Interview with Paulo Coelho

Posted by Goodreads on September 18, 2008

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Goodreads: The Alchemist was first published in 1988. Now 20 years later, how do you feel your writing style or priorities as a writer have changed over the many years of your career? Would you describe writing as your own Personal Legend?

Paulo Coelho: Last year I wrote a column about the way I felt about the release of my book, The Witch of Portobello. I was in Lisbon, just hours before the book was released in Portugal and in Latin America. I was walking along the streets of this marvelous city thinking about the moment when the first reader would touch the book in the shelves of the bookstore. I was excited and realized that I was still able, after publishing many books, to feel exactly the same way as in the release of my first book, The Pilgrimage. Of course, with success, the dimensions change but the inner feeling of sharing my soul with others remains intact.

My personal legend has always been to become a writer. I'm glad I can say that I'm fulfilling my dream. But this must not be interpreted as "the end of the line" - on the contrary - I have to commit everyday in order to stay in this path that I've chosen. One is constantly challenged - even by success.

GR: You have stated that each of your books was written over a period of only two to four weeks. Describe a typical day spent writing.

PC: When I finally feel I'm ready to embark in a new book, I always go through the following cycle that takes me from two weeks to a month.

Before going to bed I have everything planned: I will wake up early and dedicate myself solely to the novel I'm writing. The only thing is, when I wake up I decide to browse through the net, then it's time for my walk. When I come back I quickly check my mails and before I know it it's already 2:30 p.m. and time to have lunch. After which I always take a sacrosanct nap. When I wake up at 5 p.m. I come back to my computer, check another set of emails, visit my blogs, read the news. Then it is already time for dinner - and at this point I'm feeling extremely guilty for not fulfilling my goal of the day. After dinner I finally sit at my desk and decide to write. The first line takes a bit but quickly I'm submerged in the tale and ideas take me to places that I never thought I would tread. My wife calls me to go to bed but I can't, I need to finish the line, then the paragraph, then the page...It goes on like this until 2 - 3 a.m. When I finally decide to go to bed, I still have many ideas in my mind-that I carefully note down on a piece of paper. I know though that I'll never use this - I'm simply emptying my mind. When I finally rest my head on my pillow I make the same oath - that the next day I'll wake up early and that I'll write the whole day long. But this is useless: the next day I wake up late and this cycle starts all over again.

GR: Tell us about The Experimental Witch. How do you envision the finished product?

PC: I'm an "Internet addict" and decided last year to release 1/3 of The Witch of Portobello in my blog in several languages. Readers from all over the world could read the first 10 chapters and leave their comments. It was a great experience and last year in July I wanted to further this interaction with my readers by inviting them to adapt the book for the screen. As you know there are 15 narrators and filmmakers are invited to chose one and film all the scenes where they interact with Athena. Once their video is done they are invited to post it in YouTube. Composers from MySpace are also invited to show their material until the end of May. The rules are equally in my blog in the following address:

Since this is an original idea, it's very difficult to predict how the finished product will be. We have many directors in mind to edit the raw material from the readers and the aim is to show the film in Cannes next year and then release it in movie theatres.

GR: Unlike many bestselling authors, you have opted not to sell the film rights to your books. The Alchemist is the only exception, and you have even tried to buy back those rights for a very high price. What is different about The Witch of Portobello?

PC: It's true I've always been reluctant to sell the rights of my books since I think that a book has a life of its own inside the reader's mind. Seldom do I find that film adaptations of books work well. With time, though, I decided to open up this possibility for certain titles of mine like The Alchemist, Veronika Decides to Die and 11 Minutes. I don't like, though, to meddle in these productions.

With the Experimental Witch is different because I decided to invite my readers through the Internet to adapt their vision of the book. It is my way of having a peep into their universe besides of being a true original idea: the first movie made by the readers.

GR: With membership on Goodreads, Facebook, MySpace, and others, you have a wonderfully accessible Web presence. How do you feel that the Internet is changing the way people have access to art and artists?

