In search of my Island – Part 1

Paulo Coelho

Looking around at the crowd gathered for my book-signing at a megastore in the Champs-Elysées, I thought: how many of these people will have had the same experiences that I have described in my books?

Very few. Perhaps one or two. Even so, most of them would identify with what was in them.

Writing is one of the most solitary activities in the world. Once every two years, I sit down in front of the computer, gaze out on the unknown sea of my soul, and see a few islands – ideas that have developed and which are ripe to be explored. Then I climb into my boat – called The Word – and set out for the nearest island. On the way, I meet strong currents, winds and storms, but I keep rowing, exhausted, knowing that I have drifted away from my chosen course and that the island I was trying to reach is no longer on my horizon.

I can’t turn back, though, I have to continue somehow or else I’ll be lost in the middle of the ocean; at that point, a series of terrifying scenarios flash through my mind, such as spending the rest of my life talking about past successes, or bitterly criticising new writers, simply because I no longer have the courage to publish new books. Wasn’t my dream to be a writer? Then I must continue creating sentences, paragraphs, chapters, and go on writing until I die, and not allow myself to get caught in such traps as success or failure. Otherwise, what meaning does my life have? Being able to buy an old mill in the south of France and tending my garden? Giving lectures instead, because it’s easier to talk than to write? Withdrawing from the world in a calculated, mysterious way, in order to create a legend that will deprive me of many pleasures?


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  1. Popeye says:

    “Ahoy! Ahoy! Approaching Gilligan’s Island on board “The Word” Were the currents that strong? Did you have a lifebelt?
    Glad you arrived safely and that you are not “tending the garden.”or giving “lectures”…I mean on a regular basis.
    trust you to work at such a frenzy pace.
    I am rowing, rowing, rowing, it’s exhausting just following the pace..need to eat more spinach.
    Nice island. Thank you. I’ll come back and visit it again.

  2. nikamarie says:

    ahhhh the mystery

    I've heard over and over while growing up 'Curiosity killed the cat' but they forgot to add

    'satisfaction brought it back' ;)

  3. Maksat says:

    Hello Mr. Coelho. I am the first Turkman who is written you and Im proud of it very much. Im consider you as one of the finest people of our time. Did you heard about my country – Turkmenistan? Im living there and I reading your books, sometimes Im too try to write, but probably, I am not ready to it. And I would be very happy, if you have answered me personally mine @mail. Please, give me any manual on a literary way.I think, turkmens not writing you every day, though these are many your admirers here. So, I beg, answer me personally to [email protected]

  4. Alexandra says:

    I think one of the mistakes many make is to desire to write novels, but literature are made by so many other types of writings too. One can write a fairy tale, a novella, a short story, of course a drama piece, a novel too. Besides poems of all sort, starting with the shortest type, or writing a long epic poem. This lines are not for others only, writing them here I am reminding that too myself.Hope many of the names I see here will become names of great writers.Love and best wishes,

  5. “I sit down in front of the computer, gaze out on the unknown sea of my soul, and see a few islands – ideas that have developed and which are ripe to be explored. Then I climb into my boat – called The Word – and set out for the nearest island. On the way, I meet strong currents, winds and storms, but I keep rowing, exhausted, knowing that I have drifted away from my chosen course and that the island I was trying to reach is no longer on my horizon.” – Isso é uma coisa que eu gostaria de ter escrito, como naquela música do Tunai e do Milton… “Certas caní§íµes que ouí§o cabem tí£o dentro de mim, que perguntar carece: como ní£o fui eu que fiz?” :)

    Para nossa sorte vocíª foi resistente e bravo como Odisseu.

    Grande abraí§o. Obrigada.

