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.