PC: To write is a very lonely activity. When I write a book, I'm face to face with my soul, and this sometimes leads me to paths that I never imagined existed within myself. When I finish a book, I have the feeling I gave birth to something that now is independent of me, something that carries my soul away from my imagination and into the minds and hearts of my readers.

When this happens, it's pure magic: During signings I could see that readers totally understood my questionings and truly shared the experiences.

This feedback is also possible through my blogs. I check every day the messages, and I'm sincerely moved by the beautiful words of wisdom that my readers share with me. In a way the Internet is enabling the writer to no longer be alone, to debate ideas, to share information and to get inspired by the readers.

Goodreads: On your blog, you recently described traveling as the best way to learn. Goodreads has members in more than 200 countries -- do you think the Internet can be used for similar learning and to promote dialogue across national boundaries and language barriers?

Paulo Coelho: Internet is a wonderful tool of communication. Its ability to enable low-cost instant communication regardless of physical boundaries is fascinating and full of promises. Of course, as a medium, it can be used to promote dialogue between people from different cultures.

I've read somewhere something that has fascinated me. That the Internet is also breeding a new and young culture: the culture of super-communicators. Youngsters that were born into the Internet era are actively showing how they can be at once talking on msn, poking a friend in Facebook, up-loading their garage band song into MySpace, up-loading their 30-second film recorded with their telephone on their YouTube account and still have time to play web video games with hundred of other users across the web. When I think of this new generation I see a new culture all together arising. Unfortunately too often people of my generation can't even grasp their children's universe. Yet what the youth is doing, out of intuition and entertainment, is creating a new way of communicating that has nothing to do with the passive TV generation era.

But one has to keep in mind that the Internet, it's a medium and therefore it can be equally used to fire up tensions and provoke ruptures.

GR: As a Messenger of Peace for the United Nations, you recently attended the first United Nations Alliance of Civilizations Forum, a global campaign that aims to eliminate prejudices between cultures. As a writer, what is your role in this campaign and what have you learned?

PC: The type of work that I want to develop with the UN would be the one where I would use culture, the last bridge that in my view remains intact in this divided world, to reassemble people. The power of storytelling is exactly this: to bridge the gaps where everything else has crumbled.

GR: Your work has been translated into 67 different languages, which gives you a remarkably international audience. There must be a large amount of trust involved when working with a translator. How do you feel reading one of your books in a language other than Portuguese affects the reader's experience? Does something get lost in translation?

There's a chain that enables my words to get to the reader's imagination. There are many people involved: my agent, my publishing houses, the booksellers, and of course the translators.

Indeed, there has to be a great amount of trust for the book to reach the safe harbor of the reader's hands. I have to trust the translator. It's a profession I have a profound admiration for. My father-in-law was a translator and I know how in this line of profession, translators honor the text and diligently try to remain faithful to the essence of it.

GR: The message of The Alchemist, and many of your other books, transcends the definitions of a single religion. Is it one of your goals to provoke inter-faith dialogue?

PC: It's important to distinguish between religion & spirituality. I am Catholic, so religion for me is a way of having discipline and collective worship with persons who share the same mystery.

But in the end all religions tend to point to the same light. In between the light and us, sometimes there are too many rules. Some of these rules are important, others should not blind us, do not diminish the intensity of this light, the soul of the world.

For me, literature and spirituality are the same. In my first book, The Pilgrimage, I wrote about my real journey, my true story.

You see, during my pilgrimage it became increasingly apparent that I wasn't happy and I had to do something about it - stop making excuses. I realized that you don't have to jump through a series of complicated hoops to achieve a goal. You can just look at a mountain and get a connection with God; you don't have to understand the mountain to feel that.

When I first got back from the trip it was an anti-climax. I found it hard to acclimatize to my normal life and I was impatient to change my life immediately. But changes happen when you're ready. It took a few months to realize that I must solely concentrate on writing a book, rather than trying to fill various roles as I had before. The pilgrimage was to be my subject and as I started I took my first step towards my dream.

