A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller is the story about story, specifically what story we are choosing for our lives. The book originated from an interesting premise. Miller also wrote Blue Like Jazz a NYT best seller which someone approached him about adapting into a movie. Excitedly Miller jumped in, only to realize that his story wasn’t very good.
Miller was living a life filled with blockbuster movies, devoid of physical fitness, and lacking direction. His character – his life – didn’t have a good story. In writing himself for the movie, Miller found that his real life was a bad story. He writes:
If you want to know what a person story is about, just ask them what they want. If we don’t want anything, we are living boring stories, and if we want a Roomba vacuum cleaner, we are living stupid stories. If it won’t work in a story, it won’t work in life.
Reframing his life as one in which he was living and also observing made him realize that there were explicit things he could do to make his story better. His life needed a challenge, it needed to be challenging, it needed an overall arc and it needed a darkness in the middle of the sub-stories.
This was my third reading of this book and each time I realize how frequently we use stories. Stories are like the black Honda Minivans. You don’t realize how many there are until you start looking for them.
In a recent Bill Simmons article he was making suggestions about where one player might be traded and why. In each of his examples he chose a story for the basketball player that he might follow, some of which having nothing to do with basketball.
The idea of stories also came up in a recent Gamification lecture. Professor Werb was explaining why things like badges and leaderboards don’t necessarily mean something is gamified. Successful gamification requires those types of elements to be linked together, just like our linked actions are part of a more meaningful life. Without an overall arc or structure, those elements don’t work within a game and they don’t work in life.
Noises aren’t music without some structure of format. Experiences aren’t stories without that too.
Miller’s story is that he was successful with an early book but found success had left him lacking a story. When he found out what made a good story, he took to putting those things in his life.
The book isn’t a live everyday like it’s your last manifesto and while it does mention Jesus and God that’s not an overriding theme. The theme is to have a better story and each time I read it I want to refine my story, make it better.
Miller writes about how to do that, “A story is a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” I find this challenge in my own life. How much writing am I will to do without calling myself a writer and facing that conflict? Once I say those words, I am a writer then a new story begins and like all stories it has challenges and setbacks.
After reading the book ideas for a better story pop out of my head like heated corn kernels from a pop on the stove. I’m off to live a better story.