If “Hamilton” Needed Multiple Drafts, So Do We
Weekly preaching, small group lessons, newsletter articles, email devotions… We write constantly, and sometimes a first draft is going to have to do because it’s all we have time for.
But sometimes we finish a first draft and just know it needs work. It doesn’t do what we want it to do. It hasn’t captured the feel or communicated the idea we were shooting for. It may be a great foundation, but we know it’s not our best work.
This can be discouraging. And it’s easy to compare our first draft with everyone else’s final drafts—because it’s pretty much all we see.
Think about it: we are surrounded by final drafts. Published books, edited articles, polished posts, filtered photos… We can fool ourselves into thinking that all of this work came out fully formed. Or that the first drafts were amazing and just needed a few tweaks here and there.
That’s why I’m always encouraged when creative people are willing to pull back the curtain and share the process of creating great art.
There is no one better at doing this right now than Lin-Manuel Miranda, the composer of the smash hit “Hamilton.” I previously wrote a post about how he got the idea for the show (and what we can learn from that idea), but since then, he has shared even more.
One of Lin-Manuel’s friends is a filmmaker, and as soon as they realized he was working on something potentially significant, they began filming. The result was a documentary interweaving the story of the historical Alexander Hamilton and the 7-year process of creating the show. It includes incredible footage like Lin-Manuel writing in Aaron Burr’s actual bedroom:
But even the documentary is a somewhat idealized presentation. Sure, it took 7 years, and we see clips of Miranda plugging away like the one above…
But the show is genius!
Lin-Manuel Miranda is a genius!
Surely, what we couldn’t see on his computer screen was the slow-coming but perfect first-and-only draft, right?
Wrong. Like all great works, there were many iterations. And Lin-Manuel has given us another gift by releasing 8 demos, including some first drafts of now famous numbers from “Hamilton”:
Some of them, like fan favorite “My Shot,” did not change that much. Score one for the genius. But others changed dramatically.
My favorite example is track 4, “Your Obedient Servant.” This song attempts to dramatize the intense letters exchanged by Aaron Burr and Alexander Hamilton leading up to their fatal duel. Compare the first draft above with the final version below:
Pretty different, huh? The first draft isn’t bad. It does a great job giving us details from the historical letters, and it does some really amazing things with rhythm and style. But, especially as a build up to the climax of the show, that’s not what was most important.
What the audience needed was a clear picture of how this relationship deteriorated so quickly. We needed to see how these two men could go from opposing one another politically to opposing one another with pistols on a dueling ground.
The final version magnificently keeps the focus on the characters, their relationship, and their motivations while still giving a window into history. It even takes the seeds of humor present in the first draft and develops them into genuinely funny moments that reinforce how ridiculous this battle over pride actually was.
The first draft would not have worked in the final show, but the final version needed the bones of the first to build upon. Even the great Lin-Manuel Miranda needed more than one draft, and we need to be reminded of that from time to time.
When a first draft doesn’t turn out as great as you hope, don’t get discouraged. And when you do get a chance to take a second (or even third!) pass at something, remind yourself that it is not a sign of weaknesses. It could be the difference between good enough and your best work.