Interview with Betsy Armstrong, Runner Up in the WOW! Q3 2021 Creative Nonfiction Essay Contest

Sunday, September 26, 2021


Picture Betsy Armstrong’s career path as a winding road that began in corporate sales, led to sports marketing and non-profit executive work with a detour into motherhood, and culminated in claiming both “writer” and “intuitive eating counselor” as her current job descriptions. She holds a BS in Food Science from the University of Minnesota and an MS in Counseling from National Louis University. Betsy usually writes at the intersection of food, exercise, and psychology, but also pens stories about her kids, husband, and pets. Her writing has been recognized in personal essay contests from Writer’s Digest and WOW-Women On Writing. Betsy finished her first memoir, "The Mother of All Decisions," about how early mother loss created her ambivalence around children, but ultimately resulted in adopting two, older Russian siblings at the ripe age of 49. When Betsy isn’t writing, you can find her hanging with her family in nature, dancing with pompoms, and making a superb apple pie. Visit her website at

----------Interview by Renee Roberson

WOW: Welcome, Betsy, and congratulations again! Thank you for sharing such a personal essay with us with "A Mother's Whale Song." What was the most difficult part in writing about your journey with Svetlana? 

Betsy: The most difficult part of writing about this journey was the sheer heaviness of the subject matter and the impotence of not being able to "do" anything to find her. Pouring my feelings out by writing gave me some way to process what was happening. When I wrote the piece, I had absolutely no idea of where Svetlana was or if she was safe, so, in a way, writing this piece felt like me literally calling out to her on the page. 

WOW: "Calling out to her on the page." That's such a poignant way to put it. You recently completed a memoir. Could you share with us about what that process was like? 

Betsy: Oh boy! That's good question because it feels as if it took f-o-r-e-v-e-r! I've kept a journal since I was 15 years-old and I've always loved writing, although I never pursued it professionally. After my husband and I adopted our kids, I quit my job to be a stay-at-home mom, which I'm grateful for, but I missed working and needed something that was solely my own. After considering learning Spanish or re-visiting the piano lessons of my youth, I chose an Intro to Memoir class. Creative writing, especially about my adoption experiences, was very cathartic after spending almost two stressful years pursuing adoption, and when the class was over, I signed up for another one. And then another one. About a year in, I took a "Memoir in a Year" class which absolutely helped me get a (very) messy draft. I continued writing and writing, eventually ending up with almost 165,000 words (obviously, writer's block is not my problem) that was quite a mish-mash of the story. After six years of attempting to write, edit, and revise I finally hired a writing coach to help me with structure and organization because I could not get the chronology of the plot (which goes back and forth between younger me and present-day me) right, or at least understandable for a reader. Shout out to my writing coach, Nadine Kenney-Johnstone, without whom I never would have finished. She helped me plug along and held me accountable until, at last, I typed "The End." She also assisted me with my submission package which was another level of daunting. At this point, I'm looking for an agent and a publisher, as well as exploring all the different routes to publication. 

One of the things that writing a book helped me learn is how difficult it is to persevere in writing. "They" (who?) say that everyone has a book in them, but getting it down on paper, in a way that compels readers, is one of the hardest things I've ever done. As a runner, I've always prided myself on being goal-oriented and possessing endurance, but I never dreamed how this project would test me! Just like running, not every day is a "good" writing day and I haven't found any secret to making it easier, but I do know that I always feel better after I've written something. And I also know that when I finally get it published and am holding a "real" book in my hands - one that I wrote - I'm going to feel extremely proud that I did it! 

WOW: It's a big deal to complete a project of that scope, and writing a memoir is much harder than people who have never written one realize! What was the first piece you ever had published and what was it about? 

Betsy: THIS is the first piece I've had published! I've placed in some other contests, but not high enough to warrant publishing. I'm THRILLED. 

WOW: That's amazing! We're so glad to be your first publication credit--here's to many more! You wrote a blog post about pom pom dancing. It sounds so fun. Could you tell us how you discovered it and if it helps get the creative juices flowing? 

