Why Do You Write Like You’re Running Out of Time?

write like you're running out of time

Two mind-blowing, earth-shattering weeks ago, I joined the ranks of people who have officially seen Hamilton.

And yeah, it’s just as phenomenal as what you’ve heard. But enough #humblebrags. There is a point to this besides me needing an excuse to talk about its genius. Although I will take advantage of the opportunity. No shame in this girl’s musical theatre game.

I knew that I would be enthralled and obsessed and astounded and moved to sloppy tears. I was right, of course. The stage mesmerizes me in ways I can never explain. And that soundtrack will forever blare inside my brain. But one detail of Hamilton has stuck with me in particular—the sheer force of language, the depth and soul of words.

They’re like characters in the narrative. Breathing, pulsing, sweating, living just as the actors are. More than 20,000 words comprise the Hamilton manuscript, and a certain Alexander scrawls them into the art of revolution. What he creates with the flourish of a quill rouses the other Founding Fathers to pose my favorite question in the entire musical:  “Why do you write like you’re running out of time?”

I love it since I’ve been asking myself that same question for decades. So when I heard this turn-of-phrase chanted from the mouths of Washington, Jefferson, Madison and Burr, my first thought was, “This could make a dope tattoo.” My second thought was, “Here’s my next blog post.” Because I relate to Alex—I too write like I’m running out of time.

I have always written from the moment I learned how. Since the time I grasped that letters form sentences which contrive stories which animate worlds. This became more than a desire or passion—it was a necessity.

Intrinsic as hunger. Insistent as oxygen. Writing for me is a matter of survival. And like my dude Alexander, I’m consumed with the notion that words can speak to life resistance and deliverance.

Words make poets and iconoclasts out of ordinary people. Those who resemble me, and those who don’t. Our contrasts are not important—words are the equalizers. Under responsible direction, words turn strangers into lovers, enemies into allies. Words mobilize warriors and actualize movements. Words raise a sigh into a clamor. Words inflame conviction. Words effect change.

Words are the product of human minds and tongues and hearts. And writing is the heart’s semantic. Traced with fingertips, fleshed out with ink. Alex understood that words can either be decisive or divisive, so wielding this power justly is a delicate mission to undertake.

But for some, there’s no option or alternative. They write because their souls demand it. Because each minute elapsed is one minute less to craft the message this world needs to hear.

One minute less to spawn a gender reform wildfire through a hashtag and a keyboard. One minute less to dismantle broken policies or biased ideologies with the stroke of a “publish” button. One minute less to scream out for children on the border, people of color on the margin, and females on the witness stand. One minute less to collude with other renegades who are done status quo-ing.

One minute less to exercise the sharpest artillery we humans possess—our voices and our pens. So I imagine that’s why Hamilton wrote like he was running out of time. Because otherwise, he would have been.

That’s why he wrote each second he was alive. If he was like me, Hamilton needed writing to survive.

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