049: Filtering Life Through Story: Interview with Donald Miller [Podcast]

Part of being a good writer is being emotionally healthy.
–Donald Miller

The writing life is difficult. There’s no question about that. But you don’t have to be special to be a writer. You don’t even need to be healthy. That doesn’t mean it’s the best approach, though.

049: Filtering Life Through Story: Interview with Donald Miller [Podcast]
If you have a good work ethic, a reasonable amount of talent, and are pretty driven, you can be a writer. With a little bit of luck and lot of hustle, you can even make a lot of money.

The problem, though, is just because you succeed doesn’t mean you’ll be happy. And that’s where most of us get tripped up.

In this episode of The Portfolio Life, best-selling author Donald Miller shares what he learned in his decade-long journey of becoming a popular author and why being known isn’t the same thing as being healthy. It takes a lot more than book sales to make a meaningful life.

Listen to the podcast

To listen to the show, click the player below. (If you’re reading this via email, click here).

You can also listen at iTunes or on Stitcher.

Telling stories versus living them

Donald Miller has spent the last several years of his life studying story and teaching how it can help people live better lives. I’ve attended both Don’s Storyline Conference, as well as his StoryBrand workshop for businesses. Both events have been important growth opportunities for me.

In Don’s own story as a writer, he realized that he didn’t want to just write words that brought attention to himself. He wanted to help people. During our interview, he debunked the myth of the lone genius who succeeds on his own, as well as the stereotype of the moody writer.

Really what it takes to be a great writer, Don says, is to have healthy relationships and a good outlook on life. It’s not that you can’t be a writer if you have an addiction or suffer from mental illness. It’s just that those things don’t amplify the quality of your work. If anything, they hurt it.

Don and I also talk about how he’s shifting his focus from just being a writer who spends all his day sitting around in his boxer shorts, writing stories, to running a company. To him, building a business is just another creative expression and one he gets to do in community with some of his best friends.

I really enjoyed this interview and think you will, too. Be sure to check out Don’s new book, as well. I think it’s his best work yet.

Highlights from the show

In this episode, we discuss:

  • How Don spent years apprenticing in the publishing industry before becoming a successful author
  • What Don had to do to get his second book to start spreading before it became a New York Times best-seller
  • The connection between mental illness and creativity (is it a real thing?)
  • Why being emotionally healthy can make you a better writer
  • Whether or not most writers should start a business
  • Why good art still needs to be marketed well


  • “The writing life is difficult but it’s not like it takes a special person to do it.”
  • “Everybody thinks you get ahead by winning the lottery, and that’s absolutely true. But the more lottery tickets you buy, the better.”
  • “A lucky break mixed with standing in line and sending out books
  • “These writers are too proud… they don’t make it.”
  • “I’m liking my life and that’s changed my voice.”
  • “The real struggle to write a great book is figuring out who you are.”
  • “Being a writer is part writing and part being a salesperson.”
  • “We don’t have to be emotionally unstable to be creative.”


Here are some of the resources we mentioned in the show:

What makes your favorite story your favorite story? Share in the comments.