by Donald Miller

I started thinking differently about life when I met a couple of filmmakers who wanted to make a movie about a memoir I’d written. I wrote a memoir several years ago that sold a lot of copies. I got a big head about it for a while and thought I was an amazing writer or something, but I’ve written books since that haven’t sold, so I’m insecure again and things are back to normal. [p.9]

With the same folksy meandering style that propelled Blue Like Jazz to million-copy selling success, Don Miller tells the tale of how despite the fame of that breakthrough book, he found himself in the doldrums; how two filmmakers wanting to adapt it into a movie started to edit the screenplay of his life; what that taught him about the artistry of story composition; and the voyage of discovery to which that led.

This structure gives Don the chance to talk about how he learnt to see life as story, and to decide to live a good story, rather than a boring one.

His title is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I learned while editing my life.

He writes a lot about his friends and people he comes across and the stuff that’s happened to them. There’s his uncle who died and a trek up to Macchu Picchu and a diplomat family who live on a lake. There’s a lecture course from a screenwriting guru and a search for a dad who was never there.

A Million Miles made me cry 3 or 4 times and laugh probably as many times as that.

Don’s amiable style gives you the feeling as you read that he’s a decent, averagely flawed bloke stringing together a few anecdotes.

But it’s far more well-composed than that. Running through the apparent looseness of this searcheroo is a purposed core. He has a message and a frame under his organic musings.

Fresh voice

 A cynic may see Don’s simplicity at times as disingenuous. It’d be wiser and more generous to say that Don’s interested in finding a refreshed way to come at life and the human experience of being within a story.

He wants to relate the reality of interacting with Jesus, but do it in a way that hasn’t been done a million times already by other authors. He absolutely succeeds. This is a brilliant read.

I’ve come across some saying there’s a lot of Don Miller in the book and not a lot of God. It’s self-absorbed. Yes and no. You’ve got to read between the lines.

I can see Don cares a huge amount about Jesus, and cares about those people who’d ordinarily be put off their maker by the way he gets talked about.

So Don’s entering into the perspective of self-reflection in order to catch you up into a vision of a greater story, the bigger-than-me plan, beyond the triviality of mundaneity.

The essence of story

Jordan looked back at the television and turned up the volume. “A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it,” he said with remarkable assurance.

“What’s that again?” I asked, reaching for a pen and flipping the bulk of pages in my yellow pad over on my lap, arriving at a blank page.

“A character,” he said. “Who wants something,” he continued. “And overcomes conflict.” He paused so I could write it down. “To get it.”

I looked at the definition for a second, wondering at how simple it really was. He was right. A character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it is the basic structure of a good story.

“That’s it,” I said to him. “That’s the essence of a story.”

“The antagonist!” Jordan shouted, pointing at Newman on the television.

[p. 48]

The storyteller

As someone who likes writing, I was fascinated by the bits on storytelling and how just as music wraps its creativity around rules, powerful stories must heed certain structural laws.

Don’s confrontation came from realising that as an author he’d succeeded in making a living by making things up on a computer. He had to face up to what kind of story his real, non-fictional life was. He had to determine to live out, not just write out, memorable scenes.

Merely enjoying A Million Miles, having my thoughts provoked, would be an inadequate response from me now. What about my life, my story? What good scenes can I make happen? How can I best glorify God by crafting, as much as it is my responsibility, a narrative that would be worth reading?

In that light, being boring and safe and predictable become poisonous to me. Praying for no hiccups and for financial security seems lame now. Who is around for me to tango with, travel with, fight, find? Whose feet can I wash and whose eyes can I meet? I am energised. Don’s struck a chord in me. I recommend A Million Miles with all my heart.

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