  6. Grace says:

    I just read Savita’s post. I feel the same way right now. I am currently starting over in all aspects of my life. I have one foot in/one foot out of banking right now. I don’t know how I am going to pay all of my bills coming up. I need to do something. My company is closing. I have to decide if I want to search for another banking position or do something else. I am confined to what I can do without moving at this point in time. I wish I could just be pointed in the direction I would be happy with. I have been praying about it. I wonder to myself if I am supposed to get the “glass shop” job or the “dream job.” At this point I am thinking the glass shop. Even if it is banking… I know my post isn’t about writing. I can say that I used to want be a writer and even have stories that I wrote and illustrated as a child in my long forgotten “hope chest” at my parent’s house. I never had the grammatical skills to be a writer and only took English 101 in college. I sound like I am full of excuses and am reconsidering hitting “submit.”

  7. Nanci says:

    Dear Savita Vega, when you mentioned an archipelago, I had the idea that you could visit several of those islands in the form of short story. I do like Karen’s idea of the book of essays as well. Do you think maybe it’s a matter of just starting out with one thing and seeing where it will lead you?

    I remember vividly your description of being in the waves. That was lovely, and I could feel myself there as you were writing it. I believe you have a gift. Why not unwrap it and peek inside. You may be very pleasantly surprised…


  8. Marie-Christine says:

    I really like the way you describe the functioning of your soul.
    It moves so elegantly onto great depths and effortlessly.
    You say it is easier to talk than write.
    I have difficulty expressing myself verbally.
    When you write it is something that you own, the feelings express themselves and there is an infinite wealth coming out.- it is magic –
    that permeates and invades your body.
    The more you dive into it, the more you discover.
    Thank you for this insight into your soul.

  9. Savita Vega says:

    Dear karen,
    I want to thank you so much for responding to my post – for showing your support as well as offering this suggestion, something that has never once occurred to me, but which might actually be doable. The length of time that it takes me to write one essay is about as long as I can concentrate on any one thing. It is somewhat hard for me to convince myself that I have anything to say in my babblings that anyone would actually pay to read. In fact, I am rather astounded that all of you here are so gracious and kind hearted that you actually endure my posts on a daily basis. But who knows? – There is hope for everything.

    It certainly comes easy to me – that’s for sure. A single word uttered by our Blog Master Coelho – “hand,” for example – sends me off to one of my many islands, on a course just as straight as an arrow, and it is never a struggle getting there. Just pure pleasure. Writing on this blog is such a joy! I never keep anything that I write here, though. But I suppose that at least a potion of it should be accessible through the archives.

    I will try what you suggest, karen. I will sift through the archives, dig up what I can, shoot it over into Word and see what it looks like when it is all brought together. Of course, it would need much work to bring it together into any sort of cohesive format, but again, that would be only a pleasure, not a burden.

    As I expressed, I am desperate at this point: for sheer lack of sustained concentration, I cannot arrive at any one of my islands and dock myself there long enough to complete a book of fiction. I am very open to suggestions and advice, and, truly, karen, I do thank you for yours. I can’t guarantee that it will work, but I do guarantee that I will try it. Sometimes it takes someone outside of ourselves to see (as I believe Santosh stated) “the words written across our own foreheads.” As you say, karen, maybe the pieces I write here (as you seem to see, though I did not) ARE my islands. Maybe this is why I like to spend so much time here each day – why there is no other place I’d rather be, no other activity that I’d rather be engaged in than penning a post for this blog.


  10. Heart says:

    I haven’t had the same experiences you describe in The Winner Stands Alone, but I have been to Champs-Elysees. Book signings would be a frustration… only to be with the author for less than a minute, with people in front and behind impatiently waiting for me to move on :)

  11. An artist needs a vehicle to get to its island…and without faith and the divine light that provides the talent there is no the creative act we actually rest ourselves from the diverse daily confrontations and the nonsense that is forced upon us. And only the really brave have the courage to feel the differences and think, react and create in harmony something special..a piece of art..or a boat to the secure island

  12. Liisa says:

    “Being able to buy an old mill in the south of France and tending my garden?”

    Sounds good. ;) Whatever makes you happy, but of course I think I can speak for all of us here, we’d prefer if you sticked with the writing (on top of having the mill!).

