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It was me all along: Donald Miller, a million miles and the next step

I’ll start with the disclaimers.

  1. Lots of other people are reviewing this book today because it is being released today.
  2. Many of us got free copies from Michael Hyatt
  3. (publisher, Thomas Nelson) because he offered them and we asked.
  4. This link for the book is to my Amazon store: A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life.

What I learned in the mirror

A couple weeks ago, Nancy and I went on a retreat. There were five other couples around, but the feel was more like “bed and breakfast” than spiritual seminar. We didn’t have wifi or much of a schedule. Most of us didn’t work on work. We woke up without alarms. We went to bed much earlier than home. It was nice.

Friday morning, the morning we were to leave, I woke up a bit earlier than usual. I went downstairs, made coffee, and sat on a sofa on one of the porches. When it was light out, it made a great place for watching birds. But this morning, it was dark.

I sat with a pen and a notecard and a pad of paper and a Bible and a book. I got up for my coffee. I started reading. I knew I had to write so I started writing a thank you card. I thought of something from the reading so I went to the library to find a book that would explain something. I went back to the sofa to write. But I started reading. I went back to writing.

I realized that it was me all along.

I was at the end of a week of quiet and reflection. There was no one around this early. There was no real list. There were none of my Internet distractions, no commercials, no unidentifiable noises, no dog scratchings. And yet I could not sit still, could not sit my mind still.

I did not, at that moment, like what I discovered.

It was me all along.

I much prefer to blame other people for distracting me, to excuse my lack of productivity by saying “it takes 15 minutes to recover deep thought after every interruption.” That’s probably true. But I am beginning to learn the name of the person who is at the top of the list of interrupters, this after being around him my whole life.

Donald Miller knows exactly what I’m talking about.

Donald MillerMiller  wrote a memoir (Blue Like Jazz: Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality) several years ago. Someone wanted to make it into a movie. In the process of looking at the Donald Miller character that was being adapted from the book to the movie, Miller realized that he and the screenwriters working with him had to rewrite the book as a story, rewrite the first-person narrator into a character.

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the book that he wrote to describe what happened when he started the rewriting process.

Miller studied story, particularly as taught by Robert McKee in his Story Seminar.  He learned that at the heart of a good story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it. And he realized that his life was a story and he was the lead character and the story was stalled.

The first third of the book gets us to the realization that he, his life, isn’t getting anywhere.  On page 92, we find this exchange between Miller and his friend Jordan:

“You’re right,” he finally said. “You aren’t living a good story.”

“That’s what I was saying.”

I see,” he said.

“What do I do about that?”

“You’re a writer. You know what to do.”

“No, I don’t.”

Jordan looked at me with his furrowed brow again.  “You put something on the page,” he said. “Your life is a blank page. You write on it.”

And the rest of the book is the story of how he rewrote his life from the inside, living as a character that wants something. The process takes him to Matchu Picchu, across America, to Indiana, and to the stories of several other people who are living as characters who want something and overcome conflict to get it.

What I’m learning in the mirror of this book

Because this is a story, not a set of rules or guidelines or strategies, I’ll not give you more details. If I did, I’d have to rewrite Miller’s story, and that is silly. But I can tell you what it is doing for me:

  • It’s making me think seriously about the story my life is telling. We, Nancy and I, are at the ’empty nest transition point.’ I don’t know whether that’s a chapter break or a new volume in the series, but I do know that it is a “And then everything changed” transition in the story. The way that Miller tells his own story of story is helping me think.
  • It’s showing me how I need to sharpen how I tell the stories that I tell, because I like to use story.
  • It’s an example of writing by a Christ follower that isn’t preachy, reducing truth to rules and formulas. Instead, he is telling the story of how he is living. And that is what following means.

I’ve got an extra copy, thanks to Michael Hyatt. If you’d like to borrow it and return it by passing it to someone else, let me know.

If I’ve raised any questions, ask them and I’ll try to answer.

If you are looking at doing some rewriting yourself–of yourself–take a look at this book.

Donald Miller. A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life. Nashville, Thomas Nelson, 2009.