Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Invisible Steamroller

I took my first steps into writing on a whim: I entered an essay in a writing contest held by a Christian magazine in 1979. To my delight, although I didn't win, the magazine created an Honorable Mention prize, mailed me a check, and printed my piece.

"Wow," I thought, "I can make up stuff, and people will pay me for it?" So, as more hobby than anything else, two or three times a year I would craft a devotional, an article, or a short story and send it to a publisher. Some got rejected. Others yielded checks, spurring me to write more often and to study the craft seriously.

When I discovered writers' market guides, the boundaries of my publishing universe expanded. I pored over them seeking markets that might fit my style and skill. I highlighted travel magazines ("I love to travel. I could write travel pieces.") In the same sitting I’d also highlight children's magazines ("I used to be a kid; surely I can create stories for children."), sci-fi journals ("Hey, I grew up watching the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise. I'll boldly write where I've never written before!"), and a host of diverse markets. I found such a vast array of markets that I felt I was wasting time. I needed to get busier submitting to more and more of them.

Later, when I began attending writers conferences, I rubbed shoulders with fellow authors of all stripes. Some had published daily devotionals. Others received contracts for novels, or non-fiction books, or were syndicating columns...

Somewhere along the journey, what began as a hobby, then developed into a Christian ministry, took the shape of an enormous, invisible steamroller bearing down behind me if I didn't maintain a hectic pace of researching, writing, and submitting. This impression wasn't logical (my days of watching Mr. Spock should have taught as much), but the more I learned about other authors' successes, the more pushed I felt to get out there and compete, to be a one-size-fits-all writer. The role was exhausting.

Beware that invisible steamroller. Nobody can write for all markets. And the fact that the writer beside you at a conference just signed a 50-book contract and optioned all movie rights shouldn't flatten you. In the military there are roles for all ranks, from privates up to generals. Likewise, in the ranks of writers for the Lord, there is room for a wide range of writing skills. Every level of skill has its niche.

Now, I’m wondering: am I alone, or have others experienced that invisible steamroller? Ever felt that you had to catch up to colleagues, or else get squished?

Rick Barry


  1. I fear I know the feeling Rick. We need to quit comparing ourselves and look for opportunities for what we write. Thank you for this post.

  2. Being around Cara Putman can make me feel like a slug most days. (Ha!)

    So these days instead of looking back for that oncoming steamroller, I've learned to rejoice in my writing friends' seemingly tireless efforts and successes, which helps me to party in the moment.

    But back in my younger days, I would've been running for broke to stay ahead of that mad machine!

    Loved thinking about this, though. Good post.

  3. Hey Rick, if you don't sign your name, FB readers (and others) won't know who the author is, as the auto blog signature only shows on the actual blog site. But perhaps you wanted to be anonymous so the steam-roller wouldn't see you?? Very timely thoughts for the MAJORITY of us, I'm sure. . .
    Ignoring-the-steam-roller blessings! (Read that the right way, please :-)

  4. Preach it, brother. If we writers don't stop and think, as you have, we'll find ourselves in a race God never expected us to run.