As an author whose book sales have crossed the 100 million mark, and who has set a Guinness World Record for his bestseller The Alchemist, Paulo Coelho’s works emblematise his journey as writer and human being on the oft-trodden path of spirituality. Most of his books have been inspired by incidents that took place in his own life, yet his authorship only began in his late-thirties.
Battling the odds
Although Coelho decided he wanted to become a writer at a young age, his parents felt that being a writer was far from the normal course of professions. At the age of 17, he was sent to a mental institution by his parents, who feared his aversion to the traditional path. Coelho tried to escape on three occasions, and spent as many years at the institution till he was released at 20. Rather than feel bitter about the experience, Coelho stated later that the incident only made him grow stronger and have a greater sense of adventure. According to his parents’ wishes, he enrolled in a law school but dropped out within a year to live as a travelling hippie, involving himself in drugs and eventually becoming a songwriter, actor, journalist and theatre director along the road to being a writer of novels. He was also arrested in between by the ruling military government who thought that his songs were dangerously leftist, and was jailed three times.
A turning point
It was only after 38 that Coelho decided to write novels even though he had been writing in journals before. Coelho walked the Road of Santiago de Compostela, a journey of more than 500 miles, in 1986, thus prompting him to write his famous novel — The Pilgrimage. This was when he decided to fully pursue his dream of writing, as he found that living life was a constant search for meaning, and wanted other people to realise and appreciate the mystery of life rather than try to reveal its’ secrets. This laid the foundation for his future writings, with the preoccupation with spiritual questions permeating all of his novels. A year later, he wrote The Alchemist, which eventually propelled him toward fame.
Rules to live by
Today Coelho is a practising Catholic, having experimented briefly with Buddhism, as well as atheism. With a strong sense of faith and belief in the power of prayer and ritual, Coelho thinks that there is a greater individual need for spirituality and personal faith over a larger religion.
About writing and books
Coelho has been inspired by many other writers such as Jorge Amado and Jorge Luis Borges, while strongly believing that books can comfort and influence. He writes with the hope that his books will provoke people to think beyond their daily obligations and to learn from the experience that is life. For him, a writer’s goals must be clear from the start, and one must pursue these goals with passion and enthusiasm, yet the pursuit should be disciplined and rigorous.
The writer may use his own life experiences to create something similar in writing for other people to learn from.
Paulo Coelho, author
Compiled by Suzanne Hughe