Paulo Coelho: How I Write

Paulo Coelho (Photo: Philip Volsem)

Paulo Coelho has long been one of my writing inspirations.

His work, of near universal appeal, spans from The Alchemist to the most recent Aleph and has been translated into more than 70 languages.

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.]

Tim Ferriss – Paulo Coelho by Tim Ferriss

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.”

Three podcasts on his writing process:

1) On writing I

2) On writing II – the puzzle

3) Inspiration

For more musings, see Paulo’s Facebook fan page, with almost 8,000,000 fans (!)


If you write, what have you found most helpful for the first and last questions? Here they are, and I’d love your thoughts in the comments:

– 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?

– 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?


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The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with more than 900 million downloads. It has been selected for "Best of Apple Podcasts" three times, it is often the #1 interview podcast across all of Apple Podcasts, and it's been ranked #1 out of 400,000+ podcasts on many occasions. To listen to any of the past episodes for free, check out this page.

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119 Replies to “Paulo Coelho: How I Write”

  1. Hi Tim,

    I’m a big fan of the 4-Hour Work Week. I’ve read it numerous times and it has played a big roll in fully shifting my mindset into a more entrepreneurial one.

    I’m looking to create a new supplement product, which based on my research does not exist. I am sure that creating this product is possible, but know nothing about science/biology and how to go about creating a such a product. I was thinking of approaching one of these Supplement Private Manufacturing companies but don’t want to disclose my idea to them without being protected. Any advice you can offer in regards to how i should go about implementing this idea and how to protect myself when presenting the idea to potential manufacturers/investors?

    Thanks In Advance,


  2. I’m Italian and I can not understand the words of coelho. someone has made a transcript of the interview or is there someone who can tell me the two or three most interesting ideas of coelho? thanks a lot!

  3. It’s incredible that one of the most influential books in my life almost never made it out to a mass audience.

  4. Thanks Tim, I have become a big fan of Paulo Coelho since reading The Alchemist and it’s interesting to hear where he draws his inspiration from. I’m looking forward to meeting him in person one day when I begin traveling and living the 4HWW. 🙂

  5. Hello

    Im from Balkan,and Im a fan of Paulo Coelho.

    Also I work like journalist,can somebody help me,to make an interview with him.

    Thank You Very much

  6. have to write, first thing. It’s so easy to distract yourself – “oh, I need my morning coffee” or “my head is still groggy, I’ll exercise first” – but as soon as I do something other than write it’s almost impossible to get back to.

    Get out of bed and start writing. Once you start, it’s quite easy to keep rolling, and your brain locks in right away.

  7. Ah, the Aleph. Also known as “The Fool’s Journey”, or at least analogous with The Fool of the Tarot deck, according to the magical tradition of the Hermetic Kabbalah.

    I just finished the book and would love to talk with Paul Coelho about the (*Spoiler Alert*) Ring of Light he describes, as it’s an image that appeared to me a couple of years ago within hours of making a really strenuous emotional effort to let go of someone in my life. What followed the image was a mystical experience that I won’t describe in detail here, but was more of the astral projection variety and less of a past lives excursion, though it was like a journey home.

    Coelho’s been there, and he’s quickly becoming one of my favorite authors for conveying the magical experience so well in his works. I’ve finished ‘The Alchemist’ and now ‘Aleph’, so which book of his should I read next?