By Mary B. Safrit
It was midnight, far past when I should have stopped paying attention to my phone. Alone in my apartment, I watched Netflix from my couch--an introvert’s ideal Friday. My phone screen lit up on the coffee table, and I checked it compulsively. It was an email from a magazine that sponsored a competition I had submitted a story to. My breath caught as I frantically swiped up. As my phone’s facial recognition feature did its thing, my thoughts ricocheted to rejection—before landing on hope. Maybe I won.
It was not my first time submitting to this competition. In 2018, I had the beginnings of a piece I didn’t know where to take. The story opened at a funeral for which I was a last minute pallbearer. It was the sort of odd moment that a writer dreams about, but I was too "new" to trust my instinct for story. Though I prefer to work by myself and figure things out on my own, I was confronted by my limitations. I struggled to understand where the story wanted to go, or if it was even worth writing about. I needed a sounding board; an impartial ear that also shared my faith and calling to challenge and encourage me in ways nobody else can--a few of them, actually--so I shared the first page at the Center for Faith and Work's Writers Group Meeting. The encouragement and suggestions I got pushed me forward. I submitted the essay with minutes to spare. The magazine responded months later with a standard rejection: "Thank you for submitting, but..." Kind, but firm.
At the end of 2019, I submitted to the competition again, this time with slightly more confidence. After a year of regular writing and feedback during Writers Group meetings, I had better questions to ask myself. I had tools to keep the story going and the insight to let the story speak for itself. In the end, I submitted "Hiding from Grace" with three hours to spare.
With my face verified and my phone unlocked, the email loaded to reveal the verdict. “Hiding from Grace” didn’t win, but it placed as a quarter-finalist! The rejection was more personal and encouraging this time, congratulating me and commenting on the quality of my words. While being a quarterfinalist didn’t come with a cash prize, it spoke to growth. It is progress I couldn’t have made typing away on my own, and it reflects lessons I couldn’t have learned by reading about the craft of writing, though those things are important. I needed, and continue to need, people to read my words and ask clarifying questions. I needed these specific people. These writers are not only committed to the craft, but also believe in the work of the Spirit in each of us and the power of the Gospel to transform lives.
I started calling myself a writer in those meetings. I attended my first literary festival with a fellow writer I met at those meetings. I have learned and taught and showed up even when I didn’t think I had anything to contribute, even when I wasn’t convinced my words needed to be in the world. I am currently working on my first manuscript, which exists because I needed something to read at my first Writers Group meeting. This community has been essential from the evening I bashfully read for my first critique circle to today, two years later. It wasn’t merely an opportunity for networking, but a place of real relationship. Each meeting was communion—meeting and being met, seeing and being seen, hearing and being heard.
As I read the word “quarterfinalist,” I took a screenshot and sent it to the people who helped the piece get there. I thanked God for the story that was impossibly hard to live and write about, and impossibly good reading and writing all at once. I don’t know what rejections and victories await me, but I know that I will not face them on my own.
Mary B. Safrit is a writer, speaker, and podcaster based in the biggest of all the apples. She writes and speaks about singleness and relationships, femininity, and mental health. Her work has been featured in Fathom Magazine and on the Now She Rises blog. Her podcast, "Unsuitable with Mary B. Safrit," is available on all major platforms. Hobbies include watching people take solo-selfies, glaring at cars that encroach onto crosswalks, and having existential crises. Check out her website at marybsafrit.com.