What I’m Not Writing, and Why I’m Not Writing it

Julia, who is one of my favorite bloggers, who is able to see difficult circumstances with faith and practical wisdom, whose blog archives are worthy of long slow perusal, who humbly supports her family by writing at numerous places, has tagged me in a blog series in which participants answer four questions on their writing process. Some participants have written long thoughtful answers, some have answered in brief. Interested parties can follow the conversation from blog to blog. I’ve already gathered lots of wool from reading other people’s responses.

Unlucky for you, I have managed to exhaust an entire post on the first question, which perhaps illustrates my tireless tendency to waste time thinking about doing something rather than actually doing it.



1. What are you working on?

Same old, same old. I’ve kept a journal forever. Blogging is always, I’m a little ashamed to admit, some form of that journal, usually cleaned up, edited, synthesized, and punctuated with some conclusion I couldn’t find at the first write.

It might be more productive for me to look at what I’m not working on right now, because I need to get real with myself about the constantly metamorphosing excuses I find to keep certain projects incomplete. From the time I reached the age of reason–which for me was somewhere around age 25–I have planned on finishing up a manuscript I wrote in college, which is about sin and conversion, loosely. It’s technically a “finished” manuscript in that I wrote the whole thing, turned it in for a senior thesis and snagged a small cash grant for it on my way out the door, so that I was able to spend the following year composing a second manuscript while living in the closest thing I could find to a convent (which was the Consecrated House of Formation w/ Regnum Christi).

Both manuscripts have been in the vault ever since. I’ve always thought I might see about publishing some form of the first one, and every year or so, I get it out, tinker with it, screw it up beyond recognition, revert to the original and put it back in the drawer.

I think that at first I needed some distance from it to read it objectively, then I needed a few people to die so I wouldn’t be embarrassed for them to read it, then I needed to grow up enough not to care what they would think. For the past five years or so, I’ve been thinking about combining it with the second manuscript to make it more profound or something–but really, the second manuscript has problems of its own, big problems that I thought combining it with the first might solve, but didn’t.

Only recently I’ve come to believe that I’m not putting either of the manuscripts out there because they represent something else for me.

“Nay, are there many situations more sublimely tragic than the struggle of the soul with the demand to renounce a work which has been all the significance of its life…”  wrote George Eliot.

I’m not saying these stories have been all the significance of my life, but I’ve hung a lot on them over the years, a lot of hope, a lot of pride, and even more vanity.

I’ve made it through many dark days thinking, “Well at some point, I’m going to have time to clean up that story, and get it published and then everything will be different.” On days when my faith has been weak, I’ve had this false hope to lean on–and it probably hasn’t done me any favors, but let it go, I have not.

I’ve at times thought, “To hell with it, just send it out and face the pain,” only to retract with the knowledge that if people hate it, in some ways, it’s really me they hate.

And it has occurred to me that what I’ve written really is minor and stupid, and there should not be any more minor or stupid books published, and if I can’t write like George Eliot, then I really should not write at all. The only thing worse than a minor work that aspires to be masterful, is the knowledge that a minor work is all I’m capable of writing (if that).

These are all spiritual problems, of course, that no Just Believe in Yourself ballad written in power chords can resolve. Believing in yourself is one thing, but being able to believe yourself is quite another.

Pride, vanity and false hope aside, Christianity is in favor of writing, creating, and bringing forth the truth in words. So the ultimate moral dilemma I feel in writing these particular stories for publication has to do with my lack of confidence that what I’ve written is truth. And honesty and truth are not the same things. I may have written honestly, but not in a spirit of truth, which is why I suspect that what I’ve written really is garbage beyond redemption.

I wrote the first story when I was living somewhat happily in a state of sin, and the second when I was living somewhat happily in a state of spiritual delusion (For a better description of what I mean by spiritual delusion, you must read this incredible post by Trish Bailey). 

As a Catholic, I feel like the conclusions an author might draw in either scenario are likely to be untrustworthy, and I can never decide if I should remain faithful to the untrustworthy narrator I once was, because those were real states of being with pains all their own, or if I should voice over the past with everything I’ve learned since, which is another kind of untruth–because the story could only have unfolded as it did with the limited knowledge I had at the time.

Until I know for sure what’s what with these stories, I just keep sitting on them. In time, they’ll either hatch or die, but probably die.

I’d also like to be open to the possibility that some writing really is just for private purpose and prayer, that to reflect quietly and mercifully on the past with all its errors, to remember my history and how my current life was wrought is a writing discipline of its own, and that perhaps I am called to renounce–not that history–but the questionable fruit it produced and quit gnawing on a vine that gives no life.




Up next:

2. What makes your work different from others’ work in the same genre?

3. Why do you write what you do?

4. How does your writing process work?


And then (!) I will tag two more people to answer the same questions.

Like Patheos Catholic on Facebook!


About Elizabeth Duffy