You have said that it took you just 14 days to write your best-seller The Alchemist. Was that because (as you have recently remarked) it was already written in your soul?
Let me try to explain myself better. I believe that each one of us has a spark of the divine light to manifest. It is our task here on this earth, and our human condition demands – demands – that we do it, to justify ourselves. So, my dream since I was very, very young was to be a writer, though I – well, I was procrastinating, because sometimes you fear to face your reason to be here.
When I decided to burn my ships and start writing, I was 40 years old. I wrote about my first experience on the road to Santiago [de Compostela, in The Pilgrimage1]. And then, for my second book, I decided to write a metaphor of my life, never knowing, of course, that this was going to touch many souls. So, The Alchemist  was just a matter of looking back and finding a good story, finding a metaphor, for me to understand myself. And then it took me, yes, two weeks to put it down on paper; but the book was there long before, because it is my life.
Is writing for you simply a matter of finding the treasure that is buried within you? Or is it more a matter of craft, a labour of love?
I would say that [love] has to do with everything we do. First, you have to hear this call. You know, when you are close to something that justifies your life – it can be gardening, it can be cooking, it can be driving a taxi, it can be whatever you do with love – the clue is exactly that: love. I don’t think that a writer is better than anybody else. Everything that you do with enthusiasm, you are really manifesting God.
The next step is to learn the craft. So, for writing, first I had to read. You don’t learn writing from courses or workshops – I don’t believe in them. You learn how to write by reading other writers, people who have tried to share their souls, their experiences, whatever they have, with their fellow human beings. Then you have to make some choices: What shall I write about? What are my main questions? And then you start to develop your own technique. You start innovating, in the sense that you try not to repeat what other people are doing.
In my case, basically my challenge was to simplify. I used to read very complicated authors and sometimes I was grabbed by the story but I thought, ‘Oh my God, they are complicating so much! Why are they using one paragraph, one page? One sentence is enough.’ So, I start learning how to cut, and now this is what I do. The first version of any book of mine has three times more pages than the final one. It is like cutting your own flesh, but you need to do it.
You have said you are not a spiritual writer. Do you find ‘spirituality’ an unhelpful term?
I believe that each one of us has a spark of the divine light to manifest. It is our task here on this earth, and our human condition demands that we do it
Just because I write sometimes about my main question and it is in the spiritual world does not make me a spiritual writer. If you write about war, it does not make you a general. If you write about spies, it does not make you a spy. But when you are labelled a spiritual writer, people think: Oh, he has some answers, or he has a better connection, or… No! If there is one thing I really hate, it’s the New Age. The New Age for me is this melting pot of all types of religions created by people who do not have the courage to assume one religion.
So, I’m not a Catholic writer, I’m a writer who happens to be Catholic, uh? Sometimes I totally disagree with the Pope. I respect the missionaries of my church, of my religion, but – how can I say this in English? I want to go beyond my religion in the sense that I think spiritual insight is not only for the privileged, or Catholics or whoever: you have to discuss with people from different faiths.
In Eleven Minutes , Maria says about herself: ‘Although she was very capable of writing very wise thoughts, she was quite incapable of following her own advice’ –
It is my case – sometimes. But I try to be as close as I can to my words, because mostly I write for myself. I write to… yeah, to have a better glimpse of who I am. I’ve just finished a new book and I realise, my God! these things were there and I couldn’t see them. Like when Jesus heals the blind man, he goes to the synagogue and says, ‘Hey, he healed me!’ And they say, ‘Oh, come on! He’s a fake, he’s a charlatan.’ And the man says: ‘I don’t care. I was blind but now I see.’ So, this is a little bit my case: sometimes I’m blind to myself but the answer is in my soul and all of a sudden I start seeing.
I have heard this comment a lot of times. Let me tell you my impression. I have two ways to meet my readers: at my book signings and on the internet. Probably one person out of a thousand asks me what to do. At my signings, never. On Facebook or Twitter, eventually they’ll say, ‘Oh, today I’m like this…’ – but like I say to my wife, ‘Oh, today I don’t feel very enthusiastic about this,’ not because she has the ultimate answer for my life but because I feel like sharing my problems with her. My readers don’t ask me, ‘Paulo, what is the meaning of my life?’ They know I don’t have the answer.
Nonetheless, for many of them The Alchemist has been one of those books that transform one’s life or the way one sees the world. So, even if you never set out to do so, you have played a role in many people’s lives –