Wednesday, July 29, 2009

ROR 101

My friend Sarah (aka Callistra on Livejournal) emailed me today to ask for advice or tips for a new group looking to replicate the ROR experience. I know we've talked about how ROR works in the past but thought sharing what I sent to Sarah might be useful for other writers to think about.

Other RORettes, chime in with any bits I've forgotten or any extra advice you might have for a group looking to run their own ROR.

And we'd love to hear from any of you who run critting weekends differently... or anyone who has any further questions about the ROR experience


We each email the complete ms of our novel to other members of the group 4-8 weeks before the weekend. We used to all print and post but that was kind of ridiculous - this way there are no postage costs and only those who want to crit off printed paper need do any printing.

We write up a crit for each ms, so we can give them to the author after the discussions session.

(our group currently has 8 members, though we haven't had all members in one place since before our 8th joined us. 5-6 is definitely more workable on our system, and once you get to 8 the biggest problem is accommodation - trying to find somewhere to house 8 single adults is hard!!! Most holiday houses with space advertised for 8 means couples and kids, so if you're not prepared to share double beds the options are smaller)

We all live in different states, so we only do ROR once ever 18 months or so, always somewhere different, with one member organising accommodation etc. We've done self catering and catered accom. Basically our needs have been whittled down to:
*space for everyone to sleep (own rooms ideal but not always possible)
*one open/shared space we can use for critting sessions
*somewhere genuinely lovely to visit with walks, scenery and other soul-nourishing things
*a kitchen for Dirk (this is recent addition to the list and trust me, it's worth it. If you don't need Dirk you may have other preferences for catering options)

For us the retreat is about sharing the crits but also about catching up and talking writing apart from family and work responsibilities - for some of us it's the one chance to do this in person in a whole year or more, so we concentrate on value. For this reason we often give ourselves more time than we might otherwise need.

We allow one day for every 2-3 manuscripts. Everyone is allotted a time and day (morning, early afternoon, late afternoon) and another member of the group as a moderator. Then we basically divide the weekend up between the crit sessions (which can last anything from 45 minutes to a couple of hours and can be quite intensive) and lots of downtime/relaxation time to balance out the intensity of the crits.

This is not to say that the crit sessions are painful or confrontational, we are very good friends and all stick to the rules of constructive criticism, but they can still be very full on.

Depending on how many days, how many mss and how many crit sessions there are, there is also time for people to write if that's what they want to do, but it's not a structured part of the weekend, or factored into the schedule. I wrote at the last one, but that was because I had a daily wordcount to hit - I wasn't working on the manuscript I had brought to the weekend, but the sequel.

Generally we find it can be of benefit to let crits sink in with some time to decide what changes need to be made (the more people giving feedback, sometimes the more contradictory the feedback can be!) which is one reason we don't have a writing aspect factored in. Also it would mean having to try to get the crits over with early in the weekend instead of spacing them out evenly.

This is the structure that works for us - we've talked dreamily about the idea of a week-long ROR which includes writing time, but few of us are at a place in our lives where that's a practical amount of time to be away from home. Also it works because we come from such disparate corners of Australia and we value time to TALK about writing and our lives above time to type in company with each other.

On the other hand I can see that if say we were all from the same state, we might experiment more with the format. I can see a ROR weekend and say a followup monthly/fortnightly writing session being a fantastic development.


Rowena Cory Daniells said...

A good break down of how ROR is organised, Tansy.

The year we did it in Sydney we attended Magic Casements at the NSW Writer's Centre and we had a 'catch up' dinner with other spec fic writers from around Sydney.

The original idea was that we would have a networking element to each ROR, but unless we hold a ROR in Sydney (have done) or Melbourne (which we haven't done yet), there aren't any local publishers to invite.

The other dream is to have a ROR in the mountains in NZ or in Fiji or somewhere dramatic like that. South of France anyone????
We wish!

TansyRR said...

Mmmm I liked the idea of the cruise ship.

sal said...

Do you mind me asking how you structure the actual critting? I belong to a fairly young spec fic writers group in nth nsw (less than a year old, we are!) and we're just starting to look beyond critting individual chapters or shorter pieces. Last time we met we ended up each of us telling our stories - the novels we're each working on - orally (in a limited form, of course!). It was a worthy exercise but probably could have been handled better - there was a bit too much interrupting and questioning etc. We're usually pretty good at the etiquette but with a new format we kind of fell apart a bit on that front! Any tips for how to handle critting the bigger picture stuff - plot structure, character arcs etc.?

Rowena Cory Daniells said...

Hi Sal,

Always happy to talk about the craft of writing. I an such a nerd!

The exercise your writing group did sounds a bit like a 'pitch'. Sometimes you get the chance to pitch your book to an editor or an agent. I can do a post about this, if you're interested. I organised a pitch and a workshop on how to do it for the SF Nat Con in 2006. (One of the authors who pitched was picked up by Voyager!).

I think I'll answer your question on how we structure the critique session, in a blog post, because it is useful and others might like to know. I'll get it ready and post before the end of today.