Saturday, May 7, 2016

Write Like You're Running Out of Time

Like most people, I have become a fan of (*cough* obsessed with *cough*) the musical Hamilton. Despite the fact that I used to think history was boring, know little to nothing about hip-hop or rap, and haven't actually seen the musical, I've been listening to the soundtrack on repeat for months. One of my favorite songs is "Non-Stop."

The song centers around Alexander Hamilton writing the Federalist Papers in support of the US Constitution. Long story short: Hamilton wrote 51 important essays in a span of six months.

Through the lyrics of Hamilton's genius writer and creator, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Aaron Burr asks Hamilton a series of...well...fairly reasonable questions:

"Why do you write like you're running out of time?

Write day and night like you're running out of time?

Why do you write like it's going out of style?

Write day and night like it's going out of style?

How do you write like tomorrow won't arrive?

How do you write like you need it to survive?

How do you write every second you're alive?"

I have to think if Hamilton were alive today, he'd teach the ultimate workshop on how to avoid writer's block and make writing a priority. Getting tickets would probably be harder than getting tickets to the musical, but I digress.

As a writer, I find these lyrics convicting and inspiring. Realistically, we all know we're running out of time. We don't know if tomorrow will arrive.

But do we write like that?

Five years ago, I might not have related to this song as much as I do now. Five years ago, like most twenty-somethings, I thought I was invincible. An exercise regimen led to a foot injury that proved I wasn't a teenager anymore, but still. I wore an air cast, and my foot got better.

But then I developed pain in my calf. It hurt so bad it kept me up at night and made me cry into my cereal at breakfast. My leg and foot swelled. My doctor was pretty sure it was a muscle strain from the cast but sent me for a test to rule out a blood clot. The ultrasound technician did her work and called in the radiologist, who told me I did have a blood clot, deep vein thrombosis, and needed to go straight to the emergency room.

Slightly stunned, I went to get up from the table, but the technician stopped me. "Don't walk," she said. "We'll get you a wheelchair."

What I didn't know at the time was that if any part of the clot in my leg broke off and traveled to my lungs, heart, or brain, I could die. Learning there's something inside your body that can kill you at any minute is rather sobering. I was admitted to the hospital, placed on blood thinners, and eventually allowed to walk and go home.

A month later, I felt a familiar pain in my thigh. Another ultrasound, another blood clot, another hospital stay. Another reminder that I was far from invincible.

Looking back, it makes sense that the book I wrote during this time, Where You'll Find Me, was my first to be published. Though I didn't have a constitution to defend, I did have a goal to accomplish and a realization that life is short. Like Hamilton, I wrote non-stop, and my tenacity paid off.

Fast forward to 2013. My doctors deemed me well enough to stop taking blood thinners, hoping my body had worked out whatever had gone wrong. Not long after, I woke up with pain in my other calf and immediately knew I had another DVT. While I waited for an ultrasound of my leg, my chest started hurting. As much as I hoped and prayed the pain was just caused by my anxiety, a CT scan revealed that what I'd feared had happened: part of the clot in my leg had broken off and traveled to my left lung.

It feels weird to say I was lucky, but I was. For 25% of people with a pulmonary embolism, the first symptom is sudden, unexpected death. Obviously I lived to tell about it, and thanks to a new medication I've been free of blood clots for three years, but that same medication comes with life-threatening risks. Right now, the benefits outweigh those risks, but every time I take that pill, every time I hear the lyrics to "Non-Stop," I'm reminded that each day is a gift, not a promise.

Hamilton had wisdom to impart. Lin-Manuel Miranda had a story to tell. So do I. So do you.

Don't wait until next year to write that novel.

Don't wait until next month to revise that chapter.

Don't wait until tomorrow to share your story.

Do it now.

Write like you're running out of time.

Write like you need it to survive.

And if you somehow stumbled across this post and you're not a writer?

Paint like it's going out of style.

Dance day and night like you're running out of time.

Run like tomorrow won't arrive.

Be you every second you're alive.

Don't throw away your shot.