Often when you think of writers, you envision introverts or people who prefer to stay out of the spotlight. I’m not one of those people (though I’ll often pretend I don’t like the spotlight). So, finding writers to identify with can be a struggle from this perspective. I went to see the musical Hamilton last weekend with some friends and I think I have discovered two new writer heroes: Lin-Manuel Miranda and Alexander Hamilton. Both are people who relish (or at least don’t mind it) the spotlight and make/made waves in their own way.
The act of writing is often mistaken for being a small thing, particularly when you get outside of the publishing world. People don’t understand the level of work that goes into writing something. I give the analogy of solving a math problem when explaining what actually goes into writing. When you are working through an equation you (generally) show your work. But, in writing, people never see the work piece of it. All they see is the finished product. So, for them, it appears almost like magic. This happens in published works like books and magazines and in the office as well. But, the “work” part of a written piece involves considering and balancing several things such as audience, perspective, voice, and purpose (or CTA – call to action). Things get written and then rewritten. There’s often a research component that goes into writing something as the topic must be well understood before it can be presented properly on a page. I imagine that both Hamilton and Lin-Manuel Miranda experienced this in their careers.
I’ll be the first to admit, I don’t know much about Alexander Hamilton beyond what you typically learn in history class about the revolutionary war and then what I learned from listening to the musical (and subsequently seeing it performed live). So, if there are shady things about his opinions and perspectives that I am currently unaware of, please don’t take this post as an endorsement of those ideals.
But, here is what I do admire about Alexander Hamilton (based on what I’ve learned from the musical).
- He was apparently a prolific writer. The musical says he wrote thousands of pages. Wrote. By hand. Imagine what he could have done if he had a typewriter or a keyboard!
- He wasn’t afraid to tell people what he thought. I’m a girl who wears her heart on her sleeve, though I think I’m rather a bit more tempered than Hamilton was. He seemed to like to scandalize people, or at least he had no filter. I’m from the Midwest. I have a filter. 😛
- He went for what he wanted. Go him! I always admire people who have that drive. It reminds me that I need to keep working for what I want.
- He wrote correspondence for his superiors and colleagues. This is a major part of my job, so I can relate to his work. I know I often talk about the patient and donor storytelling work that I do in my day job. But, that’s only a small part of my responsibilities. I spend a significant portion of my time drafting personal correspondence and speeches/talking points for our CEO and members of the executive leadership team at my organization. While writing correspondence is important work, Hamilton wanted to make his own name. I’m less interested in making a name for myself (unless it’s as an author). But, I generally know the trajectory I want for my career. For him, being a secretary was settling. I don’t agree with that sentiment. But, I understand where he was coming from when he turned down the positions that he felt weren’t right for him.
There are a few other things that the musical Hamilton brought to light for me. Seeing a writer glorified for the deftness of his tongue and his pen was an especially gratifying experience due to the rarity of its occurrence. Additionally, witnessing Lin-Manuel Miranda’s genius in person was truly a pleasure and an experience.
I think Lin-Manuel and Hamilton resemble each other in a way and I wonder if he identified with Hamilton at all when he first started learning about his life and history. I can easily see how other writers could identify with someone like Hamilton. They both are revolutionary: Hamilton with his ideals, his persistence and the entities that he crafted for our government. And Lin-Manuel for the way he picked apart something we thought we knew well—the musical—and created something shiny and new out of it, all while sending a beautiful message about immigration and what immigrants bring to our vast nation and reminding us of our history and where we as a nation come from.
If you ever get the chance to experience Hamilton, I urge you to do it! Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius and of a caliber that is a rarity among artists. He has revitalized the genre of the musical, the history of the founding of the United States, and he jump-started interest in a historical figure who really had faded into the background as far as the majority of us were concerned.
What Lin-Manuel Miranda has done is what writers aspire to do. The writers who are preserved and remembered are those who made an impact on society with their social commentary/critique: like Hamilton. For me, seeing Hamilton and experience Lin-Manuel’s work was a special moment. It was a reminder of the significant role writers can play in the world and to keep reaching for what I want.