The ORC Equations
Last weekend, at OryCon 31, I ran two Open Read & Critique (ORC) sessions. I've done writing workshops before, but this was my first experience with the ORC format (called "rogue workshops" in other places).
There were a lot of unknowns this year; the ORCs used to be an unofficial, late-night thing at OryCon, and this was the first time they were scheduled in the afternoon alongside other panels. I think the ORCs went well, and I was impressed by the quality of all the pieces read and everyone's critiques, but I have some ideas for better time management in future programs.
I wrote up my analysis into a four-and-a-half page document, which you can download as a PDF. If you're not inclined to slog through four pages of algebra, I'll sum up:
ORC sessions should be broken into hour-long segments. Sign-up sheets should provide slots for 5 participants and 2 waiting list names in each hour. Readings should be limited to 5 minutes, and individual critiques to 2 minutes (if more than 4 people in the room, 1 minute each). Any extra time can be used for group discussion. (edited 09 Nov 2010)
(For the next part, it might help you to picture David Krumholtz standing in front of a whiteboard.)
Here's the formula to determine the time for a single round of critiques, t:
t = R + (n-1)C + D
Where n is the number of participants; R is the time to read a single piece; C is the time for each individual critique; and D is the discussion time at the end, when an author can respond to questions.
So the time T required to complete all critique rounds is:
T = n(R + (n-1)C + D)
Given a time limit T and setting certain constraints on R, C, and D, we can solve for n:
Long story short, we set T=60, R=5, and D=2, and we can fit 4 people into one hour if C=2, and 5 people if C=1. Any less than that and most people won't be able to provide a useful critique; any leftover time can be added to D, since most writers never seem to tire of talking about writing. Q.E.D.
Applying these equations to other writing workshops is left as an exercise for the reader.