    Your description of the boat and the search for your island reminded me highly of a meditation I had on the 11.11.2008 at 11.11 o’clock.

    I wrote the meditation down as a short story (so far only in Finnish), but just briefly this is it in English:

    I’m in a forrest, in front of a cute little cottage. In front of the cottege, at the deck stood an old lady with almost white hair tide on top of her head. She was wearing a black long dress. I understood that if I continued living the way I was living, this is what the house I’d end up living in when I’m old would look like. (I take it as a metaphore, house often being the representative of the self in dreams.) I liked the cottage, but since I have always dreamed of a beach house, I felt that I needed to go on search for it.

    In front of the cottage was a river and in the river was a small wooden rowing boat. I helped the old lady on board of the boat and followed her. I chose to row along the current, as I believed this would take me to bigger waters. The forrest around us started thickening and it got quite dark soon. The current also got stronger and soon I found us pretty much white water rafting. The boat turned around, throughing us in the water. Neither of us said a thing, but I just turned the boat back around, helped the lady back on after myself and on we went. This was repeated a few other times, but these challenges merely seemed like a spice to otherwise dull tasting food, than a reason to be worried or to doubt the purpose of the journey.

    Finally the current calmed down and I could see the river widening up before us. I was expecting to arrive at the beach of my dreams, but instead the boat flowed onto a small and deep, almost black coloured pond, in front of which stood a stark wall of a mountain. I could not believe it. Where’s my beach?! Turning around was out of question, it just seemed like a really stupid idea to somehow climb up the river against the current, especially with the old lady on board too… All the way here I was following my heart and according to all I know of life, following my heart should always show me the right direction. As I thought of that, I noticed a crack in the wall of the mountain. I started rowing towards it and so we entered what I then realized to be a cave. It was pitch black around us as we went deeper in, but soon I noticed a gloden glow to my left. I thought it was one of those treasures I’ve read about in pirate stories, so without even looking, I rowwed forward. My dream could not be bought from me, not even with all the gold in the world. I did get curious though, about whether my guess was right, so I went back and had a look at the glow. Yep, it sure was gold, so I kept rowwing onwards. We entered the darkness again, but it was not long, until behind a corner a very bright light shone in.

    As we came closer to the light, it almost blinded me. The boat flowed towards the edge of the cave, and front first it slowly sank into the whiteness, leaving us two bathing in the light. I had always wondered what would a cloud feel like, and this must be it. I did sommersolts, I jumpped around and just lied in the bed of nothingness. I wondered if this was enlightenment, the answer to everything, the final fullfilment. …And I got bored – the road was way more interesting, than this brightness filled with emptiness.

    An island started to form on my right. I swam towards it, dragging the lady along. There was a little wooden platform on the side of the island, so I climbed on it and helped the lady on as well. We walked onwards and before us I saw a house similar to the one in the forrest, but bigger. As we came closer to it, I noticed a beginning of a new road, also leading to the house, or away from it, but I felt no need to start following it. No, this was my destination, and apparently there was another way here too, perhaps easier than the one I took, but this did not make any difference to the fact that I had arrived and wanted to go in.

    I climbed up the few stairs towards the open door and noticed that the old lady was not following me anymore. I took this as yet another sign that my journey had come to an end. I stepped in and remarked that the inside of the house was much bigger than what the house could realistically bare, when seen from the outside. I walked onwards until I reached the other end of the house. As I stepped out again, to a big terrace, I heard cheering and lots of loud happy noises and greetings. The terrace was full of people, who were obviously happy to see me and to welcome me home. I did not see anyone’s faces, and cannot really name these people, but I knew they were my soulmates and family. And yet at the end of the terrace, there it was, my beach, reaching out to infinity. I ran to greet the waves and dived into the ocean.

