Your Teachers - Permission

Big magic: creative living beyond fear - Elizabeth Gilbert 2015

Your Teachers

Do you want to study under the great teachers? Is that it?

Well, you can find them anywhere. They live on the shelves of your library; they live on the walls of museums; they live in recordings made decades ago. Your teachers don’t even need to be alive to educate you masterfully. No living writer has ever taught me more about plotting and characterization than Charles Dickens has taught me—and needless to say, I never met with him during office hours to discuss it. All I had to do in order to learn from Dickens was to spend years privately studying his novels like they were holy scripture, and then to practice like the devil on my own.

Aspiring writers are lucky in a way, because writing is such a private (and cheap) affair and always has been. With other creative pursuits, admittedly it’s trickier and can be far more costly. Strict, supervised training can be essential if you want to be, for instance, a professional opera singer, or a classical cellist. For centuries, people have studied at music conservatories, or dance or art academies. Many marvelous creators have emerged from such schools over time. Then again, many other marvelous creators did not. And many talented people acquired all that magnificent education, but never put it into practice.

Most of all, there is this truth: No matter how great your teachers may be, and no matter how esteemed your academy’s reputation, eventually you will have to do the work by yourself. Eventually, the teachers won’t be there anymore. The walls of the school will fall away, and you’ll be on your own. The hours that you will then put into practice, study, auditions, and creation will be entirely up to you.

The sooner and more passionately you get married to this idea—that it is ultimately entirely up to you—the better off you’ll be.