Paulo Coelho has long been one of my writing inspirations.
Few people know that The Alchemist, which has sold more than 65 million copies worldwide, was originally published by a small Brazilian publisher to the tune of… 900 copies. They declined to reprint it. It wasn’t until after his subsequent novel (Brida) that The Alchemist was revived and took off.
I, for one, have always been impressed with consistent writers. Paulo, who averages one book every two years, is staggeringly consistent. As I type this, I am under the pressure of book deadlines and often feel as Kurt Vonnegut did: “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless man with a crayon in his mouth.”
My output is erratic at best, and I wondered: how does Paulo write? What is his process? How does he think about it?
I reached out to him, and he was kind enough to reply with the attached/linked audio. In it, he provides some gems and answers the following questions, which I posed to him (I provide my own abbreviated answers in brackets):
- When on deadline, what is the first thing you do in the morning? What does your daily schedule look like? Do you take any days off, and what determines if you’ve had a “successful” writing day?
[TIM: 2-3 hours of fasted writing in the morning to Mozart and pu-ehr tea. Success is two shitty pages of drafts.]
- How do you capture ideas that might be helpful in your writing? These days, what software and tools do you use for writing?
[TIM: Evernote, Moleskine notebooks]
- How much of your books do you visualize/outline upfront vs. writing organically piece-by-piece? In other words, how much of the story arc have you decided before you start writing? Let’s take two books as examples — The Alchemist and Aleph. Otherwise, how did your process differ for these two books?
[TIM: Though it changes as I write, I outline everything before starting. I suspect organic writing is more common in fiction.]
- What are the most common mistakes that you see first-time novelists making? Most common weaknesses?
- Do you base your characters on real people? Why or why not? If not, how do you develop those characters?
- What are the 2-3 things you personally find most invigorating or helpful when you’re stuck or feel stagnated with writing/ideas? Do you have a team of any type (researchers, etc.) who help you?
[TIM: Rereading Bird by Bird when I doubt/loathe/chastise myself, deadlifting, and doing sprint workouts.]
Paulo offered a few additional notes and resources further exploration:
As for the sentence in Alice in Wonderland: “Begin at the beginning,” the King said gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
Paulo Coelho discussing his writing process:
- Paulo Coelho on writing I
- Paulo Coelho on writing II
- Paulo Coelho on writing III
- Paulo Coelho on writing IV