Interview with Former Winner Robby Nadler

robby nadler photoIn 2015 Robby Nadler won the Writer’s Festival.
He is a graduate of UCLA and University of Montana, and he is currently a PhD student at University of Georgia.

Interviewer: Why did you decide to enter the Writers’ Festival?

Robby Nadler: The first time I entered the contest was simply based on it being a contest, and I thought to myself, why not. However, after becoming a finalist and experiencing the entire festival, I developed a great affection for it as a whole. The craft talks. The dinner with all the other finalists. In each year that I’ve subsequently participated, I’ve done so less because of the contest and more because the event is a wonderful literary treasure that I’m honored to be a part of.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?

None of it? I don’t mean that writing isn’t difficult but that I don’t know if any part is more difficult than another. Sometimes I can’t bring myself to write because I rather not spend the day locked in a room. Other times what I want to write comes out badly, and I can’t figure out how to revise it. Especially when you write across genres, you learn there are unique problems to each form. I have great difficulty carrying on extended narrative in fiction, which isn’t an issue for me in poetry; yet, I have a tendency to indulge in mental haberdashery when composing poetry, but I’m very restrained in that regard in prose. All in all, I find writing something that demands constant endurance.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Pre-writing. I don’t spend a significant amount of time, physically, writing compared to other writers I know because I have usually written the whole piece in my mind several times before I compose it on a computer. That means I spend a great deal of time in my head. When I first develop an idea, there’s a rush of infatuation with possibility: maybe I have a line of dialogue, an image, a wonderful sentence serving as a condensation nucleus. 95% of what I generate doesn’t pan out, which can be disappointing. But I love the moment that possibility dawns. I spend days, sometimes weeks, at times even years revisiting plots and characters and lines. There’s something deeply penetrating about thinking my way through a piece that reveals its facets one mystery after another. In many ways, the saddest part of writing, for me, is pushing out these pieces from their privacy and protean being in my mind onto the public and codified page.

What advice do you have for students interested in writing/publications?

There’s a difference between writing for a living and writing for all other reasons. If it’s the latter, go ahead and do it. The happiest writers I know are the ones who write the way I sing, which is to say with great joy without regard to quality (in my case, poor quality). It’s a whole different game if you’re looking to go down the MFA/professional route. It’s competitive. Chance has a lot to do with it. Most people burn out. I don’t know if that matters at the end of the day in that you should chase the thing you want most in this world; if that’s writing, try. You can be smart about it, though. I put myself through my MFA while becoming a professional baker. I jumped academia tracks from creative writing to rhetoric and composition. The whole time I’ve done the writing game, I’ve made sure to have a plan B (and C). It’s rare for even a well-published author to earn a living from writing only, so developing a life while pursuing writing has always seemed the safest way to proceed in my opinion. As far as publications go, they’re wonderful to have but don’t determine your value as a writer. I never even thought about publishing until I was in an MFA (boy was I late to the game!). I must have submitted to fifty-some journals that year, and I was rejected by all of them. The next year, I had a few dozen acceptances. I wrote a book in three months that took three years for someone to agree to publish. I think my story of publishing is quite average for people who publish: you write a lot, get rejected a lot more, and every now and then some good news. I’m thrilled if 10% of my submissions are accepted for publications. If you’re going to try to publish, you have to learn to be happy with good news, whenever it comes, and not dwell on the everything until then.

What are you doing/working on now?

I direct the Writing Center at the University of Georgia, so a lot of my time goes toward academic and professional writing. Between that and teaching, I’m trying to enjoy where I am in my life right now. I bake a lot. I get home and watch Netflix. I spend time with my partner. I used to think of nothing but writing, but after the publication of my first book, I had all this weight on my shoulders dissolve. I haven’t written much of anything for the last two years, and I’m realizing that’s good for me. I read a lot now. I notice a lot more than I used to from a craft perspective. This summer I plan to sit down and write the opening chapter to a novel that has been incubating in my mind for several years.  I look forward to the flames.

Interview with Former Winner Andrea Rogers

10985196_10101336349522103_7915252928800710080_nAndrea Rogers won the Agnes Scott Writer’s Festival Poetry Prize in 2015. She is currently a Ph.D. Poetry student at Georgia State University, where she is an Advanced Teaching Fellow. Rogers is currently a writing instructor at GSU and Agnes Scott College, and works as a Writing Consultant at Emory University’s Goizueta Business School. Outside of teaching and tutoring, she has also worked for literary journals (Five Points, Odradek) and the South Atlantic Modern Language Association. Her poems appear or are forthcoming in The Adirondack ReviewPOET SOUNDS (Lo-fi Poetry Series Anthology covering the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds), Exit 271: Your Georgia Writers Resource, Negative Capability Press’s Georgia Poetry Anthology, Stone, River, Sky, Red Paint Hill’s Mother is a Verb Anthology, and Treehouse; her nonfiction and interviews appear in Boog CityTreehouse, and The 11th Hour.

Interviewer: What made you enter the Writers’ Festival?

Andrea Rogers: I decided to enter the Writers’ Festival because of its prestigious reputation, and also because of the calibre of the visiting writers last year (Tracy K. Smith, Chris Abani).

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?  

The most difficult part of the writing process for me is sitting down and doing it. I always have ideas — I save them in my phone and in a thousand notebooks. Sitting down to write is always rewarding, but for whatever reason, I always put it off as long as I can. Maybe it’s because I want to delay the emotional “vein-opening” that happens when we write poetry, or maybe it’s because I am and have always been a procrastinator.

What is your favorite part about writing?

