Short-story writer Nina Badzin has graciously agreed to talk with us today. In her interview, Nina talks about writing and the writing process and offers tips for writing parents. Enjoy!
Interview with Nina Badzin
First, Nina, congratulations on your Pushcart nomination! What a wonderful accomplishment! Let’s begin with the novel you’re working on now. What is the novel about?
Don’t laugh, but I’m superstitious now when it comes to talking about the novel. Or maybe I should say practical rather than superstitious. Every time I talk about a novel-in-progress, I lose steam and excitement.
What inspired you to write this novel?
The two novels I completed as well as others I’ve started feature single women in their thirties. Meanwhile, I’ve been very happily married since December 2000 (I was 23 on my wedding day). While I don’t believe you must “write what you know,” I think there’s a reason my longer works have never taken off, yet I’ve had success with short stories. Almost all of my published stories examine marriages-the good, the bad, and the ugly. The novel I’m working on now throws me into that more comfortable territory: marriage and family.
How long, on average, does it take you to write a book?
The two books I completed each took a year to write and endlessly revise. I imagine this one will take longer since I had two kids when I wrote those novels. Now I have three kids, and I’m due with number four in the fall.
How do you get started? For instance, do you start with a character? A plot? A voice?
I start with a character and a situation that may not always develop into enough of a plot (hence the many unfinished novels).
Do you ever get stuck? If so, what do you do to get yourself moving forward again?
Oy vey do I get stuck! When I’m too frustrated to iron out whatever problem I’m having with the novel, I work on a short story instead. I always have at least three stories to choose from in my “stories” folder. When I feel one is good enough, I send it out to literary magazines. I started that system in 2008, and I’m happy to say I’ve had a handful of stories published. I seem to be accidently building a career in short stories on my way to (hopefully) building a career as a novelist.
How do you know when you’re finished?
The two books I call “complete” could be vastly improved, but I don’t have enough passion for those characters or their situations anymore. Essentially, the novels are not as finished as they could be, but I’m finished with them.
Do you enjoy novel writing? What is the worst or scariest aspect of writing a novel?
I enjoy the process of dreaming up an entire cast of characters and their world, and I love to revise. The blank pages scare me, but the scariest part is when I get to page 100 and ask myself the question I dread: So what? I wrote a blog post about that once, and from the comments I received, I know other writers have “been there.” I feel strongly that if I, as the writer, ever have to ask “so what?” about the characters or the plot, then it’s time to think about whether to continue.
Did you study writing or are you self-taught?
I’m mostly self-taught. I was a political science and Spanish major in college. That’s a story for another time. I took my first creative writing class my senior year of college-a memoir class. I took my first fiction writing class the summer I graduated. For the past five years or so I’ve taken classes on and off at The Loft, a wonderful writing center in Minneapolis. I’ve also probably read every book out there on the craft of fiction from Stephen King to Annie Dilliard to everyone else. I always read novels like a writer, trying to figure out what worked and what didn’t.
What is the best advice you’ve ever been given about writing? The worst?
The best and worst advice was rolled into one experience. Literary agent and popular blogger Janet Reid was kind of enough to feature my blog post about it. Briefly: I had a teacher early on who was mostly awful, but because he’s published numerous books I clung to every word. Finally during the last class he gave us one pearl of wisdom. He said, [I'm paraphrasing] “Most of you in this room will never publish a word. You’ll give up. I’m no more talented than any of you or anyone else. I just work harder, that’s all.” That concept gave me hope! I can control how hard I work.
As a side note, I love the tips in the books by Larry Brooks and the late Blake Snyder. I go back to them again and again.
You have three young children. How old are they and how do you juggle your mommy responsibilities and writing? Do you have a schedule? Is there a particular time of day when you write? A place?
My kids are 6, 4, 2, and as I mentioned, I have one on the way. I have no magic secrets or special tricks like not needing to sleep or something like that. My husband believes in my writing career and my potential, as do I. Therefore, we make it a priority to have help for me during the week so I can carve out time to write. I have no set writing schedule though. Even with the help, my writing time gets squeezed between play dates, school pick ups, and other commitments.
I write in coffee shops near my older two kids’ schools. I know the regulars at all of them and the people who work there. I know at certain times of the year when they keep the air conditioning too low and I practically have to bring a snow suit to feel comfortable. When I can I write at our small neighborhood library where it’s never too cold. Essentially I judge writing locations by how much I’ll have to shiver.
Do you have any tips for writers with young children?
Don’t be in a rush. The kids won’t be this young forever. I always make time to write and I take it very seriously. But I also don’t take myself so seriously that I forget to focus on the kids. They’re my first priority. At the same time, I say no to plenty of extra things so I can make time to write. My biggest tip is this: do NOT wait for long periods of time to write. Even with the help I have, I rarely have more than an hour at a time to sit and focus. An uninterrupted hour is a gift-one I pay for. Literally.
You mention on your blog that you have two completed manuscripts in a drawer. Have you considered indie publishing? Why or why not?
Those two books should not see the light of day-traditional, indie, via web site, or any other method out there. I let several friends read the second book and I so wish I hadn’t. I queried it too. It really wasn’t ready.
It seems to me that, in the indie world, genre writers are much more successful than people who write literary fiction. Do you agree? Why or why not?
I’m completely ill-equipped to answer that question because I’ve purposely stayed out of the publishing conversations on blogs and on Twitter. Until I have a book ready for an audience, I don’t even want to worry about that piece of the puzzle. By the time I’m ready to put a longer work out there, we’ll probably be accompanied by cute little robots who read books to us in British accents and rub our feet at the same time.
If you were to give one tip to aspiring writers, what would it be?
Just start. That was my husband’s tip actually and he’s not a writer nor does he read fiction. But he was correct! If I hadn’t followed his advice four years ago I’d still be day-dreaming about writing rather than making it happen.