Meet Natalie Beisner-- First Place Winner in the 2020 Quarter 2 Creative Non-Fiction Essay Contest

Sunday, June 07, 2020
Natalie Beisner
Natalie Beisner is a Los Angeles-based writer. Her essay Morning After Text received an Honorable Mention in WOW’s 2019 Q3 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest. Her work has also been recognized by Kaleidoscope: A Reflection on Women’s Journeys and ArtAscent. She is a graduate of Cal State Fullerton University, with a BFA in Theatre. You can follow her on Instagram @nataliejeanbeisner.

interview by Marcia Peterson

WOW: Congratulations on winning first place in our Q2 2020 Creative Nonfiction essay competition! What inspired you to write your essay, “Woman Home?”

Natalie: I was inspired to write Woman Home while taking a class with WOW's own Chelsey Clammer (whom I highly recommend, by the way!). I think it was during her "Face Your Fears" class, specifically, and I might've been prompted to start this particular piece because I have a deep well of fear around my parents' health and happiness. I feel these fears most particularly around my mother, the person with whom I feel most deeply connected. I don't think I'll ever be a "good enough" writer to be able to express the love I feel for her. Ours is a complex relationship (as are most mother/daughter relationships), but truly, she feels like home to me. I’m terrified of my mother’s death. As the essay says, I got a taste of it watching my grandmother pass almost seven years ago. I was very close to her, and it was a surreal and heartbreaking experience watching my mother watch her own mother die. Once she was towards the end, my grandmother couldn't drink on her own, and she would whisper for water sometimes, and I'll never forget the image of my mother quenching her mother's thirst with a hydration sucker dipped in Styrofoam cup of water--an image I write about in the piece. I'm fascinated by the human life cycle--how we often come full circle and retreat almost back to infancy in our twilight years, and that concept is highlighted most especially among mothers--how mothers not only give birth to but also feed and care for their young, and then so often, those young grow up and end up feeding and caring for their mothers at the end of life. What a great privilege. What a tremendous burden.

WOW:  What is your writing process like? Please describe a typical day.

Natalie: I have to admit my writing process is all over the place! For better or worse, I'm not very disciplined when it comes to sticking with routine. I hesitate to say that because I firmly believe the key to being a writer is, of course, getting your butt in the chair, which requires no small amount of discipline! But the truth is right now, I'm not very disciplined. I think part of that is due to the current global crisis. I'm choosing to try to be gentle with myself during this time. I'm writing here and there. I'm just not disciplined or at all structured about it (which is probably why I'm not further along in my writing career!). I apologize that I don’t have more to offer in the way of a writing routine or a typical day.

The one thing I am fairly disciplined about is Julia Cameron's morning pages. I feel silly doing them; it's hard to shake the feeling that I'm wasting paper--free-writing so much nonsense in a journal like I'm all of fourteen and keeping a diary. But I've gotten better at being less judgmental around it! I recently went back and read some of my morning pages from four and five years ago, and it's so fascinating to see how different (and how very much the same!) I am now! I treasure those pages, because it's easy to forget how far you've come in all areas of life, unless you have that tangible, written record.

But as far as my writing process when I'm working on an essay or a piece of some kind: Most often, I get a small nugget of an idea or an inspiration, and I just start writing in Google Docs. I rarely start with pen and paper. I like the feeling of being able to make changes easily and effortlessly. I don’t want anything “set in stone”--or set on paper, as it were. Once I get a flow going and sort of like what I have on the page, I do go back to the beginning and start editing, so I don't wait to start editing until I get a full first draft; instead, I start editing somewhere in the middle of making the full first draft. Revising as I go helps me discover and define the piece. So writing for me is just sort of a blend of revising and then going back to where I left off and adding more words and then going back to the beginning and revising and then going back to where I left off and so on and so forth until I have a completed first draft. I don’t know whether that’s “normal” or not. One thing I always do is read my words aloud as I'm going back over them. By the time I'm "done" with a piece, I've read it aloud more times than I can count. That’s essential, I think.

