In 1954, Robbins studied journalism at Washington and Lee University in Lexington, Virginia but left after he was ousted from his fraternity for discipline problems. He spent the following year hitchhiking, finally settling in New York as a poet. In 1957 he enlisted in the Air Force after receiving his draft notice and spent two years as a meteorologist in Korea until being discharged in 1959. After he was discharged, Robbins returned to civilian life in Richmond, Virginia.
In 1960, Robbins entered art school at Richmond Professional Institute, which later became Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), and was the editor of the campus newspaper as well as a copy editor for the Richmond Times-Dispatch. Upon graduation, he moved to Seattle to seek a Masters degree at the School of Far Eastern Studies of the University of Washington. While in Seattle, he worked for The Seattle Times and Seattle Post-Intelligencer.
In 1971, Robbins published his first novel Another Roadside Attraction. This novel was well received by critics but his next novel Even Cowgirls Get the Blues (1976) was considered to be his magnum opus. Robbins has published eight novels, a collection of short stories, and a collection of poetry and his next book to be released is a novella called B is For Beer which will be published on April 21, 2009. Robbins' literary career has lasted so far over 35 years.
He won the Golden Umbrella award at the Bumbershoot Seattle arts festival in 1997.
Robbins has two sons named Rip and Fleetwood Star and is married to his third wife Alexa D'Avalon and lives in La Conner, Washington and has lived there since 1970.