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  • Writer's pictureYennie Cheung

Short Story Month, Day 7: Rob Roberge

Photo of author Rob Roberge
Rob Roberge

First and foremost: Rob is one of the best writing instructors I've ever had—arguably the single best. Every time I workshop other people's work or teach a writing class, I inevitably repeat something I heard Rob say about conflict or dialog or sentence structure. I value his opinion so much that I've devised what I call the Rob Roberge Test for my drafts. It starts with one simple question: "Would I show this to Rob?" If the answer is no, I figure out what he'd find wrong with it and keep writing. If the answer is yes, the next question is, "Are you sure?"

In Rob's work, I see his lessons come to life perfectly, which implies that his stories are technical, and they are. But they can also be emotionally raw. The first time I encountered this story, I heard him read it aloud at the release of his book of the same name, and his presentation was so sad and haunting and rich that I began to think more about the art of reading aloud. These days, I read everything I write aloud to ensure that my stories can be read with as much heart as Rob puts into his work.

I reread "Working Backwards" before putting it up here, and oof. There are little things that I think make it even more relevant in 2018 than 2010, but he also says many timeless things about love and grief and guilt, not to mention the way we hurt one another in the name of those things. One line jumped out at me this time: "What do you cut out of life to make it seem lifelike?" It's in reference to a documentary the narrator made in film school, but seeing as I've been trying for the past few months to wrap my head around a personal essay I've been writing, this resonates with me hard right now. My essay feels too long, and it's hard to figure out what to cut. At times, I've thought about editing out certain parts and using it to write fiction, but then I'd recognize that as a method of avoidance—of choosing to write around the hard parts and the harsh criticisms of myself—and Rob would kindly but bluntly tell me to stop being scared of the story. The scary parts to write are often the most important parts to read. That means the essay doesn't pass the Rob test right now. Guess I should get back to work.


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