GR: What advice would you give to a new writer just starting out?

PC: To knock as many doors as possible. That's how I did it in the beginning. People don't think about this now, but becoming a best-selling author was a long journey and I faced many setbacks along the way. For instance, I had a rough time with my second book The Alchemist. It was first published by a small publishing house and even though it sold well, at the end of the first year, the publisher decided to give me back the rights since, according to his words, "he could make more money in the stock exchange." At the time I decided to leave Rio with my wife and we spent 40 days in the Mojave dessert. I needed to heal myself from this and when I came I decided to keep on struggling.

I realized that despite the fear and the bruises of life, one has to keep on fighting for one's dream. As Borges said in his writings "there is no other virtue than being brave." And one has to understand that braveness is not the absence of fear but rather the strength to keep on going forward despite the fear.

Comments Showing 1-35 of 35 (35 new)

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message 1: by J (new)

J I loved this interview. Totally inspiring.

message 2: by Sumner (new)

Sumner Wilson I dug this interview.

Now I'm wondering about the time he and his wife spent in the Mojave. Did they live in a camper, or in a tent, under the stars? But the soul as a migrant searcher after truth, are we alone, is there really an afterlife, is this all there is to it, are the important questions.

Slugs Nineteen

message 3: by Urenna (new)

Urenna Sander I am glad I read Paul Coelho's candid interview. I can relate to his passage on writing: "To write is a very lonely activity. When I write a book, I'm face to face with my soul, and this sometimes leads me to paths that I never imagined existed within myself."
I feel this way too.

Thank you.
Urenna Sander

message 4: by Daniel (new)

Daniel Gonzalez Sumner wrote: "I dug this interview.

Now I'm wondering about the time he and his wife spent in the Mojave. Did they live in a camper, or in a tent, under the stars? But the soul as a migrant searcher after..."

While being in the Mojave desert with his wife, Paulo Coelho wrote "The Valkyries". You should read that amazing book.


message 5: by amara (new)

amara awesome interview i must say

totally inspiring.....

message 6: by Elaine (new)

Elaine I love the Witch of Portobello, it is one of my favourite books to read

message 7: by Mengyi (new)

Mengyi Guo i just love what u said btw thx a lot

message 8: by Trudy (new)

Trudy Crow What a wonderful interview!

message 9: by Lamees (new)

Lamees Ammuri Very helpful tips He has a true sensible feeling about his believes

message 10: by Heidi (new)

Heidi He's amazing. Simply wonderful.

message 11: by Farah (new)

Farah Shaaban nice to know

message 12: by Zainab (new)

Zainab Rose I'm a great fan of him since age 12, when I first came across his breathtaking novel "The Alchemist" back in 2010. He has a spontaneous elan with which he presents his wondrous beliefs and I really admire & look upto him. :) I love his words & works.

message 13: by Honey (new)

Honey Webbnest Immersing myself in reading this interview was as close to achieving an interpersonal valance as can possibly be imagined - gave me goosebumps, it did. To think, once we had much in common, Signor C. Alas, having been diagnosed with midolathian paranoia paired with occasional episodes of ineluctable apoplexy, and experiencing actual theft of my work has prevented me from pursuing any art form whatsoever. No prose, no poetry, no songs - nothing. In fact, I fear that indeed all talent has left me, rendering me but a shell... Still, YOUR talent and your, well, your "zen" I suppose it could be called, give me hope that one day my empty hands might once more be useful... Graci.

message 14: by Mian (last edited Aug 09, 2015 12:05PM) (new)

Mian Bhatti well an other one probably a sign of alarm for me
to make up place for his next novel, this man really got something to what we call blessing.

message 15: by Shriram (new)

Shriram Nanal First I read this book in English in 2005. I was on the bed for nearly two months. This book gave me courage to face the inconvenience. Later on I read it in Marathi, my mother tongue. This is a wonderful book. U can change your future . This is the message of the book. Treasure is within YOU. Great.

