By Jane Underwood
(founder of The Writing Salon, creator of the Round Robin experience)
“If you wait for inspiration, you’re not a writer, you’re a waiter.”— Anonymous
The most important elements of Round Robin are writing every day and showing up for your partner every day!
Section 1: Course Structure
The basic structure of the Round Robin is:
An exchange of daily, timed writings with one partner. Partners will change each week.
Every Monday, I will send you an email with
– Your daily writing prompts for the week (seven prompts total).
– The name and email address of your new partner for that week.
Each day of the week you will send daily writes to your partner as well as to me.
Each new week begins on Tuesday and continues through Monday, at which time you will be paired with a new partner and receive a new set of prompts.
When to respond:
Respond the day after you get your partner’s write. For example, on Tuesday, you will respond to your partner’s Monday write. On Wednesday, you will respond to your partner’s Tuesday write, and so on.
Beginning the second week of class:
I will send out a daily compilation consisting of a selection of daily writes. I’ll select these writes—one write per class member—from the past week’s work. So, for example, if there are 28 people in the class, then I’ll send out 28 writes total, broken down into four writes per day.
Sometimes, instead of selecting the writes myself, I’ll ask each of you to select one of your own or your partner’s writes, and I’ll use these for the compilations.
Daily time required
Approximately 30 minutes total. A rough breakdown:
- 3-5 minutes getting yourself ready to write: i.e. taking a few deep centering breaths, getting your tea or coffee, setting your timer, etc.
- 10-12 minutes of writing: Of course, you can continue to write after your time is up, but you do not send all of it to your partner — send them (and me) only what you wrote in 10 to 12 minutes.
- 10-12 minutes for reading and responding to your partner’s write.
Section 2: Writing
How to write from prompts:
Prompts are not meant to be your subject or your theme. You are not being asked to write ABOUT them. They are meant to jumpstart your writes. If you don’t need the prompt in order to help you get yourself going, then don’t use it. The point isn’t for you to cleverly use or write about the prompt. The point is for you to write about what you care about and what you want to write about, in any genre. If the prompt is helpful, great! If it gives you a fun or interesting or unexpected connection to a subject you want to write about, great. But if you don’t need it, that’s fine too.
Daily writes are not meant to be pure stream-of-consciousness. Pure stream of consciousness means you write down every single thing that comes into your head, non-stop, even if it makes no sense and you compose no actual sentences and you repeat the same word 20 times because that’s all you have in your head. Try to go one or two steps beyond that.
Try to make some sense and achieve some focus. Take a minute to center yourself before you start to write; see what rises to the top. What subjects or topics or thoughts or feelings have energy right now? If you feel a strong energy, follow it. You don’t necessarily need to know where you’re going. Energy without any strong content can sometimes be more compelling (and fun to play with) than content without strong energy!
Section 3: Partnering
How to respond to your partner’s write (positive responses only):
Respond in a positive and encouraging way. Tell your partners what you like about a write — your favorite parts, what works well. Point out strengths, not weaknesses. Comment on what is there, not on what you wish was there. Responding does not mean critiquing by giving advice about craft or how you think the write could be made better, or how you think it could be expanded (or shortened or revised). It makes no sense to critique raw, rough writes done in 10 to 12 minutes as this is fresh material generated without time to edit.
Even if you don’t love the writing, you can find something positive to say. The aim is to help your partner feel good about their writing, to feel hopeful, excited and increasingly confident. When people feel encouraged, they will continue. If they continue, they will make progress, and they will learn more and more about craft as they progress.
In fact, when you give a positive response, sometimes you actually are commenting on craft. For example, if you say, “I love all the great verbs you used in the last paragraph!” you are saying something about craft. If you say, “Wow, I loved that third sentence. It would make a fabulous beginning sentence!” you are saying something about craft. In both cases, you are doing it in a positive way.
Other ways to respond:
You might say something like: “I loved the energy of this write!” Or: “This is a fascinating topic. It really made me think.” Or: “I love how the narrator is willing to be so open and vulnerable.”
Also: You don’t have to always respond in words. For example: You can put your favorite parts in bold. Or underline them. ***Or put asterisks around them.***
When you do respond in words, you don’t have to use complete sentences. For example, you can say “ESPECIALLY LIKED THIS GRAPH.” Or if you loved an adjective, you can say “GREAT ADJECTIVE!” You can even come up with abbreviations that you and your partner both understand.
1. Personal Opinions
Do not offer your personal opinions about the content of the writing or about your partner’s personal life. In fact, it’s crucial that you not assume that the content is true or is about your partner’s life; maybe they are writing fiction. Or maybe it’s a combination of truth and fiction. You don’t know. Jane Underwood, founder of the Round Robin, once wrote, “I have been fooled many times, thinking that a student was writing from their own life, only to find out later that it was totally made up.”
Instead, think of the voice in the write as the voice of the narrator.
Avoid asking questions or making side comments such as:
“What if you tried talking to your boss in person and explaining about your allergies?”
“Your boyfriend sounds like a real jerk! Dump the guy. Seriously, Joan, you deserve so much more.”
“Have you ever considered quitting your job and becoming a freelance consultant?”
“My ex-husband did that all the time! Don’t believe him.”
“If you’re having trouble being honest in your essays, maybe you should try switching to fiction.”
2. Negative responses or suggestions for improvement:
Do not offer editing suggestions and do not tell your partner what didn’t work for you or where you think they can improve or add to the write (or subtract from it).