WOW:  Thanks for sharing your methods, the reading aloud of a draft does seem to help a lot. Are you working on any writing projects right now? What’s next for you?

Natalie: I have my blog which I started in July of 2019. It's a blog for my personal essays and creative non-fiction pieces. I'm almost totally new to submitting pieces for publication, so that's something I've been trying to get more into and learn more about. When I finish a piece, I'm tempted to just immediately publish it on my blog, but I also want to someday be a regularly-paid, working writer, so I've been trying to exhibit some self-control and first see if I can find a paid, published home for certain pieces. So far, I admit I haven't had much luck, as I’m very new to the process and very new to writing in general (although Woman Home was first published in the February 2020 "Portraits" issue of ArtAscent magazine).

I'm not working on anything in particular at the moment.. Like many in the world right now, I'm just taking everything day by day. I hope to be writing again soon.

WOW:  Yes, take care of yourself and you'll write when you can. What are you reading right now, and why did you choose to read it?

Natalie: I'm normally a big reader, and I began lockdown reading about four books per week. I'm sad to say, however, that I've not been reading as much lately (but am slowly getting back into it!). I'm lucky to have a LARGE stack of TBR at home, and I actually just picked up Blink by Malcolm Gladwell. I chose it because, I think, I wanted something non-fiction but not "too heavy." I'm not too far into it yet, so I can't much other than--so far, so good!

I'm not a big audiobook fan (only because I'm a visual learner and love the feel of a book in my hands!), but I was blessed by a friend with a yearlong subscription to Audible, and I'm currently listening to Can't Hurt Me by David Goggins. If you don't already know him, I urge you to look him up! I just discovered him last week, and I find him fascinating, challenging, and inspirational. Several of his interviews and speeches are available for free on YouTube, and so far, his book also does not disappoint.

I know you didn't ask this, but I guess I'm a little self-conscious that I'm not reading more right now, so two books I always recommend are The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and Awareness: The Perils and Opportunities of Reality by Anthony de Mello. Those two books will change your life! And of course, A New Earth (also by Tolle) is likewise very good and perhaps more relevant now than ever.

WOW:  Great book recommendations! Thanks so much for chatting with us today, Natalie. Before you go, do you have any tips for our readers who may be thinking about entering writing contests?

Natalie: Thank you for chatting with me. I don't know if I have any tips, but my advice would be just do it! Not very profound or interesting, I'm afraid, but I speak from experience in that I regret not having done it sooner. I started writing consistently only last year, and I never dreamed I’d be sharing my work with the world. In fact, WOW was one of the first contests I entered around this time last year. I ended up receiving a mention for a piece called Morning After Text, and I'll always be grateful to Angela and Chelsey and the women at WOW for that. It was the first writing contest I'd entered in almost fifteen years, but I'd stopped writing for so long, and getting that recognition from WOW gave me the push I needed at the time to keep going. I ended up taking several classes with Chelsey and finally (after four years of "thinking about it") starting my blog.

I only wish I would've started writing sooner (or at least stuck with it more consistently), so my advice regarding contests is the same advice I would give regarding writing itself--JUST DO IT. Sit your *** in the chair is still the best writing advice I've ever heard. It's the hardest thing, but it's the truest, and if you can do that consistently, then you can hit submit on that writing contest you've been eyeing; you can do anything.


For more information about our quarterly Flash Fiction and Creative Nonfiction Essay contests, visit our contest page here.


Angela Mackintosh said...

Thank you for your interview, and I'm glad you're working toward becoming a regularly paid, working writer. Keep at it and you'll get there! :) As you know, I love Woman Home, and I'm not ashamed to admit it made me cry, and that's rare for me. Thanks for the shout out, and I'm also a huge Chelsey fan.

I know what you mean about wishing you would've started sooner, but it's never too late. You are so young! I think Laura Ingalls Wilder started writing the Little House series at 64. We also interviewed a writer on this blog who wrote her first novel in her 80s.

I'll be following your blog, and Morning Pages are the BEST! I've been doing freewrites every morning, and if I think something might be publishable, I'll submit it. I bet you can find lots of gems in your pages you could use as story starters.


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