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Don Miller: 4 Tips for Editing Your Life

Every so often, I get asked to review somebody’s manuscript. And anymore, I won’t do it. I’ve had too many bad experiences. I’d assume writers want to be told what should be cut out of their book, but this isn’t the case. Only the good writers want to know what should be cut from their manuscripts. The amateurs just want to be told they are good.

I had dinner with Max Lucado last year, and he said his editors sent back his latest book marked up in red. Can you imagine? Can you imagine telling Max he needed to change anything? I wouldn’t have the guts, much less the sensibilities, to actually say what of his words aren’t terrific. But Max surrounds himself by editors who will tell him the hard truths. These are trusted friends, and they’ve been working with him for years. And they are also part of the reason he’s sold more than 60 million books. He said the latest rounds of edits were hard to take. He said he thought by now he’d be a “good writer.” But he took them in, he sat down, and he edited the book. I read Outlive Your Life on a plane on the way home from Nashville, and it’s the best Lucado book I’ve read. In fact, it’s the best book I read this year. I’ll be talking more about it in the coming weeks.

But this isn’t a post about editing books. It’s a post about editing your life. If you are like me, it’s easy to surround yourself with people who don’t tell you about your blind spots, your weaknesses. I told my friend Dave about a piece of criticism that was thrown at me last month, and he helped me dismiss it as a person consumed with bitterness. But he didn’t stop there; he asked me why I was sensitive about it and pointed out that part of that person’s criticism was actually true. And you know what? Dave was right. He wisely helped me separate the criticism from the motive of the messenger. A friend who can do this for you is a friend indeed.

Not having people around who can show us our blind spots is a sure path toward self-destruction. I’m not talking about surrounding yourself with critics. People who offer empty criticism, especially if they don’t know you, are of little help. But if you have friends who are honest with you about your character defects, and yet are obviously for you, you’ve been given a gift.

Here are a few tips on editing your life:

1. Ask for criticism from people who care about you and love you.

2. If you are sensitive about some criticism that has been thrown at you, there’s a good chance some of it is true. Analyze that, separate it from the messenger who may not have your best interests at heart, and work on that area of your life.

3. If you suspect a friend is competitive with you or controlling, don’t include them in your circle of editors. They aren’t going to be able to give you objective advice.

4. Don’t get into an editing relationship with a person who can’t see their own faults or admit to their mistakes. These people are usually the fastest to offer criticism of you, but it’s not objective or helpful criticism.

Relationships with good life editors (lets just call them good friends) are gold. If you find one, hold on to it forever.

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Don’s most recent book is called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years and it’s about how the elements of a great story can help us understand the elements of a great life. That book also hit the New York Times Bestsellers List, and inspired corporations to work with Don to improve employee engagement in their corporate vision, and customer understanding of the corporations overall narrative. Don has appeared on a diversity of television programs including NPR’s Tavis Smiley and Fox News’ The Strategy Room and has spoken for a variety of venues including the Veritas Forum at Harvard and national corporate conferences for brands such as Chic-fil-a. Don lives and works in Portland, Oregon.