I don’t want to be Don Miller

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It’s strange blogging. It’s like publishing your journal or taking your shirt off in front of the class. It feels sort of wrong like I’m doing something I shouldn’t, which is probably why I like it. But for a while now I’ve been hovering around a few hundred visitors a day and while I’m not unhappy with that, I do sometimes wonder if I was to post some pictures of naked people, or Mel Gibson carrying a cross, or the secrets of the Da Vinci Code or something if I wouldn’t get more "traffic" as they call it.

One thing I’ve noticed is that a lot of people come here looking for Donald Miller, which is pretty funny. Though he’s likely to get a kick out of that because he says he’s never been the one people go looking for, he’s actually light years cooler than I am. And it is funny in one sense because I’m supposed to be an all-mighty book editor, holding the keys to a writers’ survival. But I actually like not being Don Miller. I’ve had a little taste of the sort of maddening popularity he’s arriving at now. When I was young it was piano recitals that brought unwanted attention. Now it’s at writers conferences and I don’t enjoy that part. It makes me act weird and I get kind of shaky and afterwards I have to go be alone for a while before I’m normal again.

But this is what I’m building up to: the trick: how to be yourself. I just wrote a bunch of articles for Breakaway, Focus’ magazine for teen guys. The topic was being who God made you, how to find it and how to hold on to it. It’s what we all want and yet for some people it’s so ellusive. It’s what most editors are looking for when they sit down to be pitched to and it’s what we look for in our favorite actors and actresses who are basically the same people no matter what role they’re in. We love people who are authentically themselves, and no one seems to understand this as well as young-minded people. Holden Caufield became a poster boy for that sacred principle of youthful idealism, resisting all the phonies and those who subscribed to an artificial culture of any kind.

The thing with cultures is no matter what kind you’re talking about, they require artifice. Publishing has its culture. Writers are pressured to adopt identities and it’s accepted as a normal part of life, of being a healthy member of society, of being an adult. But what’s the difference between that and say, a cult? Very little, actually. My point is, maybe we should take a lesson from Holden. From Don. From our inner teens. Don’t be phonies to try to win points. Don’t fit your culture, or try to impress people, no matter what the reason: a job, a better life, a book contract.

I’m being somewhat nonspecific here and I know it, but for me, not wanting to be like Don Miller can be difficult. I consider him very close to my ideal identity. But being authentically yourself as a writer means you have get over your fears to actually be yourself. Here’s what Miller says: "I just want to write stories that have a lot of crazy things happening to crazy people. If it happens to have some theological truth in it, cha-ching!" Some might say his tack is deceptively simple, that he’s actually striving very hard to strike a particular pose, fit just the right niche, whatever. But I don’t think so. No one’s that good. Sooner or later, the act is going to slip (Jim Bakker). There’s no substitute for real.

This is why I can’t be Don. I’m this person. And that’s the message I’d like to leave you with tonight. YOU are what editors are looking for because YOU are what readers are looking for. Believe it or not. Maybe you think that’s too simple and idealistic. Someone has said that fiction readers are all about the mental age of 18-22. I believe that. And I believe that gives us a very specific value. It’s easy to get a little smart and say it’s childish to place such a high premium on being yourself, but remember Jesus with the children. Cynicism and artifice have no business with innocence and genuineness. Childishness is a spiritual value. And actually one of the bigger ones.

I’ve written elsewhere about geeks and you can just apply it here as well. "Normal" people are geeks. No one’s really cool. The way the new CBA is shaping up with folks like Miller, Lauren Winner, and Brian McLaren, there’s a lot of room for some genuinely geeked-out cats, maybe one like you. Those who pose and hide behind fears will go the way of the dodo. And those who find their truest selves and show it without apology will continue to make us smile and scury to publish their genius.

