Today’s Question by the reader : Cindy Swain

Hello Paulo,

First off, it is truly an honor to write you this email. I read, The Alchemist, while trekking through the Himalayas a few months ago, and your message is parallel to how, at 25, I am trying to live my life. It is inspiring to read your words which are weighted with passion and desire to live life.

I have spent the past ten months traveling the world. It was an experience of a lifetime, and one that has changed me in so many ways. I want to write about this experience, but am not about to write a memoir because–who is Cindy Swain?–exactly, I don’t think many people know or would care to find out. I do, however, have a thousand stories that can entertain and I want to spread the message of how important it is to leave the comfort of your home…to challenge yourself to explore new places…and to experience culture while it still exists.

In light of this, my question to you is:

What are your guidelines for writing about what you’ve experienced and making sure that the story is fictionalized (i.e. the famous statement that “all of the events in the story are coincidental”)? For example, I grew up in a small town of 1,500 people and have spent the last 10 months traveling throughout New Zealand, China, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe. Can my main character also be from a small town? Can she also go on an around the world trip to the same countries? Could she participate in the same events that I did?

In other words, what is your advice and guidelines on how I can use my experience in writing a fictional novel, and how close can I get to describing the truth (in setting, description, events, emotions) but still have it remain a fiction rather than a memoir?

Dear Cindy,

When I wrote The Alchemist I was experiencing exactly the same questionings as you.

I had written before a non-fiction book about my pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela (The Pilgrimage) and I knew that I had to turn myself to fiction, in order to grow as a writer.

I had though, many things from my life that I felt I still had to share with others. That’s how the idea of using Santiago’s story as a metaphor for my life came up.

I think in your case – you are the only one able to truly draw the line between fiction and reality. Never lose sight of the fact that dreams feed reality and vice-versa.

Also, simply start writing: see where this will lead you.