Dani Shapiro
July 5, 2011

On Comparing

Years ago, I came across the following line from The Gnostic Gospels: If you bring forth what is within you, it will save you.  If you do not bring forth what it within you, it will destroy you.  From the moment I first read these words, they have never left me.  They seem to encapsulate powerful, even profound, wisdom about how to live, and how to write.  We can only be who we are.  So simple, really, and yet so hard to remember on a daily basis.  If we try to be someone else, or to write like someone else, not only are we perverting our very nature, but–in more practical terms–we are creating work that cannot possibly ring true.

Sure, there have been times that I’ve looked to other writers.  Times when I have compared myself to them.  Times when I wished that my work were…edgier, say.  I have never fit into the post-modern, hyper-aware, ironic and hip coterie of my particular generation of writers.  Instead, my work has tended to be highly personal, whether in an obvious sense when I write memoir, or in a more veiled sense (sometimes veiled even to myself) in my fiction.  My obsessions and concerns, my history, my psychological and emotional reality are my interior blueprint:  the place from which my work springs.

It cannot be otherwise.

Lately I have been thinking of my own particular trajectory, and have begun to feel stirrings of gratitude for this path I’m on.  Seven (going on eight) books into this writing life, if I were to stop and compare, I might become stymied.  I might, in fact, have to crawl under my bed and stay there for a while.  I have had friends who have soared to the tops of bestseller lists.  Friends who have won the most major prizes that exist to be won.  Friends who are having trouble selling their next manuscripts.  Friends who wonder if they can keep doing this, when the response to their books has been resounding silence.  I have friends who are rich and friends who are broke.  Friends I try not to envy, and friends I suspect envy me.   And all the while, I have one job, and one job only: to bring forth what is within me.  To hew as closely and as carefully as I can, to listen well, to my own, singular, idiosyncratic vision.  Not because it’s brilliant, or important, or worthy.  But because it is mine.