My favorite part about writing is being engaged in the creative act, which creates a feeling unlike any other. I also enjoy collaborating with others — I recently wrote a chapbook with my friend and ASC alumna Paige Sullivan, and am currently working on another with my friend Simona Chitescu Weik. Collaboration forces you to meet deadlines and gives you an “accountability partner”, so to speak, which helps me with the most difficult part of the writing process (sitting down and doing it).

What advice do you have for anybody that is interested in writing or publications?

My advice for students who want to write and publish is to read as much as you possibly can. Subscribe to email newsletters and follow publications online if you’re not into carrying around hard copies. You can’t expect to know what you like, much less what you want to do, if you don’t have a broad view of what came before and what is going on around you. And don’t be afraid to submit. Submissions are rejected much more often than they are accepted; don’t let this discourage you. Sometimes it takes a long time for a poem or story to find its “home” — and when it does, what a wonderful feeling that will be.

What are you doing now or what are you working on?

I am currently an adjunct professor at Agnes Scott and an instructor at Georgia State University, and work in the Business Writing Center at Emory’s Goizueta Business School. I am finishing my dissertation at the moment and planning to submit my poetry manuscript in the near future. I’m also working on the chapbook I mentioned above, which is about patron saints (both real and imaginary). And, as always, I’m trying to find the time to make myself sit down and write.

Interview with 2014 Winner Stella Zhou

stellaIn 2014 Stella Zhou won the Writer’s Festival in the category Dramatic Writing. She graduated from Agnes Scott College in 2015 and is now in Los Angeles attending a screenwriting program at the American Film Institute.

Interviewer: What made you enter the Writers’ Festival?

Stella Zhou: It was a great opportunity to share my work among more writers.

What is the most difficult part of the writing process for you?  

The rewriting process.  It’s very easy to forget the initial purpose of creating one project after getting notes from different people.  So it’s really important to remember why I was writing this project in the first place.

What is your favorite part about writing?

Outlining.  It’s not the fun part of writing but it’s the most important part.  It gives me the brief idea of whether this project is going to work or not.

What advice do you have for anybody that is interested in writing or publications?

Keep writing.  Finish your writing.  For screenwriters in particular, finish your scripts.  Half-done scripts are useless.  You may have your doubts while writing the script, but finish it anyway.  Don’t be afraid to re-outline.

What are you doing now or what are are you working on?

I’m a first year Screenwriting fellow at American Film Institute.  Two short films I wrote have been shot and screened, and I’m storying editing the third one.  I’m also working on my feature screenplay and my television spec scripts.

Interview with Guest Writer, Jennifer Bartell ’05

The 44th Annual Writers’ Festivals is finally here! Now that our guest writers are here, let us welcome back alumna writer, Jennifer Bartell ’05.

Jennifer Bartell graduated from Agnes Scott with a degree in English-Literature & Creative Writing, focusing in poetry and nonfiction. She initially left Agnes thinking she wanted to be a nurse; however, she quickly found herself going back to what she knew best–writing. Landing various jobs in newspaper reporting and teaching, it wasn’t until several years later that Bartell went back to school. Last year, in 2014, Bartell graduated from University of South Carolina in Columbia with a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing and a Graduate Certificate in Women’s and Gender Studies. She currently teaches at Coastal Carolina University in Conway, South Carolina.

Agnes Scott Writers’ Festival: When did you know that you wanted to be a writer?

Jennifer Bartell ’05: I’ve always been attracted to words and reading, but I didn’t know I wanted to be a writer until I was thirteen years old and started writing poetry.

One year I told my mom I wanted a typewriter for Christmas, a little electric type writer. And at that point she knew that I was doing a lot of writing. Horrible horrible writing, but I was writing. You have to start somewhere!

Writers’ Festival: When was your first work published, and what was that experience like?

Bartell: I guess it was one those young American poetry anthologies in middle school or high school. I remember feeling very proud of my work and had this desire to want to get published again. But I didn’t really take publishing seriously until I got into a MFA program. I don’t know why it took me so long to take poetry seriously.

Before I went into the MFA program, I was working on a poetry project (that I have since abandoned) and getting a manuscript together for publication.  But I wasn’t actively sending work out to be published. And I think that just came from being a novice and not knowing a lot about the field.

Writers’ Festival: Would you suggest that students try to start getting published while they’re in college?

Bartell: I would say that young writers need to focus on the craft and focus on the process more than the product and publication. Of course, publication is what you ideally want to be working toward. But I think a lot of young writers get caught up in writing what is publishable without really exploring who they are as an individual and a writer. Focus on developing the craft, read as much as you can, read as widely as you can, and all of the other stuff will fall into place.

Sending stuff out to publishing companies or presses, depending on where you’re sending it, can get really pricey. There’s nothing wrong with supporting presses, but you really need to be sure in your work before you send it out. A lot of people, including myself, send work out prematurely. It’s not where it needs to be. And of course it doesn’t get published! It’s not really good. Not yet.

Who are you as a writer? What are the topics you typically write about?

Bartell: I’m still growing and evolving as a woman and a writer. Writing poetry is a journey, and I say that because of the experiences I’ve been through in the past ten years. I graduated from Agnes Scott in 2005 and then, the next year my mother died. I worked and had various jobs, and when I went back to school, my dad died. So, a lot of that influences my writing. I write a lot about my parents, grief, and loneliness.

And so, I don’t want to say that I use poetry as catharsis, because poetry has to be more than that, but I would say that writing about these experiences is how I have maintained some sanity. Reading poetry, writing poetry, and revising, revising, revising poetry has helped me to figure out a lot of things that would otherwise be very difficult to process.

If you have more questions you’d like to ask, there will be a Q & A session with guest writers, Chris Abani, Tracy K. Smith, and Jennifer Bartell ’05 on Thursday, March 26th at 1pm in Luchsinger Lounge.