Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Writing inspiration: Why do you write like you're running out of time?

Hamilton was an exuberant genius who performed at a fiendish pace and must have produced the maximum number of words that a human being can scratch out in forty-nine years. 

--Ron Chernow, Alexander Hamilton, p. 5.

 I came to Alexander Hamilton through two sources:

1. I am and have been for some time a huge fan of Ron Chernow, having read his Washington biography, all 35+ hours of it. I have Nancy Isenberg's Fallen Founder but haven't read it yet. These are for fun reading (not related to work) and there hasn't been a lot of time recently to do any.

2. At one point in my life, probably the mid-century males portion of it, I read and reread obsessively Gore Vidal's Burr and, to a lesser extent, 1876. 

Burr was the best piece of fiction that Vidal ever wrote, at least that I read: Washington, D. C., the supposed third volume in the trilogy, although it had been written much earlier, was too louche and decadent, and the other American historical novels (Lincoln, Empire) relied too heavily on a few stylistic tricks.  Vidal was much better as an essayist.  But Burr was exceptional in Vidal's canon, maybe because the acerbic wit that Vidal brought to it seemed temperamentally suited to discussing Burr.

So, knowing that Chernow had written Washington, I downloaded his bio Alexander Hamilton and got about halfway through it when I started hearing about a musical based on it.

Yes, that one. 

I bought the soundtrack and am now obsessed with it.  Quite apart from the amazing lyrics, though, it's a great piece of writing inspiration for the story it tells.  Hamilton writes his way out of the West Indies, writes as Washington's "right-hand man," writes 51 (or so) of The Federalist Papers, which I think I last had to read some of in high school, and writes writes writes for the rest of his life.

One thing that struck me forcefully this time: Burr was 48 at the time of the duel and Hamilton was 49 (if you accept Chernow's date of 1755 for his birth).  Middle-aged. Old enough to know better, which makes the whole thing more sad, somehow.

But still, an inspiration to writers.

No comments: