“I was on my way to my friend’s birthday party when that lyric showed up, when death doesn’t discriminate showed up in my head.”
“Anytime you’re going to put something new into the world, there’s a million people who will tell you how they’ve done it better before.”
“And he’s a really reserved guy, and went, ‘That is the most incredible idea.'”
“No one’s going to write you’re dream thing for you, you’ve got to make it.”
– Lin-Manuel Miranda
Evan: He’s an American actor, composer, rapper and writer.
He’s best known for creating and starring in the Broadway musicals Hamilton and In the Heights.
He’s won a Pulitzer Prize, two Grammies, an Emmy and three Tony Awards, among others.
He’s Lin Manuel Miranda, and here’s my take on his top 10 rules of success.
Rule number one is my personal favorite, and make sure to stick around all the way to the end for some special bonus clips.
Also, as he’s talking, if he says something that really, really resonates with you, please leave it in the comments below, and put quotes around it so other people can be inspired as well. Enjoy.
Rule #1: Push Through
All the time, and then you push through it. You push through it because what’s the alternative? You’re going to leave that idea stuck in your head forever? That sucks. The alternative is, you go through life, and you had this great idea, and nothing came of it ’cause you got tired.
And yeah, sometimes you don’t go to the party that all your friends are at because the idea is calling to you in that moment. “Wait for It” is a great example of that. I was on my way to my friend’s birthday party when that lyric showed up, when death doesn’t discriminate showed up in my head. Idea came on the A down.
“You push through it because what’s the alternative? You’re going to leave that idea stuck in your head forever? That sucks. The alternative is, you go through life, and you had this great idea, and nothing came of it ’cause you got tired.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
I started writing it down on the train like Anita of the A train. Break dancers are dancing, and I have my headphones on, I get out. The whole chorus comes all at once. I write it down, and I suddenly see the shape of the whole song. I was like, the chorus is Burr, that’s who he is.
I go into my friend’s party. I go, “Hey, what’s up, man? “Happy birthday. “I got to go.” I get on the L train, and I write the rest of the song on the way back home. From the L, to the A, back up to 207 Street. You have to do that sometimes. You have to say no to your friends to say yes to your work, because what are you going to do, lose that idea because you decided to have a drink with your friends? It’s not worth it. Your friend’ll be there.
Rule #2: Be Motivated By Rejections
Yes, the answer is yes. You always get a lot of rejection anytime you’re going to put something new into the world, there’s a million people who will tell you how they’ve done it better before, or how that’s already been done or how it’s not going to work. And you have to look at those as motivators, just like if you’re going into acting, you can’t look at auditioning as a way of getting a job.
You have to look at auditioning as the job, because that’s what you’re going to spend the majority of your time doing. And if you love it, getting the job is gravy. So sure. The trickiest thing is continuing to work, and I was very lucky with Heights that I had Tommy Kail, because I had someone who wasn’t me saying bring in something Friday. Bring in something on Friday. This is good. This part feels weird. Bring in another song on Friday every week for eight years.
“You always get a lot of rejection anytime you’re going to put something new into the world, there’s a million people who will tell you how they’ve done it better before, or how that’s already been done or how it’s not going to work. And you have to look at those as motivators, just like if you’re going into acting, you can’t look at auditioning as a way of getting a job.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
Rule #3: Act On Your Crazy Ideas
Interviewer: You sent unfinished work to Stephen Sondheim for him to critique. What was that like?
Well, it was pretty well polished by the time I sent it to him.
Interviewer: I was going to say. Steve, just tell me what you think. I mean, how does that work, and are you really, really apprehensive?
Hamilton’s a crazy idea. It’s a crazy idea, but in my head, it was a really good idea, and sometimes what you need are people to just not say that’s a terrible idea. And you have to be very careful about who you let in when you have a good idea, because people can crush it for you.
People can go, oh, I would stick to this other thing. And if you trust that person, and you love that person, it can really affect your own view of your work. I’ve learned that the hard way. I’ve had ideas die in front of me, because people I respect go, mm, maybe not that one so much.
“Hamilton’s a crazy idea. It’s a crazy idea, but in my head, it was a really good idea, and sometimes what you need are people to just not say that’s a terrible idea. And you have to be very careful about who you let in when you have a good idea, because people can crush it for you.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
When I was on vacation, and I picked up Chernow’s book, and I started reading it and reading it my wife and being like, “There’s something here, right? “I’m not a crazy person.” And my wife was like, “No, that’s a really cool idea.” Like that’s as responsible for this as anything.
And I remember when I first met Sondheim. It was to do translations for the last revival of West Side Story, and we talked shop, and we talked about what I should translate, what I shouldn’t. And we talked about that for about half an hour, and then he asked me, “What are you thinking about next?” ‘Cause Heights was running at the time.
It was its first year. And I said, “I think I have this “idea for Alexander Hamilton.” And he threw up his head and made this, and he’s a really reserved guy, and he went, “That is the most incredible idea.” But I just instantly got it, and I was like oh.
And that’s also as responsible for us being here as anything, that early encouragement. ‘Cause his whole thing, and he’s proved it with his career, is continue to vary and lean into what scares you and lean into what people don’t think makes a good musical and make that.
Rule #4: Experience Life
Now listen, this show ain’t medicine. It’s not like you take a hit of Hamilton and you start making good decisions. Would that it were. It’s a show. It’s a musical. It’s not going to cure your hiccups, and it’s not going to cure your rash. It’s an evening of entertainment, but what I think it does, across the board, and I know this from the 3:00 a.m. emails I get from the friends who have seen it, is because Hamilton did so much in his short time on earth, it forces you to reckon with what you’re doing with your time.
The last words of the show are time and who tells your story. Who lives, who dies, who tells your story. And so you leave the theater wondering, “Who tells my story?” And that’s always a good perspective to have, I think. I think we get so caught up in the day-to-day of living. Thornton Wilder taught it to us in Our Town, how many of us really experience life while we’re living it? And I think the takeaway from Hamilton is a bracing reminder to do that.
Rule #5: Seize Every Moment
I think Hamilton was ready to die from the time he was 14 years old. I think what he has is what I have, which is that thing of tomorrow’s not promised. I got to get as much done as I can. So I think he had this curious fascination with and obsession with death, ’cause he saw it at such a young age. His mother died in bed next to him. They both got sick, she never got better. So what does that do to you? What does that do to your psyche?
Charlie: What does it do to you?
What does it do to me?
Well, it makes me think that my main character’s got, you know, he sees death everywhere. I know I do.
Charlie: That’s my point. You just said to me that what he had in him, I have in me.
Charlie: Do it, do it, do it.
Do it, yeah. And we can say, well, yes, but we get things done, and we still have to plan for next week. Hamilton had an appointment on the books that day that he went to that duel in the morning. He still was going to have lunch that day. He didn’t know he was going to die. A part of him thought he might die that morning, but he also had plans, you know? And that’s how we all live.
Charlie: To live a great life, you must be prepared to fail, sure, and to die maybe as well.
Yeah, and that’s why the things that are the scariest to us are those seeds we plant that might outlive us, having children, getting married. You’re putting into the world things that you might not live out to see, and it’s so scary, but it’s also so hopeful.
Rule #6: Do What You Love
Interviewer: What words of advice do you have about choosing to be an artist for a career?
If you want to do anything else, do it. That’s not a glib comment to scare you away. That’s not even a joke. It’s you will not make your rent by being an artist. You will not live a comfortable life. You will not afford a house in the Montclair school district being an artist, you won’t.
“Figure out the job that allows you time to feed your soul that way, and then everything else is gravy.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
You will if you beat insurmountable odds and have an extraordinary amount of good luck, as I have had. But if it is something that you can’t help but do anyway. If it’s the thing you’re doing when no one’s paying you to do it, then if they pay you to do it, it’s going to be gravy.
So what I would say is figure out the job that you like that will pay your rent if you want to be an artist. Figure out the job that allows you time to feed your soul that way, and then everything else is gravy.
Rule #7: Make Your Dreams A Reality
I think it’s forged in part by I couldn’t see a way for me to have a career in musical theater based on the musicals that already existed. I don’t dance well enough to play Bernardo or Paul in A Chorus Line, and I don’t really have an operatic enough voice to play The Man of La Mancha.
And if you’re a Latino dude, that’s all you get. Or that’s all you got for a while. That was the reality. My senior year in high school, there was a musical called The Capeman by Paul Simon. It was written by Paul Simon.
“No one’s going to write your dream thing for you, you’ve got to make it.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
It starred Marc Anthony, Ruben Blades, Ednita Nazario. If you were to write my dream collaborators and cast, you would’ve created The Capeman. And it came and went. It was sort of a notorious Broadway flop, and it was also, in addition to opening and closing very quickly, it was like a slap across the face, hey, no one’s going to write your dream musical. No one’s going to do it for you. And that’s when I started, I think In the Heights was born out of the ashes of The Capeman.
It was out of the ashes of no one’s going to write your dream thing for you, you’ve got to make it. I had been writing one act musicals in high school, and I doubled down on that, because I realized the only way to have a career in this world that I loved, Conrad Birdie, gold lame jacket, was to write it.
And that’s what In the Heights was. In the Heights was my way of writing a Latino storyline in which we never played gang members once. And that was, I felt, very well explored by the musical theater community section, Puerto Rican gang members. You guys got it, zoot suit, West Side Story, Capeman, well covered. Let’s cover the million other things Latinos do.
Rule #8: Don’t Compromise
I’m out of college, I’m 23 years old and Tommy Kail and I are meeting with a veteran theater producer. To pay rent, I am a professional substitute teacher at my old high school, Tommy is Audra McDonald’s assistant. Tommy is directing In the Heights, and with his genius brain in my corner, my 80-minute one-act is now two acts.
This big-deal theater producer has seen a reading we put on in the basement of the drama bookshop in Midtown Manhattan, and he is giving us his thoughts. We hang on his every word, this is a big-deal theater producer, and we are kids desperate to get our show on.
We are discussing the character of Nina Rosario, home from her first year at Stanford, the first in her family to go to college. The big-deal theater producer says, “Now, I know “in your version, Nina’s coming home with a secret “from her parents, she’s lost her scholarship.
“The song is great, the actress is great. “What I’m bumping up against, fellas, is that “this doesn’t feel high stakes enough. “Scholarship, big deal. “What if she’s pregnant? “What if her boyfriend at school hit her? “What if she got caught with drugs? “It doesn’t have to be any of those things.
“You’re the writer, but do you see what I’m “getting at, guys, a way to ramp up “the stakes of your story?” I resist the urge to crack my shoulder. We get through the meeting, and Tommy and I, again alone, look at each other. He knows what I’m going to say before I say it. “Pregnant?” “I know.” “Nina on drugs.” “I was there.” “But he wants to put our show up.” Tommy looks at me, “That’s not the story “you want to tell, and it’s not the show “I want to direct.
“There are ways to raise the stakes “that are not that. “We’ll just keep working.” If I could get in a time machine and watch any point in my life, it would be this moment. The moment where Tommy Kail looked at uncertain, frazzled me, desperate for a production and a life in this business, tempted and said no for us.
I keep subbing, he keeps working for Audra. We keep working on In the Heights for five years until we find the right producers in Jill Furman and Kevin McCollum and Jeffrey Seller. Until Philly Native Quiara Hudes becomes my co-writer and reframes our show around a community instead of a love triangle. Until Alex Lacamoire and Bill Sherman take my songs and make them come to life through their orchestrations. It will be another five years before Heights reaches Broadway, exactly as we intended it.
Rule #9: Master Your Craft
Interviewer: How you were able to learn and improve your freestyle rap skills.
Oh, this is a great question. You’re kidding yourself if you think anyone comes by it naturally. It’s a power that you have to develop over time, and when I was in high school, I was too shy to do it. I had friends in high school who were really good at it, and I was the beat boxing kid.
I was like pss, pss, no, no, not me, pass it, pass it. I don’t have anything, I don’t have anything. And then in college, I guess I had written so much by the time I got into college that I started doing it for fun with my friends and just getting less and less afraid. I can remember one college road trip I took. I was with three friends. We decided to drive, I don’t recommend this. We decided to drive to Vegas and back in a week.
From Connecticut to Vegas and back. Everyone who left us was like, “They’re never coming back.” But I got the Kansas 1:00 a.m. to 5:00 a.m. shift. So it’s me driving. All we have are these cans of Red Bull, and everyone else in the car is passed out. I remember popping in, we made a bunch of mix tapes for the ride. We’d worn them all out by the time we got 20 hours in, but I just started drinking Red Bulls and popping in these hip-hop cassettes and rapping to myself like ♫ I am in Kansas. ♫ I’m crazy man. ♫ This is crazy ♫ And just literally talking to myself for four hours.
“You’re kidding yourself if you think anyone comes by it naturally. It’s a power that you have to develop over time, and when I was in high school, I was too shy to do it. I had friends in high school who were really good at it, and I was the beat boxing kid.” – Lin-Manuel Miranda
By the time we survived Kansas, it was the next person’s time to drive, I was good at freestyling. It was a long, lonely night of the soul. There’s nothing to see in Kansas at night. It’s just like gas station, barn, gas station, barn, and by the end of it, I knew what rhymed.
Then Freestyle Love Supreme is the other part of that. I am in a hip-hop improv group where we do shows where we don’t plan what’s going to happen. We get suggestions from the audience.
We have a beat boxer, we have two guys on keys, and we just make up the show. And we just forced ourself into that insane situation and did it until we got good at it. So I’ve had my Malcolm Gladwellian 10,000 hours of practice at that, and now it’s almost like an Instagram filter in my brain, like if I make an acceptance speech at the Grammy’s or at the Tony’s, it’s easier for me to make it rhyme than to have to speak as myself. I find that less, like when I did the Jimmy Fallon thing, I was much less nervous to play Wheel of Freestyle than I was to talk as myself, sitting on the couch.
Rule #10: Perform Amazingly
Jimmy: Here’s how it’s going to work, I’m going to hit this button here, which activates a random word generator, and it’ll land on three random words, and it’s your job to work all three of them into a freestyle rap. Sound good?
Jimmy: Okay, good. Great, now since I’m not a freestyle rapper, tonight you’ll be facing off against our very own Tariq Trotter from The Roots.
This is the dream.
Jimmy: All right, here you go. Here’s the microphone here. Let me push the button, or you push the button and start the word generator. This is big time.
No whammies, no whammies, no whammies!
No whammies! Here we go. Rainbow, pancake, slam dunk. Now, he’s not heard these words before, so this is not rehearsed. Rainbow, pancake, slam dunk. Roots, can you give him a beat?
♫ Microphone check, what is this ♫ I find my rainbow flag LGBTQ business ♫ Oh yes, I got so much love to give ♫ I look at the colors it’s like roygbiv ♫ I started from the bottom like my man Drake ♫ I fly in it, flour, eggs, like a pancake ♫ Oh yeah, I’ll bring any style you brung out ♫ I slam dunk like Michael Jordan ♫ With his tongue out like that ♫
Jimmy: Oh my gosh, oh my gosh! Michael Jordan with his tongue out, come on. Oh my gosh, how do you do that? Woo! That was awesome. Man oh man, that was fantastic.
Pres. Obama: This is some serious business right here.
Lin: Are we in the Rose Garden right now?
Pres. Obama: We are, this is the Rose Garden right here. It must be a little nerve wracking. I hope I don’t drop these cards.
Man: You ready, guys?
Pres. Obama: You ready? We gettin’ the cue?
I’m all set.
Pres. Obama: All right, drop the beat.
♫ He’s throwin’ up some words ♫ I’m gettin’ to say some freestyling that you never heard ♫ Constitution, the POTUS ♫ I’m freestylin’, you know this ♫ Obamacare okay, I’m lookin’ up ♫ because it was hopeless before ♫ You enacted that system ♫ The Federalist Papers, Hamilton wrote ♫ The other 51 and greater
♫ And Sunny and Bo, it’s canine ♫ It’s insane, asinine ♫ Oh my gosh, I’m freestylin’ down the line ♫ NASA, I want to see if we can get over to Mars ♫ And wrap more bars, let’s spit bars ♫ And leave a carbon footprint on it ♫ And lower my emissions ♫ And this is Lin Man freestylin’ ♫ And Congress this is transmission
♫ I’m hopin’ Congress works to our agenda ♫ Innovation’s important, you really got to ♫ Center yourself to create something ♫ We need a new justice for the Supreme Court ♫ In short, oh my gosh, this is my book report ♫ And immigrants, we get the job done
♫ This is so fun ♫ POTUS is holdin’ up the signs ♫ I’m not done ♫ It’s the Oval Office, oh my gosh ♫ I can’t believe I’m there ♫ It’s so much more intimidating than if it was square ♫ Opportunity knocks and I can’t stop ♫ I’m here with the president and my pops ♫ And yo the mike drops ♫
Pres. Obama: How good is that? You think that’s goin’ viral? That’s goin’ viral.
Man: Yes, sir.
I did not see those words prior.
Evan: So thank you guys again for watching. I believe in you. I hope you continue to believe in yourself and whatever your one word is. Much love, I’ll see you soon.
Express Your Creativity
I think of mix tapes as sonic love letters, and I think a lot of my creative energy in high school was literally making mix tapes to girls I liked, for friends of mine who I wanted them to get to know who I was. It was easier for me to say this 90 minutes on this Maxell cassette tape defines who I am.
And the difference between a mix tape or a mix CD or a data CD or whatever they have now, is that you have to listen to it consecutively. So I’m taking you on a ride. I’m going to start with a high-energy song.
I’m going to switch it up, and I might put in a funny interlude from like an Adam Sandler CD or something. And then I’m going to hit you with, my fourth song’s always the most important. That’s the one that tells you who I really am.
Charlie: The fourth?
The fourth one, it’s batting cleanup. It’s literally fourth in the lineup. I think I still build scores the way I used to make mix tapes for girls. I’m thinking of, okay, we’ve been in this energy for a while, now I got to wake you up. All right, now we can afford to sit in a ballad for a little while.
And so when I read Ron’s book, and I started thinking about it, I thought of it the way I thought of making mix tapes for my friends. I’m going to take you on this ride, and the ride’s going to happen to tell you the story of this man’s life.
Charlie: And the first step is to draw you in?
Yes. The first song on a mix tape is everything. It depends whether you, if you fast forward through the first song, you messed up. Right? You’re not going to press play.
When you get a good role, like, I’m not tired of playing Hamilton. I mess up in a new place every night. I get one certain part better than I’ve ever gotten it every night. I think I will be revisiting it for the rest of my life. But it’s no accident the best idea I ever had happened on vacation. So that’s important, too, as Arianna Huffington knows. Resting is just as important, and I always knew I’d do a year. I did a year when I was in In the Heights. That’s my capacity, and then I can let other ideas into my brain.
Take A Shot
♫ And I am not throwing away my shot ♫ I am not throwing away my shot ♫ Hey yo, I’m just like my country ♫ I’m young, scrappy and hungry ♫ And I’m not throwing away my shot ♫ I am not throwing away my shot ♫ I am not throwing away my shot ♫ Hey yo, I’m just like my country
♫ I’m young, scrappy and hungry ♫ And I’m not throwing away my shot ♫ We going to rise up ♫ We going to rise up ♫ We going to rise up, rise up ♫ It’s time to take a shot ♫ Rise up, rise up, it’s time to take a shot ♫ Rise up, it’s time to take a shot ♫ Take a shot, shot, shot, shot
♫ It’s time to take a shot ♫ It’s time to take a shot ♫ I’m not throwing away my shot ♫ I am not throwing away my shot ♫ I am Alexander Hamilton ♫ Hamilton, just you wait ♫ I am not throwing away my shot ♫