My entry into the Blogable fiction marathon started as most of my bold decisions do. A clear declaration of intent to someone. The first time I went running, 16 years ago, was a tipsy (cough-cough) “I can beat you!” to my experienced runner friend. It took a while, but she eventually passed the baton on to me. More than running though, there are countless times I’ve told Sir my ideas, only to then be held accountable for my words. And then, look what happened…
2021 started and the Blogable Fiction marathon was announced, entries would be opening on Valentines day. I may have sent Sir an email stating my intent, swiftly followed up by a nervous message to Marie. It turned out that I felt this would be the perfect valentines gift for myself and so I popped my name in the hat at the very first opportunity. With just 29 spaces left to fill I was already wondering if I’d done the right thing.
You must know by now that I like pushing my boundaries, stretching the edges of my comfort zones.
The fiction marathon was certainly going to do that.
For many reasons. There is a lack of fiction here on my blog for a reason, I just don’t write it very often. In fact, I don’t tend to read much either. My favourite author writes what I describe as Autobiogra-fiction. His style takes his life and weaves a narrative with fictional characters. When I think about my written work I have no problem admitting that this is my preference there too. But how can I weave my narrative into a story? Create some distance between my Work and my Self? This was part of what I hoped to learn through the marathon. As well as technical skills, working to deadlines, getting to know new people…
Plus, I thought it would be fun!
And there’s a wise man who says, “If it isn’t fun, what is the point?!”
With all of the above in mind I sat with my growing bundle of nerves and waited for the first assignment.
It soon arrived in my emails.
And instantly I regretted entering the fiction marathon! I was out of my depth entirely, I had to write an original chat up line using 25-50 words and only one sentence. And worse, I couldn’t even run it past any of my friends! The rules are clear and once I have agreed to terms I am a stickler for them. Not only had I never had a chat up line used on me, I’m not a movie watcher and I’ve only used one chat up line in my life, as part of a dare! Plus, without the bigger picture how on earth would it fit into a context.
So, what was my entry?
You can see all of the entries in the Round one public vote post, including mine which was number 20: Tie Me. In my head the scenario went: A young woman visits her butcher who she has a hugely inappropriate crush on. Her intention was that she would flirt with him while he served her. However, the words she plans don’t come out and instead she gets tongue tied and out comes a chat up line that sees her blushing her way out of the shop. Only to be followed by him, his excitement evident. Perhaps her behaviour could have been loosely based on what I imagine would come out of me in such a situation.
I was relatively pleased with it, probably because I could relate to it the line felt more real to me. And I am glad I went with my gut, though I’m not sure that many people understood it. And my use of a semi-colon made it, effectively, two sentences. However, I did make it through to the public vote, which was you would think should have made me sit a little more at ease in the next round.
As soon as the second assignment email landed in my inbox I felt the impostor syndrome creep up again. We had to incorporate another entrants line from round one- word for word- into a piece of flash fiction. My heart sank. My discomfort with chat up lines in general was being stretched into another three week writing assignment. It’s a good job I’m a masochist, right??
Had I been able to use my own line the fiction would have been on point! However, that was clearly NOT the point. Now I was back to the drawing board and had to choose from a selection of lines which I just couldn’t understand. (Sorry to all my fellow writers, this has nothing to do with your writing, it’s just my brain!) My story for the second round was Number 9: Not My Type. It was the only one I could find a place for in my swirling brain. I received some helpful feedback, that it was, perhaps, a little predictable being a chat up line in a bar. Taking that on board I vowed to scratch the first idea in subsequent rounds.
I was also mortified to see that a fellow competitor thought I had been mocking the line I had used. Perhaps, in a way, this could be good to read? The discomfort I was trying to convey at plucking up the courage to use a line came across. But I did feel compelled to reach out to the writer whose line I’d included and apologise if I had caused offence. No need to worry, he knew what I’d been attempting.
However, I was still shaken and carried that through to the next round.
The third round prompt was to write a story based around an argument. We had 650-750 words, and 50% had to be dialogue. I could do this, I thought, I can write dialogue! However, I don’t recall ever having an argument. I’ll discuss all sorts of things, but in my head an argument is a row, and just not something I have ever been part of. I couldn’t think outside the box for this one- as the feedback from round two had suggested. There was no box! No frame of reference.
I researched arguments for two and a half weeks. Tried to find something, anything, to base my story on. In the end I picked up a book of writing prompts and skimmed through “Write a paragraph from the perspective of a tree”. And then the words came. I had no idea if 5- Celebrating New Beginnings would go down well, but with minutes to spare I managed to submit a story that I would enjoy reading. Fortunately (?) it was, and I progressed through to the next round, sitting in the middle of the table.
It was while reading the other stories in this round that I found myself deeply uncomfortable, and learnt an important lesson for my own writing. The arguments in a couple of the stories escalated into domestic violence and had I known at the start I would have read more carefully. As someone who isn’t easily triggered anymore, this was an eye opener and an important one at that. I have tried to incorporate content warnings into my work but I will hold my hands up and say that I’ve been hit and miss. As I work through my posts I’m adding them now, but this could well be too late for some.