message 16: by Picaso (new)

Picaso My own legend has consistently been to turn into an essayist. I'm happy I can say that I'm satisfying my fantasy. In any case, this must not be deciphered as "the stopping point" - actually - I need to submit ordinarily so as to remain right now I've picked. One is continually tested - even by progress. See More

message 17: by Giancarlo (new)

Giancarlo Rodriguez It is interesting to see his process on how he writes his books. He gives very good advice to new writers. He also projects very well put messages in his books.

message 18: by Candi.S (new)

Candi.S Its nice to see his point of view when writing stories and telling us about what he thinks about religion and how he relates it to his stories, it honestly opens your mind when seeing how authors like Coelho comes up with ideas and inspirations for his books.

message 19: by Izzy (new)

Izzy I find it interesting how he shows the way his religion impacts the way that he actually composes his pieces. It shows the readers how Coelho's personal legends came into play while he was writing about Santiago's personal legend. One quote in particular really shows this, "My personal legend has always been to become a writer. I'm glad I can say that I'm fulfilling my dream. But this must not be interpreted as "the end of the line" - on the contrary - I have to commit everyday in order to stay in this path that I've chosen." Paulo's views can be very inspiring to other aspiring authors by showing that at the end of the day, you will know if you are meant to do what you yearn to do.

message 20: by Amy (last edited Mar 19, 2020 10:03AM) (new)

Amy w I admire the way that Coelho incorporates his own religion into books and writings. It really shows how inspired and symbolic these books are. Religion can help highlight important stories and establish well thought out meanings in the book, such as The Alchemist. When reading the book, this aspect is shown and it really helps the reader understand the different symbolic and deep meanings about your personal legends or dreams.

message 21: by Natalie (new)

Natalie I understand what Mr. Coelho is talking about when beginning to write a novel. It is true, side comments are never used unless they are important enough to be remembered. I appreciate his writing style, not because I enjoy it, but because it really does reflect the soulful person he is. He really is self driven and a true believer in inner peace, and although he did not say it, a possible believer in inner peace transferring in to world. Coelho has turned himself into a symbol of hope and inspiration for the people living in turmoil.

message 22: by Gaby (new)

Gaby I am intrigued in the way how Paulo Coelho uses his own religion and Personal Legend to write books. Like in the Pilgrimage, he wrote about his own journey and this can be used to connect with the readers. This connection also lets the reader now what type of a person he is; he is a very determined writer. This can then inspire others who want to become writers or in general and be determined to follow your Personal Legend.

message 23: by Anthony (last edited Mar 19, 2020 02:39PM) (new)

Anthony Paolo Coelho's views are very unique, and the way he articulates his inner thoughts makes it easy to see that he has truly found his Personal Legend. Coelho's connection with his storytelling and his penmanship shows his fond appreciation and passion for what he does. The way that he dedicates himself to his novels and continuously pursues day after day, even after reaching success, signifies what he stands for. He serves a good role model for others who do not yet know their place in the world. What he stands for is a reminder that everyone has a calling waiting to be answered.

message 24: by Yuri (new)

Yuri Stahl It’s inspiring that how Coelho thinks as a writer. In the interview, he explains his everyday life and journey he’s had to go through to gain his success. Just like in the Alchemist, Coelho searched for his own personal legend and has found out that it is writing, and that writing has enlightened him to think very spiritually. He writes about his own beliefs which has helped and hurt him in different ways, especially when in present day, many new generations are losing faith in the religions their families used to follow. He’s incorporated religion in ways to reach self- peace and true happiness. However, he does explain that he has trouble while attempting to write a book, but later he stumbles upon ideas and tales he never thought his mind would develop.

message 25: by Castillo (new)

Castillo I love how Paulo Coelho expresses his religious experiences through a wonderful novel full of lessons to be learned from all ages. It really shows the connection he can make with readers by showing how he really is. His main goal through all his books that mainly shows in his book, "The Alchemist," is to always follow your personal legend.

message 26: by Victor (new)

