“A successful writing day is the day that I suffer in the morning, and I have fun in the evening.” -Paulo Coelho
Paulo Coelho (paulocoelho on Facebook) 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 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 audio I’ve included in the podcast. In it, he provides some gems and answers the following questions (see below), which I posed to him (I provide my own abbreviated answers in brackets)…
If you only have 3 minutes, I recommend this portion on avoiding writer’s block.
– 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 for 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.”
If you want more, here are three podcasts on his writing process:
1) On writing I http://youtu.be/vKBOKLF3Ul8
2) On writing II http://youtu.be/3_TJ4MIGeg8
3) Inspiration http://youtu.be/VWRmbSgS2Yw
For more musings, see Paulo’s Facebook fan page, with almost 30,000,000 fans (!).
QUESTION(S) OF THE DAY: 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.
Want to hear another podcast with a successful writer? — Listen to this podcast with Maria Popova. In this episode, she discusses being interesting, creating more time in a day, and how to start a successful blog (stream below or right-click here to download):
This podcast is brought to you by MeUndies. Have you ever wanted to be as powerful as a mullet-wearing ninja from the 1980’s, or as sleek as a black panther in the Amazon? Of course you have, and that’s where MeUndies comes in. I’ve spent the last 2-3 weeks wearing underwear from these guys 24/7, and they are the most comfortable and colorful underwear I’ve ever owned. Their materials are 2x softer than cotton, as evaluated using the Kawabata method. Check out MeUndies.com/Tim to see my current faves (some are awesomely ridiculous) and, while you’re at it, don’t miss lots of hot ladies wearing MeUndies.
This podcast is also brought to you by Wealthfront. Wealthfront is a massively disruptive (in a good way) set-it-and-forget-it investing service, led by technologists from places like Apple. It has exploded in popularity in the last two years and now has more than $2.5B under management. Why? Because you can get services previously limited to the ultra-wealthy and only pay pennies on the dollar for them, and it’s all through smarter software instead of retail locations and bloated sales teams.
Check out wealthfront.com/tim, take their risk assessment quiz, which only takes 2-5 minutes, and they’ll show you—for free–exactly the portfolio they’d put you in. If you want to just take their advice and do it yourself, you can. Well worth a few minutes to explore: wealthfront.com/tim.
Scroll below for links and show notes…
Selected Links from the Episode
- The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
- Aleph by Paulo Coelho
- Brida by Paulo Coelho
- Adultery by Paulo Coelho
- Subscribe to Paulo Coelho’s YouTube Channel
- Like Paulo Coelho’s Facebook Fan Page
- When on deadline, what is the first thing you do in the morning? [8:53]
- What does your daily schedule look like? [11:11]
- Do you take any days off? [13:13]
- What determines if you’ve had a “successful” writing day? [14:12]
- How do you capture ideas that might be helpful in your writing? [15:35]
- Why Paulo Coelho wrote The Alchemist [16:53]
- What software and tools do you use for your writing? [20:51]
- How much of your books do you visualize or outline upfront versus writing organically piece-by-piece? [23:37]
- Most common mistakes and weaknesses made by first-time novelists [24:24]
- Do you base your characters on real people? Why or why not? How do you develop those characters? [30:07]
- What are the 2-3 things you personally find most invigorating or helpful when you’re stuck or feel stagnated with writing/ideas? [31:50]
The Tim Ferriss Show is one of the most popular podcasts in the world with over 500 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.