still a work in progress. I’ve been going to a writer’s group every other week, which is good. But sometimes it can be harmful too because I’d feel I’m in a good place and then get notes that suggest I’m not as far along. It’s good to keep everything in perspective.
I think these are all good things that maybe many writers are already doing, but it’s always good to be reminded sometimes.
Oh, one other thing!
[Laughs] Go ahead!
Really take submissions and applications with a grain of salt and don’t let them break your heart. I’m sure you experience this too, but just this afternoon I opened my E-mail and got a rejection letter. It happens every week, but sometimes it breaks your heart a little, and you can’t let it.
What would you say to someone who’s living a mentally or emotionally dysfunctional life and is asking for help?
Have at least two people in your life that you can really talk to. I say two because one person can get really burdened if you just let everything out with them and only them. Exercise is really important. Even walking and getting fresh air can help. Make sure you’re not drinking or eating crap or smoking all the time. They seem like basic life things but they’re also things I know a lot of writers do. They just get trapped in their bubble. They drink because they think it provokes creativity or it helps them socialize in an artistic setting. I drink, but I wouldn’t follow Hemingway’s advice of writing while drunk all the time. Same thing with smoking. I knew so many people who started smoking the second they got to DDW because they thought it made them look better.
A few months into school, [a professor] invited a young successful playwright to class and they went downstairs for a smoke break, so everyone followed them. I thought that was the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard. I’m sure they had great conversations, but I would not take up smoking for that. And during the healthiest phases of my life, keeping a journal of personal thoughts that’s separate from my writing was important.