Paulo Coelho

Stories & Reflections

The act of writing – the text (the end)

Author: Paulo Coelho

In the previous Warrior of Light Online I commented on reading, pens and words.  Below are some final remarks on the topic.

First of all, let me repeat what I said before: everybody has a good story to tell, and it is part of the human condition to share a little of our experience with others.  You might ask me: and what about the publishers?  How do they publish these experiences?

The truth is that nowadays there are many platforms for this (such as the Internet or the local newspaper, for example) and there will always be someone interested in what you write.  So, even if that someone did not exist, write for the pleasure of writing.

As the pen traces out words on the paper, your anguish disappears and your happiness remains.  For this to happen, it is necessary to have the courage to look deep inside yourself, disclose this to the outside world, and be even more courageous to know that one day whatever you write could (and should) be read by somebody.

And what if it’s something very intimate?

Don’t worry.  Thousands of years ago, Solomon wrote the following words: “Whatever has been is that which will be; And whatsoever has been done is that which will be done; And there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).

In other words: if thousands of years ago there was nothing new, just imagine now!  Our feelings of happiness and anguish are still the same, and we should not hide them.  And even though there is nothing new under the sun, there still remains the need to translate all this for ourselves and for our generation.

Jorge Luis Borges once said that there are only four stories to be told:

A] a love story involving two people

B] a love story involving three people

C] the struggle for power

D] a journey.

Even so, throughout the centuries men and women have continued to retell these stories, and it’s time you did the same.  Through the art of writing you will come into contact with your unknown universe and eventually you will feel like a far more capable human being than you thought you were.

The same word can be read in different ways.  For instance, write down the word “love” a thousand times and each time the sentiment will be different.

Since letters, words and sentences are traced out on paper, there is no reason to feel tense.  The hand that writes eventually comes to rest, and the heart of the person who dared to share his or her feelings smiles.

If you pass by a writer who has just finished a text, you will feel that he has an empty expression on his face and that he seems distracted.

But he – only he – knows that he has risked a lot, managed to develop his instinct, maintained his elegance and concentration during the whole process, and can now afford to feel the presence of the universe and see that his action was just and deserved.  His closest friends know that his thought has changed dimensions.  Now it is in touch with the entire universe: he goes on working, learning all the positive things that his text has yielded, correcting any mistakes and acknowledging its qualities.

Writing is an act of courage.  But it’s worth taking the risk.

Us and the critics

Read biographies: nobody escapes unhurt, no matter what their activity may be.  From James Joyce, who was considered a pervert by the respectable “The Times”, to Orson Welles, the genius of the cinema, whom Umberto Eco classified as a mediocre person.

Read on. Because writers write, readers read, and critics criticize.  Inverting that order would at the very least be unadvisable.  However, practically every day I receive some e-mail from people who feel personally attacked when they see something negative about me in the press.

Although grateful for the solidarity, I explain that all this is part of the game.  I have been criticized ever since I wrote “The Alchemist” (“The Diary of a Magus” passed relatively unnoticed by the press, except for reports that spoke about the author but hardly ever referred to the contents of the book).

I have seen many writers enjoying tremendous public success but when they receive the inevitable stoning from the critics, they tend to follow one of two directions.  The first is not managing to publish any more books: this was the case of “Perfume” by Patrick Sussekind.  At the time, his editor (who is also mine in Germany) published two full pages in the local newspapers, one with the criticism loathing the book, the other with the book-agents saying how they loved it.  “Perfume” became one of the biggest bookstore successes of all time.  Then Sussekind published a collection of short stories, two books he had written before his big success, and then left the scene.

In the second case, writers become intimidated and try to please the critics at their next launching. Susanna Tamaro enjoyed tremendous public applause (and an avalanche of attacks from the critics) for “Follow your heart”.  Her next book, “Anima Mundi” was anxiously awaited by her admirers, then she changed the simple, marvelous poetry of the original title for something so complex that she lost her faithful readership and ended up not pleasing the critics either.

Another example is Jostein Gaarder. “Sophie’s World)” enjoyed fantastic success because he was able to handle the history of philosophy in a direct, agreeable manner.  But neither the critics nor the philosophers liked the book. Gaarder began to use complicated language and ended up abandoned by his readers – and still detested by the critics.

It would seem from the paragraphs above that I too have begun to pass judgment.  Why?  Criticizing is so easy – the hard thing is to write books.

In “The Zahir”, the main character (a famous Brazilian writer) says that he can guess exactly what will be said about his new book, which has still to come out: “Once again, in these troubled days we live in, the author makes us flee from reality”.  “Short sentences, superficial style”.  “The author has found the secret to success – marketing”.

Just like the main character in “The Zahir”, I am never wrong.  I made a bet with a Brazilian journalist, and I hit the nail on the head.

Let me end this column with a sentence by Irish playwright Brendan Behan:

“Critics are like eunuchs in a harem.  Theoretically they know the best way to do it, but that’s as far as they get.”

Please, gentlemen critics, do as I do: don’t take the sentence above as a personal offense!

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