    I will write a more detailed, more thought out version at some other stage, but since there’s a risk I’ll never actually do just that, at least an initial English version is now out of my system in writing and shared in public. :)

  13. Sandstorm says:

    The thing about the word being the boat sounds very beautiful :)
    Many times have I thought about writing a book, and actually I’ve begun to write a few sentences now and then when I sit on the train on the long way home from my work. A work where I earn good money but which makes no sense in itself because it doesn’t help anybody, apart from me who earns money. Well with this money I can pay some trips to countries I would like to see, which is something I dream about, so in a way the work does something good for me.
    But what I wanted to say is that I miss some essence in my work at this company and that is why I tried to find myself/my soul in writing some things down, and I dream about that some day this might turn into a book. But often I’m too lazy, and that is why it was good to get reminded of that the book doesn’t write itself, but that I have to put a lot of effort in it and try to sail on :)

    Love from Sandstorm

  14. Grace says:

    I love to think of things in term of the ocean and love this story. I like to know what my favorite author thinks when he is writing and the process that he goes through. I loved reading The Zahir for this reason.

  15. karen says:

    Your pieces which you write are your ISLANDS dumbo!!!!!!!!!!!!!
    I just realised.
    Put your islands into a book!!!!!!!!!!!
    Karen xxxxxxxxxxxx

  16. karen says:

    Dear Savita
    You are a very talented writer, and I have a suggestion.
    I loved your piece on Paris and the difference between knowledge and true knowing.
    Why don’t you write an anthology of essays.
    I hope you keep some of what you write on the blog, becasue some pieces are excellent.
    Call the collection of essays – MY BOOK OF LIFE.
    Your piece about your experience of abortion was also very very good.
    You’ve got your sign kiddo – just DO IT.

  17. B*Sofie says:

    You so wonderful describe
    the essence of living –
    feeling alive & ongoing

    Most people seem to fall
    in the secure trap of life

    It`s about being commited to
    ones own legend & calling*
    And you are Paulo

  18. Savita Vega says:

    I cannot tell you how much these words mean to me today, Paulo. Just yesterday a friend (wink, wink) was telling me that I really should write a book. I was explaining to her in my email that I do so desire this myself, but that I find it ever so hard to settle on just one topic or story-line. As you say, my islands are many. I wade into the surf, step into my little boat, and there on the horizon is a whole archipelago laid out before me.

    Similarly, just as you describe it, I “set out for the nearest island,” but, somewhere along the way, “I meet strong currents” that throw me off course, and although “I keep rowing, exhausted,” I realize “that I have drifted away from my chosen course and that the island I was trying to reach is no longer on my horizon.” The horizon is not vacant. There are many islands out there. Its just that none of them is the one I set out for initially. So, again, I start rowing, setting my sights on yet another chosen destination – that little island right over there. It looks like a fine place to bring my little boat ashore. But then, almost as soon as I set out toward it, the horizon shifts again and I become disoriented, because me eyes have also landed on that island over there, which seems to exude a sort of invisible magnetism that is pulling me toward it. In the end, I’m doing an awful lot of rowing, but I’m not landing anywhere, because I cannot focus on just one destination. Each and every island in that expansive and seemingly never-ending archipelago looks like a paradise. Wow! I just can’t wait to explore it! What treasures must be buried there! What bounty lies in store! But I cannot get to any one of those islands because I cannot stay on course. My mind simply will not attach itself to a single subject, theme or story-line and stick with it until the book is written.

    If someone gave me, tomorrow, an assignment and said, “You are going to write a book in two months, and I’m going to tell you, just very basically, what that book is going to be about,” – if they just gave me a theme, or the name and brief sketch of a character, any smallest thread to catch hold of and build upon – I feel certain that I could accomplish the assignment successfully. I could write a book, and I really feel like I could write a fairly good one. I do not doubt my abilities (I hope this does not sound too arrogant, but I am confident that writing is my path in life). But without that imposed center-point, without someone telling me, “Your going to aim for that island right there and not take your eyes off it for one minute until you arrive,” I just can’t seem to hold a steady course long enough to get to the words THE END. Always I am sidetracked, suddenly some other island looks much more attractive, even though I’m almost at the shore line of this one, and that other one is far away over there.

