If you haven’t at least heard about Hamilton, you’ve been living under a rock. But if for some reason you’ve missed the hype, I’ll give you a brief introduction.
Hamilton is the rap/hip-hop musical that long-time Broadway fans and Broadway newbies alike can’t stop talking about. Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a crazy good dramatic portrayal of our first Secretary of the Treasury, Alexander Hamilton.
12 Writing Lessons from Hamilton
Alexander Hamilton also wrote. Like a lot. And there’s a ton we can learn from him and the musical Hamilton.
Here are twelve of those things, drawn from the lyrics of the musical.
1. Write like you’re running out of time
Imagine today is your last day to write. Ever. What would you write? What would take precedence? Write it all down, everything and anything, even the seemingly meaningless parts. You never know what’ll be valuable.
2. Say no
Writing takes a lot of time and energy, and sometimes it will require you to say no to an outing or special event. Figure out what your priorities are and what you can skip out on.
3. Get a right hand man
It’s hard to do everything on your own. If you want your writing to get anywhere in the world, you’ll need to find someone to lighten your load and support you in your creative endeavors. That person will be your cheerleader, second set of eyes, and trusted advisor. Just be sure to thank them for all of their help.
4. Work, work
There’s no doubt about it, writing is fun. But it’s also hard work. Your blood, sweat, tears, and soul go into every word you pour onto the page. Finding the right words can prove to be more difficult than a vigorous workout session or solving a complicated math problem. Be prepared to work a lot.
5. Passionately smash every expectation
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.
If you surprise yourself, chances are you’ll surprise the reader. Whenever you set out to write something, acknowledge the first couple of ideas that pop into your head. But don’t hold them too tightly—wait for the third and fourth ideas to bubble up, the ones more likely to be fresh and unexpected. Don’t settle for predictable or cliché story developments; seek out twists and turns that surprise even you.
6. Make a million mistakes
You can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.
Perfectionism is a writer’s worst enemy. If you wait to find the perfect word before you write, you’ll never write any words. Give yourself permission to make a million mistakes as you draft your stories. Later, when you edit, you’ll be able to replace those mistakes with polished prose.
7. Write your way out of hell
Horrible situations can have silver linings. Often, beauty comes from pain. Writing about the worst period of your life can be therapeutic and also produce a powerful piece of writing that connects deeply with your readers.
8. Tell the story of tonight
What are you passionate about writing? That passion may fade in and out during a long and grueling writing process. But if you’re not passionate about your idea from the start, it will be difficult to persevere, and your writing will suffer. Genius writing comes from passion. Tell the story you love to write.
9. With every word, drop knowledge
Once you’ve begun the revision process on a draft, cut everything that isn’t necessary. Unless that particular word or sentence is helping to serve a specific purpose for the piece, you don’t need it. That blank space is precious. Use it wisely.
10. Take a break
Writing tirelessly is something we’ve all gone through and will probably go through again, but everyone needs a break every once in a while. Don’t forget to relax along the way.
11. Don’t throw away your shot
If something comes around that looks like a once in a lifetime opportunity, chances are, it probably is. Take that chance. Even if it seems crazy or impossible, give it your best shot and go after it. You never know what will come from crazy and impossible ideas.
12. Prove that you’re worth more than anyone bargained for
People are going to doubt and criticize you throughout your writing career. It’s just part of the job description. It’ll probably hurt and make you second-guess yourself, but here’s a reminder: only you can write what’s in your head. Nobody else can do that.
Don’t let the naysayers stop you—write, and as you do, you’ll prove to the haters and critics that you’re worth more than they thought you were.
Now, Go Write
Lin-Manuel Miranda wrote a fantastic musical chock-full of writing wisdom. Now that you’ve been inspired by his great work, go write your own.
What have you learned from Hamilton? Let me know in the comments.
Write like you’re running out of time and tell the story of tonight. For fifteen minutes, write about whatever is on your mind and getting you excited to write, and don’t worry about the mistakes you make along the way. You can always fix them later.
Share the finished product of your practice in the comments. Don’t forget to give your fellow writers a little love, too. Have fun!