I apologise to anyone who has been caught by surprise when reading my work.
So, moving on… what happened in round four of the fiction marathon?
Our brief in this round was a 900-1000 word story which had to include the word massage. That was all. We could interpret it any way we chose. On a misty evening run I noticed the clouds moving in a familiar way across the moors, they were massaging the tors in the distance. I don’t think I’d ever heard the word used in this way before, but the visual worked for me.
And more than that, it stirred some feelings up within me and 6- Happy Birthday was born. OK, not the traditional use of the word, but what was I told in round two? Think beyond the obvious. And while the story is entirely fictional the voice within it is also authentic. This may have been the lesson I needed to learn in this round, perhaps even the whole competition? I was so pleased with the feedback I received, both in the comments and from friends after the results were announced.
What a surprise, I was through to the semi finals!
Round five… Where to start? With the prompt we were given: “There’s a magic talisman that allows its keeper to read minds. It falls into the hands of a young barista.” Aside from this we had to include the words “Talisman” and “Barista” at least once each, with a word count of 1250-1500. The very idea of being able to read peoples minds is something that scares the bejeezus out of me but, in the realms of fiction, I automatically went to the way it could be used to find a lover and tweak your way into someone’s world.
But as this was my first idea it was scrapped!
So I went back to all the fears I have around the bad that could happen from eavesdropping. My life and brain were very busy in this period. I took a few trips over the course of the writing round- school holidays- and in all honesty the time slipped away. With a few notes written I made it home from my last trip with 5 hours to the submission deadline and hammered it out. One comment said that another couple of runs through would have pulled it together nicely, and they are bang on. For the fifth round I chose to use my energies in other areas. I took my eye off the BFM ball, and while I am supremely grateful for the public votes I received, it feels right to be out.
So, what is my takeaway from the fiction marathon?
Let’s look back to the start of the post, what did I wish to achieve?
The first thing was technical skills. On the whole, the comments have been really useful. There have been little hints and tips on how to present my work, along with my use of italics, punctuation and numbers vs. words. Add into this the strict word counts, and having to be my own editor. Aside from dropping the ball in round five, each of the preceding rounds provided a learning curve, along with lots of head scratching.
Secondly, working to deadlines. In my work life this is something that I’ve always been proud to manage. But when it comes to writing I take a more relaxed approach. The number of times I DM a meme host and ask if they can link up for me after the closing date is significantly higher than I’d like. This was not an option for the BFM, and I rose to the challenge. Not without a lot of worry or rushing. I did push the boundaries of time, but the fourth round was submitted with 26 hours to spare and I was so pleased with myself.
Getting to know new people is always nice, and though it was something I’d hoped for I was surprised at the connections that grew throughout the process. Strengthening established connections through shared stress, and building new friendships with fellow coffee and cake fans who also enjoy throwing words at a page.
I believe that rounds three and four have helped me with the biggest goal I had for the marathon. I believe now that I have the skills to achieve my goals. These may not look like other people’s skills, but when has that ever worried me. There can, and indeed will be, space between my internal story and my book. The autobiogra-fictional dreams I have… The seed of belief was sown by Sir, and I’ve just watered the young plant. Yes, I’m still intimidated by my goal, but I’m not stuck in a quagmire of self-doubt anymore.
Now then, what about that last goal for the fiction marathon? The fun part!
I can’t say for certain that I found the process itself fun. Like any marathon it has been exhausting- and this was my first DNF. (Did Not Finish.) But like with running I’m not alone in this. It’s reassuring to know other participants have found the competition emotionally taxing. Do you know what the best thing about long runs is? Even when you’re a masochist like me who loves to visit her pain cave on these occasions.
It’s what happens when you cross the finish line, usually cake and a cuppa! I know I haven’t crossed the finish line by making it to the finals, but I stayed in the competition longer than I ever dreamed I would. Like a multi-lap race where I’ve exceeded my expectations. Now I get to enjoy the finalists as they take their last lap for of the 2021 Blogable Fiction Marathon. They are all amazing and I can not wait to see what they offer up for our reading pleasure. I know who I am rooting for to win, but I will vote for my favourite stories without knowing which belongs to whom. This is where the fun is for me.
The pressure is off, and I can now just relax and enjoy.
Thank you to the Blogable Babes for bringing the Fiction marathon to life, and for allowing me to join in and learn. I have learnt a lot, and grown as a writer. My comfort zone has definitely been pushed back, and I’m looking forward to seeing where I can go with the stretched outer edges.
Will I be back for the 2022 edition?
I honestly can’t answer that question at the moment. One thing is for certain though, I will be cheering on the entrants and trying to give constructive comments throughout.
From the story of how the barefoot sub became the woman she is today, to toy reviews, with a hefty dose of contemplation, a sprinkling of erotica and a LOT of nudity in between, you can be sure to find something to tickle your fancy at A Leap Of Faith.