Today is my birthday, and I am forty-four on The 4th of July. I just finished reading Hamilton: The Revolution by Lin-Manuel Miranda and Jeremy McCarter which describes the creation of Miranda’s hit hip-hop Broadway musical about the life of Alexander Hamilton. It was refreshing to reading something that wasn’t a YA book and even more refreshing to live inside someone else’s creative process for a while. Especially given where I am on the revision of my manuscript.
In May I received three feedback letters from three trusted readers regarding my young adult novel in progress. The reaction was overwhelmingly positive. There were, of course, suggestions. These were suggestions that got me even more excited about my material. A naïve me thought I’d crank out revisions in May and be done by the end of the school year. Summer would be for submitting to agents. Then life happened, and a lot of May couldn’t be dedicated to writing. June I spent developing all of kinds of backstory I’d neglected. But there are no discrete holes in my latest draft into which to plug my new discoveries. As June ended, I quickly realized in order to fuse what I knew for sure about the story from the old draft with my new discoveries, a rewrite was in order –a fresh, clean draft written from beginning to end that made the old and the new inextricable. Part of me felt fidgety and impatient. I really don’t know how long this is going to take. Summer is a hard time to write with family home. I told myself that impatience is about finishing, about publishing, about wanting to prove to everyone who’s been floating me that I could make good. I told myself I can’t think about that. I have to think about writing. Uh-huh.
Then I read this book about Hamilton. The development of this musical –from Miranda’s reading of Chernow’ biography on vacation in Mexico to the Broadway run—ran more than six years. During a critical stage, the company worked on developing the show at The Public Theatre, and after opening to great success there, they hosted a press conference. Everyone thought they were going to announce their move to Broadway. But they didn’t. They said they would finish their run at The Public. Why? This bought them five more months to make changes before moving to Midtown. Playing to an audience, an audience that went crazy for this show, had inspired new ways they could plumb the depths of their subject. The decision is explained like this:
They would use it to rewrite, restage, and refine the show. They would add to new members to the ensemble, Emmy Raver-Lampman and Austin Smith. The critics liked what they had seen the first time, but Lin and his Cabinet planned to keep working until the critics saw it again –the moment in late July when the calendar was going to tell them “Pencils down,” in Tommy’s words. In short, they were going to apply one of the ringing lessons of A Chorus Line –and of Alexander Hamilton’s life, for that matter: Your time is short, use it all.
Through its entire journey Hamilton was in some phase of active creative process. Over and over again. Even after moving into its Broadway rehearsal studios, the creators played with their story. As Sara Zarr says, they held onto it loosely, and as the director, Tommy Kail urged, they continued to make “new discoveries, new mistakes.” There was no rush to be done. There was just creative fervor.
Reading this, it was the first time I had a picture of another artist in the same phase of his project as me, and there was not whining or mewling because the piece wasn’t done yet. There was only honesty about where they could dig in and go deeper. That is exactly the kind of artist I want to model myself after. So when people ask me about my book now, instead of sighing and hedging that it looks like I have a whole new rewrite ahead of me, I tell them the story of Hamilton. I could probably get an agent and even a book deal as my manuscript stands right now, but when you look at the results of Hamilton’s creators’ approach to the creative process, it’s pretty damn inspiring:
Hamilton had been, and was destined to remain, torrential. “What you can feel is the overflowing generosity of somebody who has tapped into the well of his subject, and it just keeps giving more and more.
So what do I tell people who ask where I am with my book? I tell them I’m finishing out my off-Broadway run downtown.