Right For You?
I won the 2021 Blogable Fiction Marathon. Here’s why I entered, and why maybe you should try next time.
What’s so great about the Blogable Fiction Marathon?
No one knows.
And that’s the beauty of it: authors don’t know what they might be asked to write, the jury don’t know whose writing they’re assessing, and the public don’t know whose stories they’re voting for.
There’s a real, slightly scary thrill to opening an email with the latest assignment, not knowing if you might be asked to write a genre you’ve never attempted (in my case, the final round asked for a time travel story), or a style you relish (an earlier round required a story that was at least 50% dialogue). I learnt that I could write about time travel (by focusing the winning story on a character, who just happens to travel in time) and that perhaps I couldn’t write dialogue as well as I thought, because my conversation story was less popular with the audience.
That’s the other big “don’t know” of the Fiction Marathon: you can’t write for an audience because you don’t know who the audience will be. In each round, jury members select what they consider to be the best stories. Those go forward to the public vote, and it isn’t possible to aim your story at the public’s taste, because the public could be anybody. Some people — the other writers, at least — might try to vote in every round, while others may drop in and out of voting according to their free time and interests, so the audience is always different. And voting is anonymous: just as the public won’t know who they’re voting for, you won’t know who voted for your story (unless someone chooses to leave feedback and disclose their choices).
All of which means that winning a round, or simply progressing through a knock-out stage, or even getting a single vote, is genuine confirmation that your story was enjoyed. Having trained since childhood, I can now doubt myself at Olympic-qualifying levels, so even if people tell me on Medium or Twitter that they like my writing I cling doggedly to the belief that they’re simply being polite or charitable. But every vote I received in the Fiction Marathon was a vote for my words, standing apart from me, and can’t be denied, no matter how hard I try.
Conversely, if your entry isn’t selected by jury members that just means your writing doesn’t fit their preferences, and getting few public votes for a story only reflects the failure of the right public to read and vote.
The Fiction Marathon evolved from a similar competition for smut writers, and many of the entrants this year came to the Marathon from that competition. That meant some entries in every round were unabashed erotica. I chose not to write overtly smutty stories, although a couple — including the winning story — included brief mentions or descriptions of sex, written without erotic intent. That’s not because I’m anti-smut — a glance at my Medium content will show I write little else — but because the nature of the Marathon’s assignments can challenge writers to work beyond their normal boundaries of genre or style, and I wanted to embrace that. For me, not writing shocking filth was a chance to stretch myself and find out what I might be capable of, which I think is the spirit of the format: it’s part competition, but mostly an opportunity to learn and grow as a writer.
There’ll probably be more erotica in future Marathons — it’s a legitimate genre, after all — but writing your own smutty stories isn’t required, nor is reading other people’s. The jury this year included smut writers, but with the emphasis on writers. I’m confident —in fact, I think I might be evidence — that they selected entries based on whether they were excited about the quality of the story, rather than being excited by its content.
So, assuming you’re a writer, should you enter the Fiction Marathon? I don’t know, but I think so. If you can plan around relatively generous deadlines then it isn’t too demanding, and if you’re able and willing to explore where your writing can take you then it may help you hone your craft.
But my advice would be to write for you, not for the competition. The final assignment email exhorted us to ‘write your best story ever’. I chose not to: I wrote a story I loved, and one I knew I would still be proud of even if neither the jury nor the public enjoyed it. That, perhaps, is the true beauty of the Fiction Marathon: like a real marathon, entrants are competing against themselves more than each other.