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12 thoughts on “I don’t want to be Don Miller”

  1. I’m even further from being Don Miller than you are, but I have adopted a similar approach to writing. I don’t write to convert or to convict readers, but to entertain. My romance novels are “Christian” because that’s my worldview. But how (or whether) the Lord uses my writing to touch other lives is His business.

  2. You’ve packed a lot of good stuff in here, Mick, which leaves me wanting to say a lot in response. First, I look forward to seeing you at Mount Hermon. And I hope you won’t be weird and shaky as far as I’m concerned, because I don’t even have anything to pitch that fits Focus’ needs. I just hope to hang a little with a non-cool geek who’s real, or who’s at least trying to be real. If you need a break from being super-editor, schedule an appointment with me and we’ll go jam on the youth memorial piano.
    I love what you said about childishness. There’s a big difference between immaturity and never relinquishing one’s citizenship in Neverland. Imagination should always remember how to fly, even when life demands our feet be firmly planted on the ground. The relationship of imagination and faith is a sub-theme of my current novel, and writing it has been a delightful adventure. Too bad it’s not about marriage or family. ;)
    See you in a few weeks. I promise I’ll be myself if you’ll just be you. Non-cool, geeky, fun times ahead.

  3. Don’t worry, I’m not taking off my shirt

    I smiled and nodded this morning as I read Mick Silva’s confession over at My Writers Group:
    It’s strange blogging. It’s like publishing your journal or taking your shirt off in front of the class.

  4. I love your observations about blogging and being who you are. As far as my “voice” goes, blogging these past four years has definitely helped me find it. I feel like I can really be myself on my blog–at least, whoever “myself” is at that moment in time.
    (The old gal is a bit changeable, I’m afraid…)
    But even after all this time, I still feel vulnerable when my finger hovers over the “post” button. Dare I reveal this much of my crazy self–again? But then I think about my readers, and I do it for them. God only knows why they want it, but apparently they do. Who am I to second-guess their judgment? ;)

  5. Wow, what a brilliant blog. It’s rare I go looking for new blogs anymore – indeed, I only found yours because I was looking for a Douglas Coupland quote – but this one is certainly helpful to me at the moment. Thanks…I’ll continue to read!

  6. i hate seeing actors who can’t act. you say, we like to see them essentially the same in varying roles they play. that, to me, indicates they simply cannot act. and i cease liking such actors/actresses. while my normal state is erradic, i want actors and actresses to lose themselves in their character. just like i lose myself in the words of a particular poem. if too much of the author is showing through, well that is like having your shirt off in front of a room. although, i am a reader of nf, so for me, an author must shine through. paradox. it’s the stuff of life. and writing. eh?

  7. I’ve come to the conviction that “being yourself” is a faith issue. Do you really, after all, trust the God who made you?
    See you at MH, Mick. I’ll look for the geek table.

  8. Mick,
    I loved the post. I found myself cracking up. Keep writing. It is the window to your deepest self. And in my opinion…it is a pretty cool self that we see.
    Kary
    P.S. I identify with the whole shirt illustration…I guess it just comes with the territory. Thus, now we see why “spiritual” sit ups are so crucial.

  9. The trick about being real is twofold: It means you have to understand yourself, and it means you accept yourself. Honest, self-facing grace affronts people’s sense of propriety, rattles them, amplifies the ache in the bone.
    The real person isn’t stretching for the tall branch because he wants to show other people he can reach it, he’s reaching because it is his nature to do so, regardless of what other’s may think about what he’s doing. Because what’s up there could be something neat, and wouldn’t it be great to see?
    I won’t be at Mount Hermon (crowds make me nervous), but I thank you for these ideas.

  10. Mick, thank you for this encouragement. Lately I’ve been reading books (like Quiet by Susan Cain and Imagine by Jonah Lehrer) that cause me to re-evaluate traits we’ve learned to view as negative. Maybe we writers should rummage through the trash to see what unknown treasures we’ve thrown away – or tried to. Isn’t self acceptance a form of faith in our creator?

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