Why You Didn't Write Hamilton
At 5:12 this morning (while pulling my 3rd all-nighter in the last two weeks, oops sorry Mom) I came to an incredible realization: I have the same number of hours in a day as Lin-Manuel Miranda. At first, this was extremely discouraging. He spends his 24 hours writing and performing and loving life. I spend my 24 hours sleeping and eating and watching Disney Channel (this is a slight exaggeration… I practice I swear). So of course, my next thought would naturally be, “Why didn’t I write Hamilton?” Possibly as a result of sleep deprivation, but possibly because I’m crazy, I started searching for a solution. The obvious answer is, “Because I’m not freaking brilliant, duh.” And that is definitely the number one explanation, but the more I thought, the more it became clear that it goes further than that. Miranda and all of his collaborators are human, after all. There are many people in the world who accomplish many things, and conversely, there are many people who don’t. So what brings one particular person to one particular accomplishment? And how can we open ourselves up to new opportunities for success?
- Read. The number two reason I did not write Hamilton is because I didn’t read. I didn’t read Ron Chernow’s Hamilton biography, and let’s be honest I didn’t even read the two-page handout about the Hamilton/Burr duel that was assigned in history class two years ago. In terms of this particular subject, as well as too many others to count, I am 100% uneducated. The most important thing we can do for ourselves and our creativity is to fill our heads with knowledge because human beings don’t think in lines. Instead, we think in webs: we try to connect events and people and names and the past and the future and ideas and pictures and sounds and ourselves. That’s how we learn from mistakes and laugh at jokes. It’s because we have a prior understanding of the subject, and the more we expand the base on which we stack our experiences, the more we can connect and the more we can create.
- Listen to hip hop. In a similar fashion to the whole reading thing, extending your musical vocabulary makes you more aware of what’s out there musically. For non-composers or even non-musicians, listening to different music exposes you to new culture and can often give you a new appreciation for certain things you like or don’t like. Hip hop/rap is particularly invigorating because your brain has to keep up with the fast-paced nature of the lyrics. Plus, everyone needs an Eminem day every once in a while.
- Pay attention to the world. Another huge reason I didn’t write Hamilton is because I don’t watch the news. Much of what makes Hamilton so brilliant is the way it connects so fluidly to what’s going on in politics right now. Lin-Manuel Miranda used his story-telling ability to make political statements about the current attitudes toward immigration, the way that we “don’t get a say in what [the government] trades away”, and the often biased way the government works (as seen in Hamilton’s success simply because he “got Washington in his pocket”). This easy connection was in part due to the close relationship between his subject and the ideas he was trying to convey… It would obviously be a little harder to connect political themes to a heartwarming tale about dogs who end up being the best of friends. But then maybe that’s not the story you want to tell or the message you want to convey. The story told through Hamilton connects with every single person in this country because we come together with the common characteristic of being in America. The impact matches the story, and in order to find the impact you want to make, it is so important to know what’s relevant to the world.
- Have a good team. Much of Hamilton’s success is due to Miranda’s association with wonderful people like Tommy Kail, Alex Lacamoire, David Korins, Andy Blankenbuehler, and Jeffrey Seller. There’s a reason every Tony acceptance speech starts with a list of thank you’s: having a strong support system of people who care about your work and you is imperative for success. Having collaborators who bring new ways to help you tell your story is such a great way to increase your story’s significance. And it’s okay if they think you’re a little crazy… when Alex Lacamoire first heard about the mixtape idea, he thought it was a joke.
- Be patient. A lot of times, I’m prone to giving up on projects because I think they’ll take too long and they’re not worth my time. The problem with that is that the time passes anyway, and at the end of the time period, I haven’t done anything. Five years passed between the conceptualization of The Hamilton Mixtape and the musical workshop with Tommy Kail and Alex Lacamoire, and then 2 more years passed before the show became what it is now. This man spent 7 years of his life on this project, and I give up when I think a piece will take longer than a few months. Ultimately, however, to have this kind of patience, you have to have immense passion; Your story has to be worth perfecting for years and years before you can even show it to anyone.
- Have an open mind. Last year, my composition teacher spoke extensively about making sure you don’t “fall in love with the first draft”. Be open to changing the things you create, because rough drafts are rough for a reason. Imagine if Lin-Manuel Miranda had only released a mixtape about Hamilton’s life as planned. Some of the songs would be the exact same, but would it have the same effect? Obviously, there’s no way to tell, but I don’t think Hamilton could have nearly the same scope of influence without the theatrical elements that make the story so much more clear and relatable. He made a huge change in his entire concept, because he was able to take a step back and recognize what would best convey his message. Without that ability to step back and evaluate what needs to change, we lose the potential for our work to be the best it can be.
Clearly, there’s so much more to Hamilton’s success, and Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alex Lacamoire are totally on my “hero list” for a reason, but I still wanted to write this encouraging little thingy because the sun was coming up and I needed to take a break (haha. wow I’m sorry). So all that to say: since you have the same number of hours as everyone else, don’t be discouraged! Instead, create with conviction knowing that you can achieve great things as long as your eyes and mind are open. The only reason you and I didn’t write Hamilton is because we didn’t decide to. So make the choice to be amazing! Have a wonderful day :)