Victor After reading this interview, it gave me another way to view Paulo Coelho, now I see as as more than just a writer, I see him as a deep thinker with an extraordionary way of expressing his views and his journey through life. For example, the way that he is able to describe how when he was younger he was also searching for his own personal legend, which ended up being writting, and then bring together all of the important experiences that lead up to him reaching his personal legend to then apply them to a novel about a man searching for his own personal legend. This is one of the many ways that he is able to really encompasses the fact that he is an outstanding writter and it is inspiring how he can compress all of this information into a book that after reading this interview, sounds almost like an auto-biography on his younger-self, as he tells about his journey to find his personal legend, writting.

message 27: by Natasha (new)

Natasha It is really fascinating to see how invested he is in his writing. He said in the interview that it usually takes him 2 to 4 weeks to write a book, which is extraordinary. The fact that he takes personal experiences and opinions in life and includes it in his books makes it that much more personal and impacting. It makes his writing feels more real and thoughtful, which I really enjoy.

message 28: by TheMeowPower (new)

TheMeowPower It’s incredible how he is able to incorporate religion and beliefs into such an inspiring and powerful book, yet still make it for all readers. You never necessarily have to be a certain religion to read “The Alchemist,” but he makes sure that all readers can read this incredibly inspiring story!

message 29: by John (new)

John Ruiz The first part of my blog had a big similarity to the later pat of Pt 1 of The Alchemist where Santiago was arguing with himself trying to deiced whether or not he should pursue his personal legend. He eventually decides to work at the Merchant shop until he can buy some sheep. This eventually turns into a mode of avoidance from his personal legend just like the merchant avoids his legend of going to Mecca. He does eventually pursue his legend after about a year. For Coelho he says he will but then he has something to do. This repeats until after dinner when he dedicates the day to writing a line, paragraph, and eventually the page. Every day for Coelho is practically The Alchemist all over again.

message 30: by Isa (new)

Isa Cardoza I think it's very interesting how he incorporates his spirituality and religiousness into writing his books. He also uses these factors to connect with his readers which provides a sense of inspiration for many. On top of this he takes ideas from his personal experiences making him an all around amazing author.

message 31: by Javier (new)

Javier Faura The process he uses to write his books is very interesting, and can possibly be used for upcoming writers and authors. It is also remarkable how him and his own personality is reflected into some of his books, such as “The Alchemist”.

message 32: by Angelina (new)

Angelina After reading through the interview, it is clear to see how Paulo Coelho is a determined writer and how he is able to integrate his beliefs into these novels. He uses religion and spirituality to connect with all his readers, making it impacting and personal. This can then encourage others who want to become writers to follow their personal legend, just like he did.

message 33: by Sarah (new)

Sarah I appreciate the way Coelho himself is able to connect himself to his own books. You can tell that these are his own personal beliefs and morals, and are not made up for the sake of his books. The fact that he is so persistent in getting interaction and feedback from the readers while he writes his book is also intriguing to me. This concept is original and new, especially because we almost never see approaches such as this one in other types of media.

message 34: by Paola (new)

Paola I loved seeing how Paulo Coelho has already found his Personal Legend. You can tell by the way he describes what he is doing he is truly happy and has found his inner peace. He is a good leader for those who have not yet found their inner peace and are trying to find it, it is also great to see him use his personal expirences to influence others to find their purpose and what they are happy with.

message 35: by Rhea (new)

Rhea This interview was an inspiration that displays an interesting perspective behind Coelho's award-winning writings. Fulfilling his personal legend of becoming a writer demonstrates one of his main morals highlighted in the book, "The Alchemist." Without a doubt, he strives to share his words of wisdom with the world in hopes of impacting someone's life and encouraging others to go after what they believe in. "The Alchemist" is a prime example of his use of religion and symbolism to illustrate these ideas. Additionally, his perspective on writing is what I found the most compelling. The interview mentions that when he finishes a book, he feels as though a part of his soul carries his imagination into the hearts and minds of his readers.

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