Donald Miller: Writing His Own Life Story
- Thursday, September 17, 2009
How many of us get to see a movie made about our very own lives? Not many to be sure.
For best-selling author Donald Miller, it became a reality when filmmakers Steve Taylor and Ben Pearson (The Second Chance) approached him about adapting his best seller, Blue Like Jazz, for the big screen.
Perhaps this was what awoke Miller from his self-described "funk." After six years—and after 45 times of seeing his contemporary spiritual classic make the New York Times' best-seller list—the memoir's long-running success had found its Portland, Oregon-based author sleeping in and avoiding his publisher. It was time for Donald to start writing his next story, but about just what was the question that loomed large.
While crafting the narrative for the film, Donald was told his real life was "too boring" and something with more structure and more compelling content was needed to make the screenplay really work.
"People who live great lives intuitively know about story," he admits. "They may not know they are doing it, but they structure their experiences in such a way that their experiences are charged with meaning."
While searching for the perfect, meaningful experiences to include in his book-turned-movie story, Donald discovered how to make a better story by pursuing a better life for himself. He studied the art of story, traveled to Los Angeles and learned from legendary Robert McKee's "Story" seminar. And all the while, he began opening his life to new experiences, journeys, relationships, motivations and ultimately, some radical character transformation.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life chronicles this filmmaking and story-making process. I had the opportunity to speak with Don about the book, his experience making a movie and what's next for this bike-riding, nonprofit-founding, adventure-seeking storyteller. …
What is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years all about?
It's the short story of a couple of screenwriters who are making a movie out of my memoir, Blue Like Jazz. And I work with them on the screenwriting process, so we co-wrote the movie. And in so doing, we had to change and fictionalize a bunch of the story to make it more exciting and meaningful which was somewhat humiliating, because we were changing my life to make it more meaningful. I studied screenplay quite a bit in the process and realized that a lot of the principles screenwriters use to make a story interesting and meaningful I can also apply to my life. The character has an ambition, a self-sacrificial ambition, and is willing to go through conflict. These are all elements of a much more meaningful experience. And so it changed the way I lived in many ways—from having goals of finishing this book and finishing a Web site and trying to come up with this or that to starting a mentoring program and then riding my bike across America to raise money for people who are without water in Africa. These are things that I probably wouldn't have done had I not studied what makes a story meaningful. It's really what makes a life meaningful. So the book is about that journey and all of the things I've learned and studied about what makes life good.
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