    I have struggled with this same problem for so long that I no longer have a clue as to how to remedy it. I am at a complete loss. Recently, I have begun to pray to God: “Please just tell me what it is that you want me to write, and I will do it.” Maybe it isn’t fiction that I am meant to write at all, but something else – memoir, a screen-play, or who knows what? I’ve always just felt it was fiction, assumed it was fiction, but I’m not picky. I just need the message, the answer to my prayer, to be clear – as clear as an assignment given by a professor to a student in a classroom: “Write about this!”

    White feathers? I find white feathers all the time. This is Paulo’s way of knowing, but it is not mine. Every path is individual. Signs? My life is riddled, on a daily basis, with instances of intense synchronicity. I am used to navigating through all aspects of my life by following signs and listening to my intuition. But when it comes to signs indicating what I should write – a single subject, a single theme or story-line that could be followed and eventually bound up between two covers, called a book – I must be blind to the signs. I simply am not seeing anything that points to one island over all the others, as being the supreme or immediate destination of my writing.

    I count myself lucky, in one sense, at least. I do not have these same pressures that you speak of, Paulo. No one is waiting to read my next book. I don’t have to worry about critics, because I have none – only myself. My past successes are not an obstacle, because I’ve never published anything. This is really between myself and God. I know the passion that is in me when I write. I know the immensity of the pleasure that I take from the act of writing. I know that God put in me this passion, as well as whatever meager talents I may have, but so far, God has not given me any indication as to what I am meant to do with all of this. The possible subjects, the books, like islands, that whirl around in my imagination on a daily basis are too numerous to count. How can I ever pick just one and set a course toward it and stick with that course until I arrive? How can I do this if some Divine Hand does not reach out to point in a clear and definitive direction: “That island, there!”?

    Waiting for a sign….


  19. Maggie says:

    I always wondered how you found the courage to keep writing after “The Alchemist.” Many writers who had monumental successes did not continue, for fear, I believe, that nothing would be as good as that success.

    I admire your courage and use it as inspiration.

  20. Irina Black says:

    “A part of the main.No man is an island unto himself.Every man is a piece of the continent,a part of the main.”John Donne

  21. Toda su obra me alegra y su camino tambien, pero ¿que pasaria si yo le preguntara; que ¿cuando su cabeza no tenga la nesecidad de escribir… usted podra vivir eternamente?
    Una mano y otra mano, no son dos manos …es una cuna que te mese al son de una nana, en el fondo de mi corazón.

  22. nikamarie says:

    ahhhh the mystery

    I’ve heard over and over while growing up ‘Curiosity killed the cat’ but they forgot to add

    ‘satisfaction brought it back’ ;)

  23. karen says:

    Dear Paulo
    I went to see a psychic in 1994 who used Tarot cards.
    At the end of the reading, she said to me: ” The cards show me that in 10 years time, you will meet a person who travels from island to island.”
    I thought what she said was crazy, I couldn’t imagine it was possibe to just go from island to island and never go onto a piece of mainland.
    But, 10 years later, in 2004, just as she had predicted Paulo, I met you.

  24. Alexandra says:

    Sounds words written for me, to wake me up. Very nice metaphor, the boat on the ocean.The scenario was funny, and I remembered some so called writers that fit your portrait, they hate the writers who have courage but they cant write a book (for my shame, some of my ex teachers).

  25. Dear Paulo,

    Well said… :)

    God blesses you !


    God bless you all !

  26. sido66 says:

    ” Time does not wait anyone.

    So take advantage of every moment given to you as it is precious.

    Sharing it with people who are dear to you and all, and it will be even more valuable.

    Love and share the words of your soul to grow the energy of love, and to LIVE ” Sido

    sea and land feed the island that is within each of us