We all have our heroes. Lin-Manuel Miranda is one of mine. In case you’ve been living in a cave, Miranda is the Pulitzer Prize, Emmy, Grammy, and Tony Award-winning creator and original star of HAMILTON: The Musical and IN THE HEIGHTS.
So when I heard that he was doing a Zoom event to celebrate the publication of IN THE HEIGHTS: Finding Home, a beautiful coffee-table book set to publish as Jon M. Chu’s film adaptation of the Broadway musical premiered, I signed up immediately. The event would also feature Miranda’s co-authors, Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright and librettist Quiara Alegría Hudes and Jeremy McCarter, author of Young Radicals and co-author of the #1 New York Times bestseller HAMILTON: The Revolution.
Tickets were available through your local independent bookstore; Miranda, who has re-opened the legendary Drama Book Shop in Manhattan, is a huge supporter of independents—and now an indie bookshop owner himself. I ordered my copy through the fab Gibson’s Bookstore. Packed with full-color backstage photos, essays, annotated lyrics, and more, the book chronicles the journey of IN THE HEIGHTS, from the fledgling student musical Miranda wrote when he was in college, to Broadway, and then on to the big screen twenty years later.
The Zoom event was great fun, and full of advice and inspiration for writers everywhere. Here are some highlights:
It takes pressure to make a diamond.
A reminder that a little stress—the right kind of stress—can be good for a writer. As we speak, I’m scrambling to reach The End of book four in my Mercy Carr series, due this week, and the pressure of the deadline forces me to focus. I need this hyper-focus to pull together all the loose ends of the plot and sub-plots in a believable and yet unpredictable way. Whether the work turns out to be a diamond or cubic zirconia remains to be seen, but at least the pressure will help transform it to something far prettier than coal. (And, yes, I know that diamonds don’t really come from coal, but they are polymorphs of carbon formed at very high temperatures and very high pressures.)
To me writing and acting are the very same thing.
Inhabiting characters is what writing characters is all about. It’s much like method acting. Getting into your characters’ heads, bodies, hearts, and souls is the key to creating authentic people who come to life on the page, just as actors bring them to life on the stage.
Note: This will also help you master point of view, if you’re having trouble with that.
Know why you’re in it.
— Quiara Alegría Hudes
Why do you want to be a writer? Why this particular story? Why this cast of characters? Why this setting? What are you really trying to say? If you can answer these questions, then you have a sense of purpose, you know your mission, you have your marching orders. So when the going gets tough—and it always gets tough—then you can make it through to the other side. Because you know why you’re in it.
The realm of the possible is much bigger than you think it is.
Writers are dreamers, and writing fiction is dreaming on paper. So dream big, in your writing life and in your “real” life. Fates favor the bold—so be bold. The only stories you’ll ever regret are the ones you didn’t tell.
You can’t control where it lands. All you can control is making it.
Forget agents and editors and contracts and advances and book tours and book reviews and bestseller lists. All those aspects of the publishing business over which you have no control. And about which worrying will help no one, least of all you. That’s just angst and energy spent on the trappings of being an author. What truly makes a writer is the writing. Keep writing.
It’s a calling. Do whatever you need to do to answer your calling.
What do you need to get your best work done? A new computer? A cabin in the woods? A babysitter? Whatever you feel will help you reach your goals—joining a sunrise writer’s group, attending a writer’s conference, getting an M.F.A.—go ahead and do it. Invest in your talent, invest in your dreams, invest in your writing self. Don’t expect other people—namely non-writers—to understand or approve or assist in any way. It’s your calling, so you need to fight for it, protect it, pursue it.
Which writers have inspired you? How are you answering your calling. Let’s talk more on Facebook….