Betsy: I adore PomSquad Fitness and highly recommend it as a form of fun exercising. To be honest, I used to be a big endurance athlete - 20 marathons, a few ultramarathons, and triathlons including the Ironman - and going out to run or bike used to be my preferred activity. About five years ago, pain from my severe scoliosis (curvature of the spine) forced me to stop and after moping/grieving for that part of my life, I began searching for another athletic passion. When trying a yoga class at a studio, I discovered something called "PomSquad" on their schedule and the name alone intrigued me, plus I love dancing. When I heard we danced with actual sparkly pom poms, I knew I had to try it. (Side note: I love sparkles - to the extent that "sparkle" is my license plate.) Music and movement both help creativity to flow and stops my "thinking" brain from "trying" so hard. There have been a few times I'll duck out to tap a note into my phone so I don't forget the ideas that pop up. 

WOW: There's nothing like physical activity to get the creative juices flowing. I think it’s so great that you’ve chosen to work as an intuitive eating counselor. Could you explain to our readers what it is and how you help people through your workshops and classes? 

Betsy: Intuitive eating, according to the two dieticians who developed it (Evelyn Tribole and Elyse Resch) is a mind-body eating framework that uses ten principles to make peace with food and help create a peaceful relationship between food, mind, and body. I break it down to say it's the practice of listening to your body's signals about hunger, fullness, and satisfaction, while also deflecting all of the damaging societal messages we get about dieting, health, and body image. We are actually born intuitive eaters - think of a baby, for example. A baby cries when it's hungry; turns its head away when it's full; and isn't worrying about how it looks or if the food makes it fat. It sounds ridiculous to imagine a baby worrying about going up to the next size diaper because it had an extra bottle, right? But we women (I say women because that's primarily who I work with) do this constantly! We start learning about diet culture, become fat-phobic, and go to extremes to shrink our "normal" bodies into an impossible ideal, often yo-yo-ing between restriction and binging, and definitely making ourselves crazy over a cupcake (or two...) in the process. We attach so much shame and guilt to the (totally necessary and completely normal) act of nourishing our bodies that we've forgotten how to enjoy eating. Intuitive Eating actually takes our mental health into account too - not just the physical aspects of eating such as weight, BMI, calories, etc. I really love teaching the ten principles (Reject dieting, Honor your hunger, Make peace with food, Challenge the food police, Discover satisfaction, Feel your fullness, Cope with emotions with kindness, Respect your body, Feel the difference of movement, and honor your health with gentle nutrition) and helping people put them into practice, but a lot of what I do is help people un-learn what the billion-dollar diet industry has taught them, and to re-connect to their bodies. I could go on (as I'm sure you can tell) but I invite you (or anyone you know) to take a class with me to learn more!

WOW: As someone who has struggled with eating right my whole life, I'll definitely check it out. It's been a pleasure chatting with you today--keep us posted on your agent search!


Sioux Roslawski said...

Renee--Great interview. Because of the questions you asked, I got some real insight into Betsy.

Betsy--Congratulations on your essay. (I've entered twice, and haven't gotten any traction with either one, so I'm a bit jealous ;) I lovedlovedloved how you went back and forth between the whales and your daughter.

I will say this: don't lose hope. My daughter lost her way in her teens. Her choices and her behavior resulted in our locking her out--we could not allow her to live with us anymore. It broke my heart a million different ways.

However, in her mid-twenties, she became stable, and now is the mother of a 15 year old, has a wonderful partner, and is the best mom I know. In fact, she's a far better mom than I was. Sometimes children take the long way around when it comes to their journey. I hope that your daughter will soon hear your song and return to you.

And, good luck with your memoir. That's my favorite genre to read.

Betsy Armstrong said...

Hi Sioux! Thank you for all your kind words! Keep writing and submitting. You’ll get some traction eventually.

Also, thank you for telling me about your daughter. I’m so glad that she returned to you and is doing so well. Svetlana and I are communicating again and slowly building trust. Although she’s not home yet, she’s safe, going to school, and working too. I’m really proud of her.

Thank you again Sioux!

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