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7 lessons on writing and individuality from Paolo Coelho
You've probably read 'The Alchemist.'
It's one of those books that hits and feels different with each read.
Paolo Coelho, the Brazilian novelist who has sold over 150 million books, has much to teach.
I'm continually struck by his straightforward wisdom, both in his books and through his social media shares.
I wanted to explore and deconstruct a handful of his most frequently cited advice on writing and doing your thing in life and business.
Let's get into it:
1. Write from your own experiences.
No one can better relay what was learned from direct experiences than the person who went through it.
I can always tell when a writer shares based on an assumption - the words come out flat and lifeless.
Dig into your memory banks if you're stuck on what to write.
What were some emotional experiences or 'aha' moments that changed you?
You can tell the story, use your experiences to add depth and realism to fiction (as Paolo does), or even reinforce points you make in a non-fictional context.
2. Follow your own path.
Paolo continually encourages writers to find their own voice and style.
He dissuades us from being too heavily influenced by the trends and what others are doing.
I love this because what others are doing has a strong pull on most of us.
It's not easy to carve our own path because it takes courage and a sort of nakedness to develop your voice and say it in a way no one else is saying it.
But no great writer, communicator or teacher was too heavily reliant on what others were doing.
They were willing to look stupid.
They may have borrowed from people or been inspired.
But ultimately, they worked hard at their craft and put in the reps so that, eventually, their unique approach revealed itself. This is when your audience takes notice.
This is when the work becomes truly enjoyable, albeit a little nerve-wracking.
3. Edit ruthlessly.
This one initially surprised me because editing is so technical, contrasting Paolo's colourful and spirited work.
But of course, editing is vital because good editing - verging on obsessive - makes for a high-quality final piece.
What do I mean by 'quality?'
It's about bringing together a strong idea with careful handling focusing on the tiniest details.
When I encounter something incorrectly spelt or with poor grammar, it upsets the reading flow.
This level of care makes for an enjoyable read in the hands of a master craftsman writer.
No matter what you put out there, you want to take care in the editing process. Just ensure this technical part comes at the end of the process and doesn't pollute the free-flowing beginning.
4. Write every day.
Coelho has a daily writing routine.
He encourages other writers to do the same.
He says, in his simple way, "writing is a discipline, and you have to practice it every day."
We live in an age where it is easy to spread ourselves across several skills.
This is ok, but your writing can only evolve and improve if you frequently write. In an especially noisy Internet, we must couple writing with shipping.
If we want to make a dent and grow our audience, we must publish many pieces.
The more your writing circulates, the greater the odds of being picked up by your ideal reader or customer.
5. Be open to criticism.
This one is absolutely crucial.
This applies to anyone growing a personal brand, intends to build an audience, and requires being in the public eye.
I've seen many people struggle and avoid even hitting publish because of a fear of being criticised.
I have news for you - you will be criticised, often publicly. You must expect it, but not only this - you must seek it out.
No great writer wasn't polarising.
Coelho is also talking about taking on board the comments of others.
I'm less inclined to adjust one's words because of what your audience advises.
No one knows your mind.
Just carve your path.
I would say that you want to notice what is working for you. Articles flop for a reason, as do posts that fly.
Aim to figure out why some things work better than others.
6. Write about what you love.
I was reading an article on Medium by a prolific writing friend, Tom Kuegler.
He was saying how he went months with severe writing burnout last year. He recently switched the focus of his content to movies and found the words pouring out of him for the first time in a while.
It's important to be genuinely interested in what we're writing about. We also need to be willing to shift tracks occasionally.
I've seen many people quit because their niche was too narrow, and they kept writing about the same stuff over and over.
That's a one-way ticket to Boring Ville Alabama, and therefore the engagement, too, will drop.
If you're doing this for money, it's about thinking abundantly and longer term.
Find something broad enough to capture your interest and attract your ideal buyers.
In the case of this newsletter, for example, I decided to focus on online business for coaches, writers and teachers instead of going too narrow by focusing solely on only writing.
This gives me enough of interest to write about while generating income.
7. Live your life.
Coelho encourages writers to live a full life, travel and experience new things, stating that "the more you live, the more you have to write about."
I can be guilty of spending too much time in business mode and not heading out to see the world.
Now I make a point to go on trips even if I am 'too busy,' like one to the mountains here in Poland and later to India for a motorcycling trip.
This benefits you whether you write non-fiction or fiction.
It keeps your thinking fresh and alive.
It teaches you how to handle obstacles and taste adventure.
It gives you more stories and anecdotes to weave into your writing.
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