Examples of how NOT to respond:
* “Suggest delete”
* “How about using more active verbs rather than passive verbs?”
* “This is a bit of a cliché.”
* “Run-on sentence”
* “What if you put this sentence first and moved that one to the end?”
* “You’re telling but not showing here.”
* ” How about some dialogue instead of paraphrasing?”
* “This is really hard to follow and you are contradicting yourself.”
* “You could cut this whole paragraph and it would flow much better.”
* “You’re jumping around; I think your best bet would be to focus on
your father, not your mother.”
* “You need to get consistent with your tenses.”
* “I’m not sure what this is really about. Focus?”
* “I know you’re into writing fiction, but this would be a great poem,
or even a wonderful essay!”
TIP: Whenever a negative critique pops into your mind, focus on something else that is more positive.
Example: You think that they are telling too much, as opposed to showing. You are longing for details, concrete images, specifics, colorful details. But there aren’t any! Find something else to comment on:”You are incredibly brave to attempt writing about this topic. I admire that.” Or: “LOL. This part is hilarious! : )”
On some other day, when that partner does use concrete images and specific details, then praise them to no end!
Section 4: Rules & Policies
How should I warn my partner if I’m sharing difficult material in my writes?
There are times when the content of a write may be disturbing to a partner. I ask that you exercise good judgment with this. Please include a brief warning preceding the write about what it includes and that it may be difficult for some readers. Additionally, if there is material that is difficult for you to read, it may be possible to get a substitute partner for this purpose. Please talk to me if this is the case.
That brief warning might say: “The content of this write involves __________, and I’d like to forewarn you about that. If you’re not able to respond to this content, please contact Kathy or Allison, and they will bring in a temporary sub.”
When should I write?
You can do your write at any time of the day and email it up until midnight. Please bear in mind that RR operates according to Pacific Time.
What are the rules for emailing?
1. Subject lines: Put the exact prompt in the subject line. For example, if the prompt is “Apple,” put “Apple” in the subject line.
2. Create a new email and put your daily write in the body of that new email. Don’t add it to the top of the write you received from your partner as a reply.
3. Send the email to your partner and always CC me.
4. Do not include attachments.
6. CC me on emails to partners when you haven’t heard from them. Please get in touch right away — don’t wait!
What happens if I need time off?
You cannot skip several days and then send multiple writes to your partner all at once. This is unfair to them and also to you. You’ll get the most out of Round Robin by pacing yourself rather than rushing to fulfill obligations.
What sort of excuses are unacceptable?
Excuses such as “I was way too tired to write yesterday!” or “I had to work late and didn’t have time,” or “I felt totally uninspired,” or “I hated the prompt,” or “I had a lousy day” are not acceptable. Neither is camping without wireless internet access. If you know you’re going to be out of town or otherwise unable to fulfill your responsibility, please let me know as soon as possible so I can arrange for a sub.
In general, only true, dire emergencies qualify as acceptable reasons for not doing a daily write.
You must do TWO things every day:
- Write your daily write.
- Respond to your partner’s write.
What to do if you are unable to write or respond?
What if you are sick? Or what if you are going camping or traveling where you won’t have Internet access? Or what if you have a true emergency, such as a death in the family, or you are up all night with a sick child? In those cases, you can put in a request for a sub to take your place until you are able to return. Please be aware, however, that there are repercussions from a pause in writing and responding. You risk losing momentum as well as the connection with your partner. Think twice before deciding you need to take time away.
What if you’re having issues with your partner?
What if you don’t get a write from your partner? Or what if they send a write but not a response? Or vice versa? Or what if the responses they give are not positive?
First, if you’re not hearing from your partner, check your spam/junk folder. Make sure their email isn’t there.
If it’s not there, then immediately write to your partner (and CC me). Hopefully, you will get a quick reply and an acceptable explanation and/or apology, plus a promise that they won’t be late again, in which case you can both just continue on.
But if you don’t get a timely reply (i.e. within a few hours), then let me know, so that I can speak to them; it may be that I will need to step in and get a sub to take their place.
Note: You are not calling someone out if you report a partner to me. You have paid for this class, and it’s not fair to you if your partner isn’t holding up their end of the bargain. So please don’t wait two or three or four days before doing anything about it. Contact your partner right away.
Why do Round Robin rules matter?
I care about you and about creating the best possible class experience for each and every one of you. When the Round Robin class runs smoothly, it can be a deeply rewarding experience. Not only are you putting yourself in a position to improve your work, but to widen your writing community. That’s one of the most meaningful benefits of Round Robin.
Section 5: Round Robin Benefits
1. Getting in the habit of writing every day — that is, practicing writing.
2. Continually generating new ideas. Most ideas come while you are actually in the process of writing.
3. Feeling the difference between writing only for yourself and writing
for someone else (an audience), and noticing how your writing may change,
depending upon who your audience is.
4. Practicing — and risking — being open and honest for an audience.
5. Receiving an immediate, daily “response” to your writing so that you won’t feel like you’re writing into the void.
6. Indirectly learning about your own writing through the process of responding to someone else’s. You will begin to develop a more “objective” eye, and eventually you can learn to use that objectivity when looking at your own writing.
7. Capturing your “natural” voice (innate tone, style, personality) before you have a chance to snuff it out, smother it, tidy it up, hide it, correct it, polish it, soften it, or otherwise stomp the life out of it, all in the name of improving it.